Tuesday, January 16, 2018

REVIEW: 'This Is Us' - Randall Gets Sidetracked on a Mission to Find His Passion in 'Clooney'

NBC's This Is Us - Episode 2.12 "Clooney"

Kate goes wedding dress shopping. Kevin embraces a new lifestyle. Randall explores William's past. Jack and Rebecca take the kids to the mall.

"Clooney" isn't as annoying or problematic as the majority of this season of This Is Us has been. But it also mostly feels like filler. Yes, there are some big things that happen that will inform the story moving forward. But it's not a big display of huge developments happening in the personal lives of these characters. In fact, it's really quite simple to see just how relaxed and minor the show can be with its storytelling here. In this hour, Jack and Rebecca just take the kids to the mall, Kevin moves in with Rebecca and Miguel, Kate goes shopping for wedding dresses and Randall pursues answers at William's apartment building. They are all relatively low-stakes stories. That's a mode this show frequently doesn't operate in. That's what makes this hour stand out. It's also what makes the big pronouncements even more troublesome. Once again, it's abundantly clear that the show is foreshadowing Jack's death with every agonizing detail. It's basically impossible for the show to tell a story in that timeline without offering some kind of visual flourish indicating at the tragedy that is about to occur. It's just the show continuing to tease and tease and tease. The fans are apparently obsessed with this death. It's such a pivotal moment for the Pearson family. And now, the episode ends with Rebecca forgetting to buy batteries for the smoke detector. That makes it clear that Jack's death is imminent. It's even more tragic because he's complaining about his job and wanting to start his own business again. It's just foreshadowing to the extreme and makes it impossible to connect with anything else happening in that story in the past.

But again, this has all been abundantly clear for awhile now with the 1990s story. The first season was even this way. Jack's death became this plot point that seems inevitable but the show keeps dragging it out in order to maintain some sense of mystery. And yes, there should be a story told leading up to that tragedy in order to better understand the events involved. But it's become this thing that is talked about so much even though the characters have had to talk around it a lot of the time as well. That's what allows stories like this to be done. The mall trip is perfectly fine. It serves as a good reference point for Kate and Kevin with their current struggles. It has a weird, completely nonessential story of Randall asking out a girl. I guess that's suppose to show how nervous he used to be compared to him knocking on the door of strangers wondering how close they were to William. But that's not all that important. It's just a low-stakes adventure at the mall. And yet, it's impossible for the audience to see it that way because we know what's going to happen soon. As such, everything is extremely heightened. We are now forced to wonder if any random decision is going to play a role in Jack's death or if it's just completely meaningless. The action calls out the fact that the batteries aren't bought. That will clearly be important. But it also feels like a tease that reveals just how much the show is stretching things at the moment. The premiere offered a big clue about Jack's death. Now, it's been a mystery as to when that tragedy will occur this season. The finale always seemed likely. But the post-Super Bowl episode feels like a distinct possibility too given this new stalling technique - despite how morbid that would be for such a momentous occasion.

Ultimately, that tease in the past is just a small part of this episode. It just fosters a lot of discussion about the awkward and annoying storytelling tendencies of this show and its frequent desire to write towards twists instead of character moments. But the batteries could serve as a metaphor for this episode just being about the minor things or people we meet in life having unexpected importance. "Clooney" spends a fair amount of time just watching William's cat run around the streets. That's surprising considering that cat hasn't been mentioned since the early days of the first season. So, if you've been stressing out about the fate of that cat, then this is the episode that finally provides you with answers. It's just weird to see that get focus and priority over something more meaningful. Like did William finding and caring for this cat really need to be dramatized? It mostly just makes it clear that the show still employs Ron Cephas Jones but has no real use for him following William's death. It mostly provides a distraction to keep Randall busy while he and Beth are waiting for their new foster kid. It just feels like a calm time for that family and the show needs something to happen to make their lives dramatic once more. It's great that it allows more of a focus on Beth's job. It's a fascinating idea to see Randall and Beth team together on a project they can both be passionate about. It's a big decision that Randall basically makes for both of them after she voices her concerns about him being too selfish and bored with the family. But it just takes such a long way to get to the point that it's not all that effective as an overall story.

