This Is Us Is Alright, But It’s No Friday Night Lights

This Is Us

I like This Is Us. But it’s no Friday Night Lights.

NBC’s new hit show, This Is Us, recently wrapped up its first season, becoming NBC’s first scripted show since Frasier to be the most viewed TV show of the week. It’s at near water cooler talk status, which doesn’t happen very often these days because no one watches TV at the same time unless it’s live sports. I started watching because I’d heard so much about it from friends, co-workers, and the internet.

If you haven’t watched the show before, you should stop reading now because it’s going to get a little spoileresque in here.

I tried writing a short description of the show for those who may not be as familiar, but gave up after five tries and went to Google for help. If you search for This Is Us in Google, this is what you find on the right side of the search result.

Jack and his wife — who is very pregnant with triplets — have just moved into their new home in Pittsburgh. Successful and handsome television actor Kevin is growing increasingly bored with his bachelor lifestyle. Randall — who was abandoned at a fire station by his father as an infant — is a stylish New York-based businessman working to raise two daughters with his wife, Beth. These people are among a group, several of whom share a birthday, of seemingly random individuals whose lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

Wait. That’s the worst way anyone could describe this show.

Okay, I’ll give it one more try.

This Is Us exists in a few different planes. It’s a show that exists in the past, the way back past, and what we see as the present. Through flashbacks that don’t seem like flashbacks, the story for why things are in the present are told.

Here are some of the things we know:

  • Jack, who is the patriarch of the family and played by Milo Ventimiglia, is dead in present time. I’ll have a lot to say about that in a bit.
  • Rebecca is played by Mandy Moore, who you might remember as a former pop star. She’s married to Jack and in just about every scene, puts his testicles in her pocket. She owns him. She owns him so much that in present day, while he’s buried six feet under, she’s married to his best friend Miguel.
  • All three kids (Randall, Kate, and Kevin) are in the flashback scenes and the current scenes. They are also known as the big three. Why? Well, Kate and Kevin are twins, but they were supposed to be two of a set of triplets. The third of the triplets didn’t make it during birth and Randall, who was born on the same day, was scooped up by a fireman and given to Jack. He was left on the doorstep of the firehouse.
  • Randall didn’t meet his birth father until present day and he eventually learned that Rebecca knew his birth father and planned to introduce the two but couldn’t. He finally found him by hiring a private investigator.
  • Randall’s wife Beth is realer than Real Deal Holyfield. She’s woke, fine as frog hair, and reminds me of a grown-ass Thelma from Good Times. I really, really love her.

Here are some of the things we don’t know:

    I hate Toby

  • How did Jack die? Was it because he was an alcoholic? Did he die while drinking and driving? Did Rebecca forget to give him back his testicles?
  • How did Rebecca and Miguel end up together? And is Backstabbing Miguel really his nickname?
  • Why does Kate say that it’s her fault that her father passed away? Did she stab him? That would be ridiculous, especially after consoled her when her Madonna birthday party was a bust.
  • Why did Kevin and his wife get divorced? Was it because he was an actor and was on his cheating steez? Was it because he’s often aloof and not present to anyone outside of himself?
  • Why was the character of Toby, Kate’s boo, ever created? He’s a miserable human being and should be put out of his (and our) misery. He’s so bad that a Twitter account named @IsTobyDeadYet not only exists, but followed me. It has to be legit because only legit accounts follow me.

Like the great Robert Stack used to say, “These are the unsolved mysteries.” I think he said something like that at least.

I want to preface by saying that I don’t dislike this show. I really do marvel at how they keep all the timelines consistent and not confusing. Imagine that on the night of Super Bowl XIV, which was on January 20, 1980, Jack and Rebecca practiced coitus. Wait, do you practice coitus? Do you play coitus? Perform? And what if in the act of coitus, a child is created. Are you succeeding at coitus? What about three kids? Winning at coitus? I’m confused.

Okay, back to Jack and Rebecca. They got busy on the night of that Super Bowl to create their children. And in the same episode, you see their grown children who were the result of their successful coitus. Trippy right? And possibly confusing. But the timeline and resulting time shifting is done to perfection. It’s the best part of the storytelling.

This is UsWell, maybe except when they go from present day Jack to ten years prior Jack and he looks exactly the same with the same build. I know what ten years ago Jack looked like because ten years ago Jack starred in a great movie called Rocky Balboa as Rocky Jr. He didn’t look like present day Jack at all. Present day Jack looks like Rocky Jr. on steroids.

