Tuesday, September 27, 2016

REVIEW: 'This Is Us' - Kevin Faces Off with the Network While Beth Wants to Know More About William in 'The Big Three'

NBC's This Is Us - Episode 1.02 "The Big Three"

Kate is working hard to lose weight but struggles with impatience and discouragement. Beth begins to question William's motives and takes action in getting answers on his activities. Randall has more on his mind with having William in his life. Marriage and raising three children takes its toil on Rebecca and Jack as they start to feel distant from one another. Kevin faces the aftermath of quitting his job as he deals with his agent.

This Is Us had a strong premiere that launched the series to critical acclaim and phenomenal ratings. They were so strong that NBC just picked up five more episodes for the season. That's so impressive. And yet, there was the concern after that first episode of whether or not the show would be able to keep up the quality. The premiere was structurally about the twist at the end. Could the series work on an episodic basis without such a big reveal fueling the immediate conversation afterwards? "The Big Three" needed to address those concerns. Thankfully, it too is another strong episode of the series. It proves that this creative team has a strong command over what this show actually is. It can be fueled by deeply personal moments between the characters that spotlight their struggles and sentimentality with each other. It can provide a number of really great and emotional moments for every single character. Plus, it still has a few more tricks up its sleeve in further exploring the history of this family. That makes for yet another entertaining hour of This Is Us.

The big twist of the show is that everyone is related. Jack and Rebecca are the parents of Kate, Kevin and Randall. Their story is happening in the 1980s while everyone else is in the present day. That was a twist that informed how these characters would be connected throughout the entire series. It was necessary but also completely surprising. And now, the show is taking the opportunity to further define the relationships within this family that weren't apparent in the premiere. Kate and Kevin are twins. That information was made clear early on. But now that we know Randall is their brother as well, what's his relationship to the rest of the family? Through Jack and Rebecca's struggles raising three kids, we learn that Kevin and Randall haven't always gotten along. In fact, they are the brothers who are constantly fighting and just don't click at all. Of course, a lot can change in the almost thirty years since then. They are both adults now. But it's clear that Kevin has such a codependent relationship with Kate. He needs her support no matter what. He doesn't reach out to Randall for that kind of advice. Something that is clearly fueling his character arc.

Quitting The Manny isn't going to be as easy as Kevin hopes it will be. His agent - played by Katey Sagal - lays out how this outburst could essentially ruin his career. He still has a contract for the show for two more years. If he doesn't comply, the network can sue him and take everything away from him. Lanie pulled him from obscurity. She gave him this successful career that he loves so much. All of that could be taken away because of his behavior on set. Kevin wants to move forward. He is looking forward to the next exciting project. He doesn't want to reflect on the past. What's done is done. He can't change any of that now. He doesn't want to accept the reality of his situation until it's too late. His family is able to support him and get him to stand by his decision. But he's going up against a behemoth network. The network president - played by Brad Garrett - wants to coast into retirement. His network is successful. He doesn't want any extra work added to his plate. Kevin is forcing him to take action though. He's still important enough to destroy Kevin's career.

It takes reaching out to Randall for Kevin to get the backbone to stand up to the network president. It is a saccharine and melodramatic moment. But it's very effective as well. It's clear that Jack was a major influence in all of the siblings' lives. He leads the family in chant as they prepare to leave for school in the past. Even though he's not there to protect them, the siblings still use the chant to bring clarity to their lives in the present. It's the exact thing that Kevin needed to hear right now. He's not as comfortable talking to Randall as he is with Kate. They have that twin connection that he trusts so much. But Kate can't help him right now. She's gotten too drunk as a way to cope with this fancy Hollywood party she doesn't want to be at. It's certainly fun watching her and Toby let loose on the dance floor and forget about what the rest of the world thinks. It doesn't make her a perfect person for Kevin to talk to right now though. Randall is dealing with his own problems as well. It is clear that the rest of the world stops in order to deal with Kevin's problems. But it's clear this family bond is still strong. Kevin sticks to his convictions and decides to move to New York to do theater. It may be impulsive but it could be the right thing for him.

Such a move would actually bring Kevin even closer to Randall. He's already living in New York with a successful career and family. That could be a good influence on Kevin. And yet, Randall is also adjusting to having William in his life now. It's not what he planned when he tracked him down. But now, he's invited him to live in his home with his family. He's trying to save him essentially. He's pulling him out of poverty and trying to find a cure for his stomach cancer. It's behavior Beth has seen before. She loves Randall for how good he is. But he is constantly thriving for perfection. Most of the time, that's a good thing. He made a promise to his mother that he would always be good. He is living up to that promise. But sometimes he can give too much. It was only eight years ago when he was vying for partner, Beth was pregnant and they bought this house. He took on way too much and paid for it. It's a chilling revelation that Beth details. Randall lost his sight for a little while because he pushed himself too far. So, that makes her more protective of him. She doesn't want him to lose his way again because of William. She needs him to be more forthcoming if he's going to continue staying in the house. He's not purposefully withholding information from them. He's just trying to feed his cat. That's where he disappears to everyday. He doesn't want to cause any problems and ruin this good thing. This is the happiest he has ever been and doesn't want to ruin that. He knows it won't take much for him to be punished to a life of nothingness.

It's also clear that there are still details about this family's history that we don't know about. Jack and Rebecca's stories provide some great context. But the show also sets up a whole new mystery with another twist ending. It was unclear if either Jack or Rebecca would pop up in the present day stories. It would mean putting Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia in a lot of makeup. But it is certainly something the show could realistically do. And now, it's actually doing so. The second episode may be too soon for such a twist. But it also serves as a surprise considering Rebecca is no longer with Jack. Their story throughout this episode focuses on the two of them struggling in their marriage. They simply aren't connecting as well as they did earlier. Eight years have passed for them between episodes. That's enough for them to get into the swing of parenting. But it also highlights that Jack may be developing a severe drinking problem. One that is putting quite the strain on the marriage. It's so devastating when Rebecca believes they only rate a 6 as parents so far because Jack isn't given enough time to the family. It's enough to make him want to do better and change. He makes that promise. But it's still a shock when Rebecca shows up at Randall's house still wearing Jack's necklace but (likely) married to Miguel - Jack's best friend and drinking buddy who is just a little envious of his life.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Big Three" was written by Dan Fogelman and directed by Ken Olin.
  • The cause of the tension between Kevin and Randall as youngsters is Kevin's school friends thinking it's weird that they are brothers. They've even started calling him Webster based on the show Webster where a wealthy white family adopted a black child. 
  • Kate's stories shouldn't always be about her weight. That's probably the most problematic part of her scenes. And yet, it's still such a heartbreaking moment when she shares that she doesn't want her weight to define everything either. She doesn't want to be worried about what other people think of her. But that is a part of her life nevertheless.
  • Kate's weight is even an important part of her childhood. It's clear that Jack encourages her to eat whatever she wants while Rebecca strives for a more healthy balance. And yet, she deserves to eat more than just fruit in a single day.
  • Toby really seems into show business. He forces his way into Lanie's party under the guise of supporting Kate while she's supporting Kevin. But it's clear he's a little obsessed. Otherwise, how would he know that Lanie is powerful enough to have pitched the idea for either Deadpool or Hamilton?
  • Miguel says some pretty insightful things to Jack about not giving Rebecca any reason to notice that he's unhappy with his life. But then, he apologizes afterwards. He compliments Rebecca a lot. So, the foundation for his future importance has already been laid. 
  • How will Rebecca react to learning that Randall has found his biological father and is letting him stay in the house with his family?