Meanwhile, it feels like the discussion that Kevin and Rebecca have should be a bigger deal. Last week, it was so explosive between them. He was lashing out at his family for his disappointing and problematic childhood. This week he is moving in with Rebecca and Miguel in order to establish a normal routine with his life. He does so even while hating Miguel and not knowing how to connect with Rebecca. It's a fascinating new character pairing that should be very meaningful. It's a story defined through a simple trip to the grocery store and watching Tiny House Hunters. It's just the normal life of an old, married couple that Kevin is inserting himself into. But he's not being overly dramatic. Yes, he's quick to react once Miguel tags along on the grocery store trip. But it's all ultimately fine and pleasant. This could be the story that adds more details to how Rebecca and Miguel reconnected and fell in love. But it's mostly conveyed through a monologue that Rebecca delivers. Kevin wants to know if she is happy with Miguel. She shares that it isn't like what her marriage to Jack was like. It's not as passionate or unexpected. But it is nice and romantic. She is happy. That's good. It's good for life to keep moving forward for these characters. They shouldn't constantly be dwelling in the past even though the structure of the show makes that the entire point. It's important for Kevin to form a new bond with Rebecca and Miguel.

And then, Kate is dealing with wedding dress shopping in a story that quickly morphs into something else. It's still a story fundamentally about her weight and her having something profound to say about that. But she has been insecure about that for so much of this series. Yes, she relapsed because of everything going on with her family. But she addresses that in group and is looking ahead to the wedding. It helps immensely that Toby is no one to be found this week. It's fun to see her as an independent woman in this city even though she's buying a dress for her wedding. It's not a stressful thing at all either. Madison makes sure of that for her. That's surprising. Madison has been such a one-note character for so long. She's the woman who attends this meeting even though she doesn't share the same problems with food as the rest of the group. That never meant she didn't have problems with food and eating though. Kate was always critical of her and wanted her to know that she didn't belong. She loved rolling her eyes at her. But now, the show reveals that Madison is actually bulimic. Of course, it's odd that the show never really says that out loud. It mostly just talks around the fact that Madison goes to the bathroom to throw up after eating. That lessons the impact a little bit because the show feels very tentative about the whole thing. It becomes this easy thing for Kate to come in and solve while distracting from her own problems. It feels like something that is resolved much too quickly. It will be so much more fascinating to see this as a continuing concern for Madison with Kate wanting to help her as a friend who finally understands what she's been going through. It's not something that can be fixed with a pep talk. Kate tries that because it's what Jack would have done. It's aspirational that way. But it would feel fake if all of this suddenly went away because Madison is such a minor character on the show.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Clooney" was written by Bekah Brunstetter and directed by Zetna Fuentes.
  • It's very wise of Barbara to tell Kevin that he isn't ready to return to his life in Hollywood. It's smart for him to be with Rebecca and Miguel right now. But again, this is such a small role for Kate Burton. I hope that Kevin will still regularly be attending therapy sessions. It's still clear that he has issues he needs to work out. He has hurt so many people. He needs to start dealing with those consequences.
  • Kevin losing the chain that his father gave to him didn't really mean anything in the moment because the audience had no understanding of its importance. He lost it in the same episode that Jack gave it to him. Sure, that was still tragic. But it didn't feel like something that has always been meaningful to Kevin. But him talking about it here to Rebecca as she talks about her own necklace from Jack is very significant.
  • Are Kevin, Kate and Randall all unemployed at the moment? That has been such a big deal for Randall. He's stayed at home for his family until something inspired him again. Kevin can take a break from his career because he's a successful actor with reserves. But Kate's job has always been this very erratic thing over the course of the show. She must be doing something but is always free to do whatever as well.
  • Kate's big speech to Madison about losing the weight but needing to feel sorry for herself because of her internal voice is quite poignant. It's the kind of thing that can only be said upon reflection of the past. But it's also clear where that voice came from while highlighting her own struggles with losing weight now especially since she really wants to do so. As such, it may not have been the best thing for her to say with the audience knowing everything that has happened.
  • Miguel and Rebecca are absolutely right to be laughing at the couples who go on shows like Tiny House Hunters wanting a tiny house because it's trendy and then complaining that it doesn't come with certain luxuries. Next, the two of them should be complaining about what counts as a tiny house and what is just unusual housing that happens to be small - like a boat.