Tuesday, October 11, 2016

REVIEW: 'This Is Us' - Randall Learns More About William While Kate Steps Into the Spotlight in 'Kyle'

NBC's This Is Us - Episode 1.03 "Kyle"

Rebecca makes a surprise visit to Randall's home where she encounters William. Kevin anxiously decides to take the plunge and move to New York to pursue a Broadway job, with the expectation that Kate will move with him. Toby is determined to get Kate out of Kevin's shadow and prepares a special day where she is the star. Jack and Rebecca take home their babies from the hospital and adjust to the new life of parenthood.

The second episode of This Is Us ended with Rebecca being seen in 2016 with her new husband, Miguel. It was a shocking moment that showed that This Is Us still has many twists it can reveal about the history of this family. But mostly, it was a surprise to see the show so willing to put Mandy Moore in old lady makeup so soon. After it was revealed Jack and Rebecca are the parents to Kevin, Kate and Randall, it was unclear if Moore and Milo Ventimiglia would ever show up in the present day or if new actors would be hired to play the parts. The show has no problem casting a different actor to play a young William throughout "Kyle." But then again, it's easier to make a young person look old than vice versa. Still it does make for an awkward opening to this hour. It's strange to see Mandy Moore playing a significantly older version of the character. She doesn't really look like a 72 year old woman though. It is distracting and can take the audience out of the scene. It's an important scene too. It establishes that this isn't the first time William and Rebecca have met. That's huge for this episode. But it gets lost by the whole look which could become a huge problem moving forward.

Rebecca's story in 1980 is quite good though. After jumping ahead in time during the second episode, "Kyle" takes things back to the day where Jack and Rebecca are taking their babies home from the hospital. Because their story occurs in the past, the show doesn't have to be so linear with things. It can play around with time and just tell stories that can thematically connect with what the other three main characters are feeling in the present day. The stuff happening in 1980 highlights just how close Kate and Kevin have always been and how isolating Randall has been. Rebecca struggles to connect with her third child because it feels like Jack is trying to replace the one they lost. It's a story filled with so many difficult emotions. Jack believes his wife is broken and that Dr. K will have an easy solution for him. It's great the show finds another reason to have Jack and Dr. K sit down for another emotional talk. This one is less effective though because Dr. K largely just tells Jack he needs to give Rebecca space in order to figure things out for herself. It's strong advice but it doesn't have a whole lot of impact on the actual story.

Meanwhile, Rebecca is actively doing something to address these complicated emotions she's feeling. She actually tracks William down in order to get clarity on a couple of things. She wants to know more about Randall's story. She also needs to know that she'll never have to worry about him being taken away from her. This episode has a very simple but effective opening moment showcasing the love story of William and Randall's mother. It shows that there was love there. There was drugs too. Drugs that complicated his memory during the time. But love was present. Sure, it's a little odd that William doesn't remember the events of his son's birth but does recall meeting Rebecca. This hour shows that he has much more importance in Randall's story than anyone previously thought. It's because of William that Rebecca decides to change her child's name. She and Jack named the triplets Kate, Kevin and Kyle as a way to honor Dr. K for what he did for them. They ultimately decide to change Kyle to Randall in order to recognize the unique situation they are in. Sure, it's a bit melodramatic when William gives Rebecca the inspiration. She doesn't share that detail with Jack but she does produce this book which he has no questions about. But it's still a very effective story.

Elsewhere, the rest of the characters don't really do a whole lot. There isn't much in the form of plot advancement in this hour. This is a family ensemble drama. The stakes aren't so high that things need to happen as quickly as possible. It just feels like the show is hitting the same emotional beats over and over again without really providing any kind of additional information. William's cancer has been an important part of his characterization so far. It's one of the few things that Randall actually knows about him. He has introduced his biological father to his children, his wife and his adoptive mother. And yet, he doesn't know a whole lot about this man. William is dying and Randall still doesn't have any of the answers to the questions he wanted to ask. Why did Randall track William down now? He doesn't completely know himself. Once he was found, Randall has been trying to save him. It's a savior complex. He believes a new doctor will have a better solution. But no, William's situation is just as dire as it has always been. Experimental procedures may keep him alive for a few more months. But he is a dying man. Randall needs to accept that. He may by the end of the hour when he actually asks his questions and decides to tell his girls who William really is. That's a major step forward. But it is mostly just re-clarifying a whole lot of things already established.

