REVIEW: ‘This Is Us’ hooks you with acting and emotions

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I had never watched a single episode of the hit family drama “This Is Us” before today. I planned on just staying for one episode, writing a review based on that, and calling it good. But, just like my first comic book, one episode of “This Is Us” hooked me hard enough that I watched the next episode. And then the next. And now I want to catch up on what I missed while keeping up with what’s currently going on the show.

Not being up-to-speed on what’s happened so far, here’s what I’ve been able to piece together:

  • The story is about the lives of the three thirty-something Pearson siblings. Kevin (Justin Hartley) is a former sitcom actor who just got a break and is starring in a Ron Howard movie. Kate (Chrissy Metz) grew up overweight and still deals with the scars from childhood, but is finding her way in life and trying to become a singer. Randall (Sterling K. Brown), was an African-american kid adopted by a white family, and now longs to help some other poor, struggling kid by giving them a family.
  • The story is also full of flashbacks, in which the Pearsons relive pivotal moments from their childhoods. We also get to see the relationship between their parents, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore).
  • Jack died at some point when the Pearson kids were in high school. A big clue was dropped during the Season 2 premiere, but details are still pretty scant.

That probably seems like the obvious stuff to people who’ve been following the show since its debut. But it’s a lot more than I knew before today. Before today, all I know about “This Is Us” is that it starred the one guy from “Heroes”, the guy that played Gordon the hunter on “Supernatural” and didn’t look like anything in which I’d be interested.

But I was won over by two things: The acting and the emotional resonance. First, let’s tackle the acting.

This cast is pretty fantastic. Metz is the beating heart of the show, bringing hope and pain. She projects the kind of fragility one can only project when you’ve been through a lifetime of heartache and are trying to live a life worth living. She’s awesome.

Brown and Hartley bring plenty of depth. Brown’s Randall is a guy who has never failed at anything, and he’s wound up as tight as a spring because he can’t allow himself to mess up. Hartley is also hiding a lot of damage under a well-put together facade, in fact, Kevin’s defining characteristic might be insecurity.

“This Is Us” gets its soul from the relationship between Jack and Rebecca. If that relationship doesn’t work, the whole thing falls apart. But Ventimiglia and Moore are fantastic together. You can tell how much they mean to each other just by how they look at one another. It’s a real relationship between a husband and wife on television, and the show mines a lot of its emotional impact from it.

And that’s the other thing about “This Is Us” that hooked me. The feels. The people making this show know how to conjure memories and push your buttons so you feel something. There was a scene in the premiere where younger Kate is watching the activities of all these pretty girls, and it causes her current day self to avoid a challenge. That hit me hard, as an adult who grew up overweight and never felt good enough to do anything the “normal” kids were doing. And there’s stuff like that all over this show.

On the surface, “This Is Us” looks like just another family drama. But the cast is so good, the characters so real, and the emotions so resonant and powerful that it’s impossible to deny. I may start having viewing parties for the show at my house. All are invited. Make sure to bring your own beverage, snacks and supply of tissues.

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