Tuesday, November 7, 2017

REVIEW: 'This Is Us' - Jack, Rebecca and Randall Figure Out What's Best for Their Children in 'The Most Disappointed Man'

NBC's This Is Us - Episode 2.07 "The Most Disappointed Man"

Randall adjusts to the foster system. Kate and Toby takes the next step in their relationship. Kevin visits Sophie in New York. Jack and Rebecca finalize Randall's adoption.

"The Most Disappointed Man" centers on decisions that are made by someone for someone else. It's a very tricky type of story. It works much more effectively when it's a parent making a decision for their children because their son or daughter doesn't have the maturity to understand what's going on. It's only in adulthood that they can look back and respect the choices that were made for them on their behalf. It's also an effective story when it comes to the judicial process where judges have to determine how to interpret and carry out the law in specific cases where even their own personal bias may get in the way. In terms of those situations, it's a perfectly fine story. But when it comes to someone deciding how someone else should be feeling in a relationship or something like that, then it becomes very toxic and manipulative. It's the show trying to endear certain characters to the audience. But it just rings so false and leads to a number of problems throughout this episode. The show's intended effect isn't coming across. Right now, the audience is experiencing the show in a different way than the creative team is hoping. That's a significant problem. It's making several bad situations even worse and that has the potential to drag the show as a whole down even further. This season has been more scattered and puzzled than the first season was. It's trying to go all over the place by picking and choosing what stories are important and what aren't. It's delaying gratification in certain aspects of this world while not really replacing it with anything that is all that genuine or intriguing. Instead, the seams are showing more than ever before in the hopes to keep hitting the audience in that sweet spot of emotions. But it's hard to be moved by the storytelling decisions when the choices made are just so obvious and grating.

And so, the stories of the past play out across two very different courtrooms. They are connected because the judges are friends and have no idea if their verdicts will ultimately change lives for better or worse. That literal connection really wasn't necessary. It was all there in the theme of this hour that highlights how sometimes people are powerless and need choices to be made for them. It's appreciated that the show is still interested in William. It knows that there is so much more to his life story than what was told in the first season. It's mostly a good excuse to keep Ron Cephas Jones a part of this cast. And yet, the show has two actors playing the role of William. All of the returns to his past have been to the 1980s where he was an addict living a depressing life while Randall was being raised by Jack and Rebecca. This hour highlights the moment in his life where he decided to change and deal with his addiction. He got arrested and the judge decided to take pity on him because of a comment William made in the courtroom. It was because of that inspiring speech that William stayed sober and remained out of trouble with the law. This judge's actions really did change a life. And yet, it's absolutely laughable that the show decides it's important to reveal that William was getting ready to relapse in his addiction the moment before Randall knocked on his door. That's just so unnecessary and lessens the impact of this story. It proves that the judge's face was enough to keep him out of dangerous situations for 30 years. But facing a cancer diagnosis, the only thing that kept him alive for several more months was reconnecting with his son. Doesn't the audience already know that though? It feels lame and lackluster to suddenly tack this new information onto that story that no one in the actual show will become aware of any time soon.

Meanwhile, Jack and Rebecca are in court to make Randall's adoption official. They've been taking care of him for a year. They've had meetings with social workers to prove that they are loving and caring parents who are providing a safe and stable home for Randall. And then, the judge doesn't believe they are a good fit because of a bias he has against white people raising black children. It's not exactly a surprising story. It's the show once again tackling race issues in an intriguing and different way. Jack and Rebecca don't understand the world from that perspective but they are committed to raising Randall in it and helping him understand it. The audience has seen them rise to the occasion before. We've seen the type of man he becomes. So, this story seems a little pointless. It's used mostly to highlight Randall's gratitude in the present day for all of the choices that others made to get him to where he is in life. But in the actual context of this story with Rebecca and Jack, the show gives off the perception that the judge recuses himself from their case because Rebecca's letter got him to see the bias in his judgment. And yet, it's much more sensible to see it as him recusing himself from the case because he had too many interactions with Jack and Rebecca. That's the unethical thing related to this case. The show wants the audience to believe it's the bias of this one judge. It's not something endemic to all people of color who sit on the bench. The second judge has no problem making the adoption official and she's a woman of color. But it all seems a little too misguided without adding anything new to the conversation.

