Tuesday, February 7, 2017

REVIEW: 'This Is Us' - News from Miguel Forces Jack and Rebecca to Re-Examine Their Marriage in 'I Call Marriage'

NBC's This Is Us - Episode 1.14 "I Call Marriage"

Toby throws a wrench in Kate's weight loss journey. Randall struggles to accept his father's deteriorating health. Miguel and Shelly break some devastating news to Jack and Rebecca, which makes them worry about their own relationship. Rebecca receives an amazing work opportunity. Kevin examines his romantic past.

Throughout this first season, it has become clear that This Is Us always wants the audience to see the Pearson family in the right. No matter what happens they are ultimately doing the right thing and everyone else is wrong. Sometimes things are allowed to be more nuanced than that. The reveal that Rebecca kept William from Randall his entire life was a gut-wrenching moment that had major consequences for both of those characters. It also painted Rebecca in a new unflattering light because that decision was made for selfish reasons. And yet, the show always wants the audience to see Rebecca positively. She's more flawed than Jack, who comes across as a saint no matter what. But it doesn't really want us to hold this against her in the episodic stories. However, this could be a complicated way to tell stories because it makes it frustrating when the characters do something that is just plain wrong but they are still rewarded for doing so. Kevin and Kate's stories haven't been great so far. They remain so one-note and boring. But it never took away too much from what the show was doing elsewhere. But now, their stories in "I Call Marriage" are starting to become a little too toxic and hard to understand.

Both Kevin and Duke do things in this hour that would in no way be able to win over a woman. And yet, they both somehow get the girl in the end. That's infuriating. This isn't the kind of behavior that should be rewarded. More importantly, the show isn't presenting things in a nuanced way to suggest that these decisions are actually wrong and will come back to hurt the characters. It's okay for characters to make mistakes. It's all a part of the journey they are on. Things have just gotten so muddled with Kate and Kevin's journeys that it's hard to understand what any of it means. It is just so difficult to care about anything that they do. Kate is simply the fat girl trying to lose weight while Kevin is the narcissistic actor hurting people with his actions. That's basically all that they are right now. That stands out because the rest of the cast has gotten so much more nuance. They are in stories that aren't singularly about one thing. They have dynamics that are easy to connect. The bonds between Jack & Rebecca and Randall & Beth are so strong. They've really come to define the show. Meanwhile, Toby and Kate are more annoying than anything else while Kevin is just flailing around by himself with no purpose. Perhaps that's the whole point of their story arcs this season. And yet, it feels like the show believes the audience is invested in these stories. If so, that could be a massive misreading of things.

But seriously, what in the world is this new love triangle between Kate, Toby and Duke? If it's meant to showcase that Kate is attracted to jerks, then it's a success. Toby and Kate's engagement came so fast even though they have done nothing to address their underlying problems. Meanwhile, Duke is just a bad character meant to stir up trouble by being a sexist jerk. And yet, Kate still goes to sleep with him at the end of the hour. Why does she do that? Her whole purpose this season has been about losing the weight. That's why she pushes Toby away here. He believes he's doing yet another grand romantic gesture by visiting her and taking the classes. But that only showcases how annoying he is because he's a distraction to Kate's ultimate goals. It's okay for her to push him away because of that. It's okay to feel bad about that too considering he brought her an engagement ring. But Kate shouldn't feel so bad that she punishes herself by cheating. And why would she listen to anything that Duke has to say? He's been mocking the idea of this camp the entire time he's been on the screen. He believes it's people not living their truths. Weight loss was important to Kate. So why does she suddenly listen when a jerk tells her it's inauthentic to try to change now. It's not so bad that Kate wants to be better. But here, it's presented as punishment no matter what she does. That is just too depressing and doesn't make any sense at all given everything we know about Kate.

