Season 1, Episode 2 – The Big Three
The biggest problem with this show is that it’s not as clever as it thinks it is. Whether it’s through the humour, which feels forced and unnatural, or its insistence in providing surprises, which is stale and trite, This Is Us struggles to strike a balance between its two genres because it fails to evoke any genuine emotion both from its characters and its audience.
Whereas something like Gilmore Girls was witty and charming, This Is Us falls flat in its increasingly desperate attempts at being dramatic and/or amusing. At the heart of it all is that these characters and their situations just aren’t interesting at all. Watching Kate struggle with her weight is already getting repetitive in the second episode of the show. The flashbacks with Jack and Rebecca’s devolving marriage in raising three children is a story that offers absolutely nothing new. Randall’s attempts at reconnecting with his dying father is tedious and derivative.
The only saving grace of this show is Kevin and his struggle with finding more meaning in his acting career. His character is at a crossroads, giving up a well-paying job as the lead star in a humiliating sitcom where he plays a constantly shirtless nanny. Watching him face even more humiliation with his very public resignation and his attempts to placate both his agents and the network is easily the highlight of both episodes. Both Kevin’s character arc and Justin Hartley’s performance are easily this show’s best assets at this point, and I can’t help but wish that Kevin was the lead character of the show instead of it firmly being an ensemble.
Even then, the episode disappoints on that aspect when, after being threatened by his superiors of being blacklisted in the Hollywood industry unless he continues with the show, Kevin’s storyline reaches an anti-climax when we don’t even see him stand his ground and officially quit for good. All of this after we see an emotional Kevin reach out to his brother that pushes him to do right by himself and refuse to agree to his superiors’ terms. I’m also a bit baffled as to why Kevin didn’t even think about reaching a compromise and renegotiating his contract with his show so that starring in it won’t be as humiliating as it is, but I guess that would’ve been too interesting for this show to take on.
Another problem of the show is that its humour feels tacked on. I wish that it would remove the “comedy” aspect because it’s simply not working. Not even this show’s talented cast can save most of the groan-worthy attempts at injecting humour during serious moments. Going for a straight-up drama with humour would probably improve the show quite a bit instead of tackling every episode with the knowledge that it’s supposed to be a drama and a comedy. It’s quite off-putting to watch a dramatic scene that’s littered with little jokes here and there because the show fails to make those jokes even remotely amusing. There’s no balance whatsoever, which makes a scene fall apart because it can’t commit to one goal. Instead it’s reaching for two goals (to be both dramatic and amusing) and fails to do either.
Ultimately ‘The Big Three’ doesn’t improve my already limited optimism as to where the show can go from here. There are some very serious flaws in the show’s foundations that need to be dramatically changed in order for it to rise above its ho-hum execution. Even fully accepting what the show is trying to achieve doesn’t seem to improve its quality because it can’t even reach its limited potential. Right now the only thing This Is Us needs to do is to be genuinely heartwarming, and it can’t even achieve that.