Tuesday, September 25, 2018

REVIEW: 'This Is Us' - Randall, Kate and Kevin Move Forward With Big Decisions in Their Lives in 'Nine Bucks'

NBC's This Is Us - Episode 3.01 "Nine Bucks"

Randall, Kate and Kevin find themselves on new paths as they each celebrate their 38th birthday.

The third season of This Is Us doesn't open with anyone in the Pearson family or connected to them. Instead, it starts with some mysterious individual who is eventually revealed to be Franco Harris, a former halfback for the Pittsburgh Steelers whose reception in a 1972 game became infamous. There is no clear reason why this story is being told though. It once again highlights the Pearson family's love and support of the Steelers. They are the team they are always rooting on. The game also happens to take place on the night of Jack and Rebecca's first date with Jack already riding that high when he also meets the woman of his dreams. But again, the inclusion of it as an actual story with the action showing Harris going home and interacting with his family before and after this big game seems absolutely unnecessary. The best that it offers is a metaphor to what is currently going on in Jack and Rebecca's lives. Now, it's clear that the show still has so much of Jack and Rebecca's love story that they want to tell. However, it's not all that compelling seeing this first date knowing everything that happens next. The show has already spent time in this moment as well. The first season showed how the two of them actually met. That was meaningful. This just seems like further expanding the world without focusing on the stories in the past that the audience are most excited to see. It's going to be particularly extraneous this season whenever the show flashes back to the past and the story doesn't feature how Rebecca and the kids were coping after Jack's death and going off to college, how Rebecca and Miguel blossomed as a couple or what Jack's experience was like in the war especially as it pertained to losing his brother. Now, all of these story elements are going to play out across this season. The show has already confirmed that. That's the direction that should be pursued moving forward because that's where the most engaging material is with this story. The premiere telling a story about Jack and Rebecca after their first date and ending it on a cliffhanger largely just ensures that there is more reason for Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore to be interacting. Right now, there is just nothing exciting or interesting about learning that there was another guy in the picture when Jack went back to Rebecca's house to return the item she purposefully left behind in his car.

However, this is largely how season premieres operate for This Is Us. They aren't the big and dramatic episodes. They are mostly just a calm and relaxed re-entry point into this world. There is a consistency with them as well because they always open with the Big 3's birthdays. This year they are all turning 38. Some time has passed in between the seasons. And so, it's important to catch up on everything that is going on in their lives. Kevin and Zoe actually did hook up at Kate and Toby's wedding. It's a dynamic that has continued in the months since but they have also chosen to keep it a secret from the rest of the family. It mostly seems like a casual thing even though Kevin is hoping for it to blossom into something more. Meanwhile, Kate is determined to get pregnant. It's the first thought that she has immediately after the wedding. She and Toby spend a couple of months trying only to eventually start seeing specialists. They want to know if there is something biologically keeping them from becoming parents. They want to know now because this is something that Kate really wants in her life. Meanwhile, Deja didn't get into any trouble for destroying a car windshield with a basement bat at the wedding. Instead, her life has been comprised of her mother officially signing the papers to abandon her with Randall and Beth wanting to adopt her into their family. But she has remained distant from them as well even though she is also in therapy trying to sort out all of these abandonment issues and how she lashes out at the world in order to gain some kind of control over her own life. These are the important moments that are laid out at the start of the premiere. They are launching off points for the drama this season.

Kevin and Zoe's relationship doesn't stay a secret for very long. Beth already has her suspicions about the two of them before this party even occurs. She has seen how both of them have been acting since the wedding. In fact, Zoe is now the family member living with Randall and Beth. She's staying at their house while working on a documentary in the city. That leaves her in close proximity to Kevin as well. He has started his promotional tour for the Ron Howard film. Of course, he is also scared to watch the final cut of the movie because he is terrified by what his performance will actually do to him. The filming occurred during an unstable time in his life. It connects him back to his father which continues to make him so uncomfortable. He just doesn't know. And now, he is able to distract himself by focusing on this drama that comes up when he goes over to Randall's house. Even though she promised she wouldn't ask, Beth still confronted Kevin and Zoe about their relationship. She has a lot to say to both of them as well. Sure, it's more meaningful when she sits down with Kevin and just wants him to listen to her. When she is arguing with Zoe, it's all just played as background noise while Kevin is sitting and talking things through with Tess and Annie. That then becomes a huge proponent of Beth's speech later on. She loves how Kevin is around the girls. He is a really great uncle. He is completely honest with them even when the truth can be scary. That makes it clear that Beth has forgiven Kevin for the damage he has caused in the past especially when it could have hurt her family. And now, she's mostly looking out for him instead of her cousin. She just sees two problematic people with complicated personal lives. She wants Kevin to do better because he's older and has seemingly done more to get his life in order.