Meanwhile, Kevin's story is all about showing how he is obsessed with his ex-wife, Sophie. That's surprising considering she has never been mentioned once this entire season before her debut last week. It's the show once again celebrating twists ahead of character development. It makes sense that Kevin would latch onto this relationship following his father's death and that it would ultimately go wrong. But now, he's propping it up as the time when he was last happy. He's romanticizing all of it and completely forgetting about how problematic the two of them were. He's not apologizing for that either. He's just trying to win her over by appearing to know her better than anyone else. First of all, that's creepy. She knows nothing about his life over the last 12 years except that he was on The Manny. Meanwhile, he knows everything about her because he created a fake Facebook account to befriend her. That's a huge warning sign that this isn't a healthy relationship. And yet, the show wants us to became invested in it because Sophie is willing to give Kevin another chance despite his many shortcomings. She still shows up to have breakfast with him. She can't stay mad at him for long when he's actually talking. That is just so weird and makes her come across as a weak and self-destructive character. But it's also Kevin trying to work around his very real issues. He has to let his feelings for Sophie go in order to move onto something more real and special. But here, he's just trying to win her back and that's it. It works in the end when it really shouldn't.

These are problematic stories that are only becoming worse as the season goes along. Not even Randall, Jack and Rebecca are able to save this episode from being a weird misstep. Randall's story feels like a switch was flipped between last week's episode and now. Last week he was happily able to spend quality time with his family instead of his work. And now, he's angry at the entire world. He's angry at William for dying. He's angry at Beth and his girls for wanting him to do things he doesn't want to do. He's angry at work because his boss is taking accounts away from him. The only motivation behind this sudden shift is that he is now having nightmares about returning home from work and discovering William has died. That's it. It's jarring. It also connects back to his previously established history of needing to be perfect all of the time. It's a need for him that came out of his upbringing. Beth has dealt with it before. So she knows the signs. And yet, all of this just seems like the beginnings of a spiral that will only get more devastating before it gets better. That could be interesting in the future. Right now, it's just a sudden change from what was happening a week ago.

And lastly, Jack finally proves himself not to be perfect. Miguel and Shelly tell him and Rebecca that they are getting divorced and Jack just doesn't understand it all. Jack has always been pictured as the perfect family man. He can do no wrong in any situation. Sure, he had a drinking problem. But that was important for one episode. He was seemingly able to beat it after one conversation with Rebecca. Of course, the two of them are seen in the 1990s again with the kids as teenagers. That's when Miguel and Shelly break up. It's also when Jack and Rebecca are in their own rut that comes mostly out of being together for so long. That's a fascinating story to tell. It's different from the norm. It shows the effects time can have on a marriage. It's meaningful that the audience sees them on their wedding day as this perfect happy couple only to then fast forward to many years in the future where the spark is gone. Jack ultimately gets it back in the end. That shows that the marriage is still going to be strong in the later years. They want to make things work despite the new challenges they'll face. It's just much more valuable that Miguel gets a moment to prove Jack wrong. He proves that drifting apart is a thing and divorce can happen. It's not all the fairytale romance that Jack wants out of life. That's a rewarding moment.

Some more thoughts:
  • "I Call Marriage" was written by Kay Oyegun and directed by George Tillman Jr.
  • When Sophie asks Kevin about his family, she asks how Miguel is. Considering she and Kevin haven't seen each other in 12 years, that would mean Rebecca and Miguel got together sooner after Jack's death than what anyone was probably expecting.
  • Kate and Toby's relationship is just not heathy at all. He is using her to help with the pain from his recent heart surgeries while he keeps holding her back from the one thing she truly wants. She embraced the fat camp last week. And now, it's all in question once more which is frustrating.
  • Really This Is Us? You cast Marla Gibbs as a simple bar patron who does nothing but get a big speech from Kevin and then ask for his autograph? That seems like a waste of her terrific talents. It's such an expositional scene too that just shows how obsessed Kevin is with Sophie.
  • Rebecca gets an offer to go on a small five state tour with her band. She's happy about it but it could very easily cause problems at home. She doesn't hide it from Jack either. It should just be interesting to see what happens next with them.
  • This episode also seems to suggest that being in love is just being able to list off all the ways the other person has shown it over the years. Rebecca does that to her bandmate about Jack and Kevin does it to win over Sophie again. It's just a weird stance to take. It largely just seems like an excuse to give these actors some weighty monologues.