Hit or Sh**: NBC’s THIS IS US
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
The river of tears following the premiere of the THIS IS US trailer was the most moisture Los Angeles had seen in years. It played like a montage of reasons to cry: a mother giving birth, a father losing a newborn child, a woman struggling to lose weight, a man reuniting with his estranged father, people falling and staying in love . . . NBC has asked itself, “Who’s still watching network television?,” and the answer is “empty nesters who want to cry about their absentee families.” THIS IS US is bound to be wildly successful and is far from the worst thing to premiere on network television (DR.KEN season two, anyone?), but success does not equate with quality any more than emotional pornography equates with depth.
THIS IS US opens with text describing how 18 million people share the same birthday. This show is about four of them: Kate, an overweight woman who finally commits to dropping some pounds; Kevin, her twin brother and Stamos-esque sitcom star; Randall, a successful African-American businessman who tracks down his bio dad; and Jack, a run-of-the-mill father and husband whose wife is about to spawn triplets. We open on their collective 36th birthday and watch the seemingly unrelated events unfold, but there are surprises to come!
Pretty much the face I made watching this pilot
Let’s run down our colorful cast of characters in order of preference. Randall is the obvious stand-out with the strongest performance and strongest story arc. His cringe-smile at a surprise birthday cake from his coworkers gave me a good giggle, and his crazed reaction to bringing his father home to meet his family was as bizarre as it was moving. Kate is a close second with her bold (from a network standpoint) weight loss journey and her chemistry with self-proclaimed “fat friend,” Toby. Toby feels like Greg from CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND after Rebecca puts him through the ringer one too many times and he finally lets himself go. It’s pretty great. Next down the line we have new parents Jack and Rebecca, who hold hands, cry a lot and say things like, “In any state, my wife, you arouse me.” Bringing up the rear is Kevin. Kevin is sad because his life of sexy ladies and superstardom leaves him unfulfilled. In a show with a dead baby in the pilot, it’s really hard to feel sorry for Kevin.
A cursory Google search for THIS IS US reveals not only its massive opening night ratings but tons of “spoiler alert” tags a little uncharacteristic for an NBC dramedy. There is, in fact, a twist at the end of the pilot and I’m about to spoil it so if you care about that sort of thing mosey on down to the next paragraph. So, how are these stories connected? As it turns out, Jack and Rebecca are Kate, Kevin, and Randall’s parents. They adopt Randall after his bio dad abandons him as a baby and they lose their third kid in childbirth. So the premise of this show is that these four different story arcs will play out in parallel, except one of them is about the other three when they were tiny babies. Like if THE MUPPET SHOW had a MUPPET BABIES segment or something. I don’t know if this is challenging the form as much as NBC thinks it is, because we’re still left with four just-OK sitcom premises smooshed together into one hour-long cryfest. To me, this sounds like a better premise for a film than a TV show.
“It’s ok, baby, we’re getting a second season no matter what.”
I find it ironic that Kevin goes on a huge rant about how audiences are responsible for the creation of sub-par content because they should want better for themselves. Sure, the dulcet tones of Jason Mraz put a little shimmer in your eyes and it’s nice to have a little feelsy NBC in this harsh HBO world of ours. But where is this really going? Part of me wants to have faith in writer/creator Dan Fogelman (CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE.) to pull this around and make something out of this other than four dramas playing out at the same time, but the rest of me wants to watch shows I already know are going to be good. If you feel the need to hop on the hype train, or you’re 40 and you’re sad that your kids don’t live at home anymore, THIS IS US will probably do it for you. It’s already huge and it’s going to stay that way for a while, and it’ll give you a good cry and make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. But that’s about all it set outs to do, and that’s all it’s ever going to do. If you want content that’s going to change the way you see the world and will resonate with you for years to come, look elsewhere. FLEABAG, perhaps?
THIS IS US airs on NBC on Tuesdays