The same is also true for Kevin. He decided to move to New York City in order to do Broadway in the last episode. It was an impulsive decision he made at a party where he and his sister had been drinking. And now, it's largely just important that he is deciding to stick to that plan. He's serious about moving and just assumes that Kate will go across the country with him. Toby is such an afterthought in his mind. To Kevin, he is the most important person in the room at all times. He has proven to be a good brother to Kate in these first few episodes. But there is a selfish quality to Kevin as well. He believes he needs help in order to accomplish anything. Whenever he's not surrounded by people, the doubt starts creeping in about him not being good enough. He may have found a play he really wants to do. But his crippling doubts ultimately lead to him calling his crazy ex and locking himself in his closet. Of course, it's not that much of a punishment. His closet has its own bar. He's lived a life of luxury. A life that hasn't helped him cope with these issues. Kate's closeness has shielded him from dealing with these insecurities. He only decides to move by himself though when he learns that Kate chose him over sex with Toby. It takes sex for Kevin to see things more clearly - which is very telling.

And lastly, Toby is trying to get Kate to come out of her shell a little bit. In the first two episodes, she has either been defined by her weight or her close bond with Kevin. Those are still defining characteristics for her. Here, she only stops answering the phone when Kevin calls because she gets swept up in Toby's grand romantic gesture. Plus, it's fantastic that it's revealed that Kate is a great singer. That's a potential new story avenue for her to explore in the future. This story is ultimately about her needing to break away from her brother. It's scary to think of life without him. But a separation could be very beneficial for both of them. It's clear that Kate and Kevin rely on each other too much. Kate is Kevin's personal assistant! That's her job. So, the lines between personal and professional are considerably blurred. She comes running when he calls. It keeps her from being in a moment of happiness and pure joy with Toby. He gives her something that no one has done before. He helped her come out of her shell but only in an environment where she would be comfortable. It's a sweet gesture that shows he's coming to understand who she is. And yet, it certainly creates a mystery of what comes next for Kate. She's adrift without much purpose. She still has her relationship with Toby. But now, one of the things that has defined her story is gone. Kevin has left for New York. So now, she needs to figure things out. The show needs to do the same. It would be best if it was done quickly too.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Kyle" was written by Dan Fogelman and directed by John Requa & Glenn Ficarra.
  • There's no big twist ending here. That's a relief. After two straight weeks of it, it felt like this show was becoming something defined by its episode-ending twists. That's not the case at all. Yes, it's a part of this show. But it can be just as powerful to end on the sight of Rebecca finally getting Randall to breastfeed.
  • Dr. K remains the best. Not only does he give Jack the exact advice he needs to hear right now about giving Rebecca the space she needs but he also promises to watch all three kids for a few hours so Jack can sleep.
  • Randall still has the book of poetry that William gave Rebecca all those years ago. He doesn't even know that it came from William. It's just there sitting on his shelf having so much importance to his story and he doesn't even know about it.
  • It's certainly amusing to see the weird reactions Randall has to any situation where he's uncomfortable or keeping secrets from the people he loves. It's a strange detail. Even his kids know that something is up with him. But at least, it's consistent.
  • Kevin has found a play that he's really excited about. That doesn't mean he'll actually be in it on Broadway though. The Manny made him a star but that doesn't mean he'll succeed in this new acting venture. It could be a tough road ahead of him.
  • Kate really does deliver a beautiful rendition of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time."