This Is Us: When “good enough” no longer cuts it

thisisuse01-1

Season 1, Episode 1 – Pilot

There is a point where the question, “Should I watch this?” is gradually replaced by, “Do I even have time to watch this?” These days, audiences are incredibly spoiled when it comes to entertainment. If you’re not busy watching a show or a movie, you’re busy playing catch-up on all the shows and movies you’ve been holding off on.

The quality and quantity of TV series has continually risen over the last decade, and it’s not stopping any time soon. The overwhelming amount of choices means that audiences can get pickier with what they dedicate their time on. If a TV series isn’t a part of the global pop culture discussion and/or garnering significant critical acclaim, there’s very little incentive for people to watch it.

This Is Us, a drama/comedy show that follows the lives of seemingly unrelated people who share the same birthday, harkens back to a simpler time of television where being pleasant and watchable was good enough for many people. In many ways, this type of show is still good enough. Not everyone has the taste for edgy, violent, ambitious, and tragic drama shows that have stood out for the past decade. Nor should they. If every show out there were like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, then shows like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad wouldn’t be as special as they are.

But whether a show is about the brutal power games of royal houses or a slice of life dramedy about rich people and their problems, they must have one thing in common: they have to be good. The Pilot episode of This Is Us is not good. Not bad, but not good. It sits right in the middle of average. Sometimes it leans towards emotionally involving and sometimes it leans towards hokey.

The basic premise isn’t even worth describing in detail. The whole “people with the same birthday” narrative isn’t relevant in the series itself. It was clearly designed to elevate its generic concept in a way that would make it easier for the marketing department to sell the show to audiences. This isn’t a bad thing at all, but it’s wholly irrelevant to the show’s premise. There is nothing supernatural or fantastical about This Is Us. What you see is what you get.

It’s clear that This Is Us doesn’t aspire to be anything more than it is, which is a character-driven dramedy. The show follows an array of characters who are about to start a family, in the midst of making pivotal choices in their careers, connecting with long lost relatives, or attempting to change themselves for the better. It’s a decent, run-of-the-mill concept, but This Is Us doesn’t do anything wholly original or too interesting with it.

Like I already mentioned, not every show has to be deep, introspective dramas like Mad Men. But This Is Us doesn’t even fulfill its own ambitions, or at least it doesn’t fulfill it in a satisfying or involving way. I found it difficult to care about some of the characters’ storylines. By the time the episode pulls a fairly clever surprise in the end, I genuinely didn’t care enough because it doesn’t really change anything. It tries to capture you with an, “Aha!” moment, but when the dust settles it ultimately affects nothing within the show.

Maybe I’m being too rough on this series. A TV show’s lifespan is a marathon, not a sprint. Just because it starts out in a less-than-stellar fashion doesn’t mean it won’t pick up down the line. One thing This Is Us has going for it is that the cast is likable, but there’s a limit as to where likability can raise mediocre material.

4/10

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