So if all of Jack and Rebecca's story helps strengthen the emotional moment Randall has at the end of his, then his story should hit in an emotionally earned place, right? Well, it is definitely the most effective story of this hour. Randall and Beth continue to be on a much better show than the rest of this ensemble. It's also great when the show makes sure that Randall doesn't come across as a perfect human being. He's capable of making mistakes as well. This situation with Deja is getting more and more personal for him and Beth. So, it's important for him to make mistakes along the way. It can't just be a story about him earnestly bonding with her and forming that dynamic. He needs to say and do things that are inappropriate and deal with the consequences because he doesn't understand the foster care system yet. It's empowering that Deja's case worker fights back against Randall's claim that he's the only one looking out for the kids in the system. That's a simple moment where she proves to Randall how idiotic his statement was. It forces a swift apology. But not every interaction like that can be resolved that easily. The situation with Deja's mom needs to be more complicated than that. Randall needs to actually be challenged as a parent. He and Beth can be infuriated by the choices Deja's mom made. And yet, they still need to be the reasonable parents who understand the importance of Deja wanting to have a relationship with her. It's important that the show doesn't just paint Deja's mom in an unflattering light either. The Pearsons can't be right in every single situation. It's easy for that to happen. But it's important for them to be flawed human beings as well who wonder if they are doing the right thing. Randall has no idea if how he deals with Deja's mom will ultimately be good or bad for the girl in his care. That's what allows the situation to be more complicated and compelling in the future. It's just a part of a really forced message by the end of this hour.

And once again, the Kevin and Kate stories are just terrible. Kevin's is once again him spiraling further into his new addiction. He's doing a really poor job covering it up as well. Kate and Sophie should be noticing it by now. And yet, they aren't because the plot is making them oblivious for some reason. They can tell he's not himself but have no suspicions that something more destructive is going on with him. That just wrings false. It makes me wonder how long this story is suppose to go on for. Right now, it's all about the shameful secret and how it is destroying Kevin's life for reasons that aren't so clear. He's full of self doubts once more. He imagines a family with Sophie and believes himself to just be the worst. All of this could mean something if it becomes connected to Kevin's stunted emotional growth because of his father's death. But that seems like it won't become a part of the story for awhile. As such, it's just frustrating while wrapped up in relationship melodrama where he breaks up with Sophie because of these fears. However, it's doubtful that sticks because Alexandra Breckenridge is a series regular this season. Meanwhile, Kate's story is about her and she is almost completely absent from it. It's a story about her trying to convince herself that she's fine with a courthouse wedding even though she desperately wants to enjoy the cliches and expectations of a big, fancy wedding. It's a story that exists through Toby. It's a story about a man telling a woman what she does and doesn't want and how she should react to all of that. It's so infuriating. The show is continuing this awful push that Toby and Jack are similar human beings who go for the big romantic gesture. It's an effective story with Jack because the show isn't afraid to show his flaws as a human being. It's helped because the show has the benefit of telling Jack's life story across multiple decades. Toby is maddeningly stuck in the present where he is being presented as a good influence and capable of being a good father even though he's actually becoming more and more frustrating with each passing episode. This isn't a healthy relationship. It's gotten to the point where if the show did break up Kate and Toby it would feel like a forced plot point to appease the audience and not something that they planned on doing from the start. And yet, that still seems more necessary now than ever before.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Most Disappointed Man" was written by Kay Oyegun and directed by Chris Koch.
  • Kevin and Sophie's relationship was never going to be healthy if he was consistent in wanting to be in Los Angeles in order to have a successful career as an actor. He keeps pushing back his return date even though his film wrapped production awhile ago. He can still have opportunities as an actor in New York with a strong agent as well. His career doesn't need to be based in Hollywood. That seemed like something that should get on Sophie's nerves as well.
  • This is the first mention of Toby's mother. He talks about being afraid of her and how she will react to the news that he is having a baby out of wedlock. And yet, the show just makes her seem like a stereotypical Catholic of a certain generation. It's a really lame characteristic that never really materializes in the story. She is never actually seen. Just talked about a bunch.
  • And of course, Kate gets swept up in Toby's big romantic gesture because he happens to mention a conversation with her father's ashes. He knows about the close bond she and Jack share and how she consults him with many of her big decisions. He used that knowledge against her in order to get the outcome that he wanted. If he wanted it to be genuine, then he didn't have to mention talking to Jack. The audience would have been perfectly fine just seeing that scene where he's asking for advice for this unconventional relationship.
  • Delroy Lindo and Sam Anderson are guest stars who help try to sell the emotions of their respective stories with Jack, Rebecca and William. If those roles aren't filled by actors of worthy talents, then it becomes even more obvious how the show is trying to manipulate its audience. Even with them, I clearly still saw the problems.
  • Randall is inherently better than the other guy who saw Deja's mom in prison and criticized her for the actions that got her there and the damage they are inflicting on the people in her life. But the show has set up that she may be there awhile. And so, all of this may be important information to have once more of Deja's past comes into Randall and Beth's lives moving forward.