It's impossible to watch the show "This Is Us" without getting emotional.
The series spans several decades, connects many characters, and never misses an opportunity to take a shot at the viewer's heart. It tugs on the heartstrings the way a newborn baby tugs on his or her mother's hair. Creator Dan Fogelman has crafted a network show that isn't just enjoyable, but relatable and addicting.
Full disclosure: I put off watching this show for months. It premiered last fall to a chorus of cheers and praise. Audiences fell head-over-heels and critics couldn't get enough. The network renewed it for two seasons last month, and the first season is finishing up in thought provoking fashion.
Suddenly, Tuesday nights are a couch night because "This Is Us" swings its emotional wrecking ball towards your living room rather you like it or not.
The main ingredient for an ensemble show to work is the writing. The actors can be aces, but the scripts have to contain sparks and keep the episodes moving and avoid the cliché highway as much as possible.
The main problem I have with network programming is the feeling that I have seen it before, but here everything feels real and established. The stories are earned and not spat out for viewers to recycle before the next show comes on.
A total of ten writers have shared work on the 18 episodes this season, but the largest fingerprints belong to Kay Oyegun and Aurin Squire. Fogelman gets the final say on every script, but those two writers have a hand in 13 episodes, which makes them the benchmark for what we see and hear. The dialogue is crisp throughout, and delivered with aplomb.
The cast is signature and well-picked. The standouts include Milo Ventimiglia, who plays Jack, one of the main patriarchs. The seasoned actor had the looks of a movie star ten years ago, but has found the perfect role on television playing a complicated yet decent man.
Mandy Moore has never been able to climb over the hump of being a singer who dabbles in acting, but she is very good here. Her Rebecca is a big chunk of the glue that ties the story from the 1970's(Jack and Rebecca having twins and adopting another) to the present with a group of siblings trying to make it through life while battling a number of obstacles ranging from inner demons, bad decision making, and weight loss.
Without giving away too much, the story setup goes back and forth inside each hour, with one scene coming in the 80's before jetting back to 2016. Without good writing and well timed acting, the idea would be as tired as a Morgan Freeman voiceover, but here it works extremely well.
Other standouts include St. Louis native Sterling K. Brown, who is wonderful as Randall, the modern day father trying to reconnect with his long lost biological father(the gifted Ron Cephas Jones). Chrissy Metz is fine in a tough role, while Justin Hartley and Chris Sullivan(The Knick) provide ample support in several scenes without being remarkable.
For instance, you see Ventimiglia's Jack work with a beard and then a mustache, as the times change and the best thing is the scenes keep you guessing. Fogelman's strategy here is revealing a little chunk of story at a time without allowing the levees to break and overwhelm the viewer. You see the fate of a key character, but are withheld from seeing the details. You see a big twist, but don't know the backstory. It's as if Fogelman is telling us a bedtime story that will span 40 years and require 54 episodes and three years to complete.
This show will give you the feels. It's a wonderfully emotional roller coaster that releases a single dose per week to allow for the drama to work its magic. I'd watch a scene with Brown and Jones, and instantly think about my own dad, because we are best friends at ages 35 and 62. The best TV shows and movies are the ones that make you reflect on your own life, if only for a few minutes. The score is poignant here, and the soundtrack includes hits from every decade it spans.
It's rare for a network show to hit this hard every single week, but the truth is the wife and I binged this show in a week, and await each episode like a well-wrapped and hidden Christmas present. "This Is Us" leaves you wanting more every week, and never passes up an opportunity to hit you in the chest. The biggest cynic will find something to connect with here.
If I had to give you one show to binge, it's "This Is Us". Trust me, "This Is Us" is a well measured series that has so much more up its sleeve than your average network show.
Well done, Dan Fogelman. I'll have another.