Meanwhile, Randall is distracted throughout the day by trying to get Deja into accepting the offer for adoption. It's very loving that Randall and Beth want this to be her choice. However, this story also feels like the show is responding to those critics from last season who were annoyed by how earnestly Randall tried to connect his story with Deja's. They are two completely different people. The only thing that really connects them is they are both adopted. Randall found that love the very first day he was born. He has always known loving parents. Even when he found William, he found a man who wanted to make up for lost time and made sure to fill the remaining months with wisdom and memories. Deja has been rejected by her parents her entire life. Her mother has always been a mess. And now, she's signing away all of her rights to Deja. She just sees the Pearsons as a better family who can offer Deja the life that she deserves. Meanwhile, this episode brings her father into the picture for the first time. He is a guy who has never wanted anything to do with Deja. He immediately recognizes her when she comes into the store. But that moment is about her and what she needs. She wants to be adopted by Randall and Beth. She doesn't need some speech given to her highlighting her choice. The actions that the family have taken to protect and love her are all that she needs to know that she is safe in this environment. Actions are better than words. As such, Randall seems like a fool. It's also just a really awkward thing to have this conversation with her on his birthday. It makes it seem as if she can only say yes. He is presenting it as if she doesn't really have a choice at all. The outcome was inevitable. But it was more personal as Deja was reaching out for clarity on this connection with her father before accepting Randall and Beth's offer.

And finally, Kate and Toby's story has the potential to become really infuriating if not handled too carefully. It's all about Kate wanting a baby. She can't even celebrate her birthday because they also have an appointment with an IVF specialist who tells them that it's practically impossible for her to get pregnant again. It's an issue that once again revolves entirely around her weight. And yes, Kate has the appropriate reaction of lashing out at the world for once again allowing this one thing to define her story. She wants to be a mom. She deserves that. She understands that there is more than one way to be a family. She and Toby are ready to accept that IVF isn't the solution. In a miraculous turn of events though, this doctor calls them back in to apologize for making them feel rejected earlier. It's the kind of interaction that probably wouldn't happen normally. But it also ensures that Kate and Toby will continue on this journey while under the supervision of a medical professional. Before that call came in, Toby was talking about continuing to try it the natural way. They didn't need the hormones or the retrieving of eggs and implantation of embryos in order to conceive a child. He just believes that he is solely responsible for their issues. He now attributes his anti-depressants as the reason for his low sperm count. That's just a brief moment during the doctor's appointment. She is just trying to get a better assessment of the situation. She thinks most of the risk comes from Kate's weight. That's what makes things seem so daunting and challenging. It has nothing to do with Toby. And yet, he demands to have a voice in all of this as well. Kate is the one primarily driving this story forward. She is the one making the decisions about how to become a mom. That's her right as well. Moreover, she is just the more interesting character. When Toby flushes his pills down the toilet, it is so infuriating because it's him doing so irrationally. A doctor didn't tell him to do so. Kate didn't want him to risk becoming depressed again just for the fleeting moments where it's possible he could impregnate her. It's going to lead to a painful and tragic spiral. The show already teased that in the finale. It just seems like a conflict that should further revolve around the two of them not really talking to each other before making these big decisions.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Nine Bucks" was written by Dan Fogelman, Isaac Aptaker & Elizabeth Berger and directed by Ken Olin.
  • There is only a brief amount of time spent in the future with the show continuing to tease the "her" that Randall and Tess were referring to. It's still being treated as one big mystery. It could be Deja. Or it could be Beth, Rebecca or Kate. Any of the female characters could be at the center of this mystery. Here, it seems incredibly likely that it's Kate because Randall calls Toby to make sure that he is coming for whatever is going on as well.
  • So, the audience now knows that Toby will continue to survive into the future. Sure, he's also all alone in bed when he gets the call from Randall. That should infer that the "her" at the center of this mystery is Kate because she's the only character of importance who Toby has a meaningful relationship with. And yet, Kate doesn't really have a connection with Tess as of yet. So, it's still a complicated mystery.
  • How often is the show going to produce flash-forwards this season? It has already established it as the new hook to drive the mystery elements forward. It's what has replaced how Jack dies as the central mystery of the narrative. However, those moments could be more fleeting because it's a little less doom and gloom right now. Sure, the more information teased the more the circumstances and reaction around the story will become. I'm just wondering if there will be a whole episode set in the future at some point this season?
  • Of course, there is no reason to be concerned about Kevin and Zoe as a couple right now. Beth is trying to protect Kevin. She breaks swearing on Oprah in order to learn the truth. She believes fiercely in what this relationship could mean for the family. However, the audience knows it will remain a stable dynamic at least until Kevin begins his exploration of Vietnam and his father's service during the war.
  • Jack only has nine dollars on him in order to woo Rebecca during their first date. It's because of that that it becomes miserable. He can't even afford an umbrella because he wants to save cash for her to play games at this carnival. But again, there are no real stakes to this story because the audience knows how all of this is going to end. It mostly just confirms that Rebecca was aware that Jack didn't like to talk about his time during the war because he lost his brother in Vietnam.