Let’s compare.

It doesn’t even look like the same guy right? I can forgive them for that because it’s not like you can give 2017 Jack human growth hormone so he can age backward just for a few scenes here and there.

And plus, I love Rocky Jr. He existed only so that his father, the great southpaw out of Philadelphia, Rocky Balboa could give him this life lesson. And when I say him, I really mean all of us.

The actor who plays Jack, Milo Ventimiglia, has even adopted Sylvester Stallone’s sideways mouth talking thing. When Sly talks, the right side of his mouth extends outward. He doesn’t really open his mouth to speak as much as stretches it sideways. Milo has perfected that move as Jack.

Okay, that’s a thousand words of padding (1,028 to be exact) to setup what this piece is really about. What stops This Is Us from being a truly great show in the realm of something like Friday Night Lights?

Friday Night Lights is also a NBC show based off a book of the same name by Buzz Bissinger about a small town in Texas where high school football was the most important thing in the world. There was also a movie produced based off said book that’s nearly as good as the show is. It ran from 2006 to 2011 and if you didn’t watch it, it’s probably because the ratings of the show were low and NBC made it a second rate priority even though it was critically acclaimed.

While there were so many things that made this show great, including but not only because of the great Adrianne Palicki as Tyra Collette, two things stood out to me.

  1. The characters were written in a way that made you want to root for them, but not in a fake way. You loved Coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami Taylor because they put their family and marriage before everything else like you’d hope your family and marriage would be. There were obstacles created for the characters to overcome, but they weren’t impossible. Well, except when a college wanted Tami for their Dean of Admissions when she was only principal at their local high school for a year. That seemed pretty impossible. But still.
  2. The writers didn’t try to manipulate your feelings to a sleazy degree. Sure, the first episode of the entire show starts with Jason Street, starting QB of the Dillion Panthers, throwing an interception and becoming paralyzed after trying to stop the defensive back from scoring. His life is turned upside down in the first episode. But we didn’t love him yet. We learned to love him while he was going through a major life change.

It also led to maybe the greatest scene in the show’s run. It was during the first season and Street had just learned that the love of his life, Lyla Garrity, cheated on him with his best friend Tim Riggins. He waited until they came to see him play his wheelchair rugby game before lighting them both up. It was a major chill scene.

(Sadly, I couldn’t find the scene on YouTube, so small GIFs will have to do.)

I can still hear it. You’re a coward Riggins!

Let’s get back to the manipulation of feelings. Greatly written shows can manipulate feelings in a smart way that’s based on strong characters and strong writing. They don’t have to do so in a sleazy, lazy way. That’s not This Is Us. As much as I love Sterling K. Brown’s portrayal of Randall (as well as Beth, played by Susan Kelechi Watson who I really need to meet), there’s just a filthiness to the way that the writers try and get their fanbase to stay interested, and more importantly cry.

There are tons of blog posts out there that talk about the best moments that made fans cry. It’s really the one trademark of the series.

But my issue is how they make their audience cry. And really, you only need to look at one storyline as the example.

As I stated above, Jack’s character is dead in present time. The biggest storyline that follows the series is how he dies. There are tons and tons of fan fic theories out there. The writers have teased how and keep pointing in one specific direction. They’ve put footprints in the sand for him possibly being an alcoholic. In an early episode, Rebecca tells him that he can’t be a drinker since they now have kids. And when their relationship seems to be on edge, he turns to adult beverages. His father seemed to be an alcoholic.

In the penultimate episode of the first season, Rebecca is trying to revive her singing career and has a performance. Jack gets in his car to drive to see his wife perform. His kids are staying overnight with friends. Jack was too jealous to go see her until young Kate told him to. What young Kate didn’t know was that he had a few beers and had more in his car. He was literally drinking while driving.

Even Mothers Against Drunk Drivers were MADD.

Fans were ready to cry and cry hard. They were also ready to get their heartbroken because how could Jack, such a great father, kill himself while drinking and driving?

That led to the preview of the season finale showing Jack possibly driving to his death. He was shotgunning beers and driving blurry eyed. Except, the death never happened. Jack didn’t die in a car crash while driving to see his wife perform. He didn’t die at all. The producers just wanted you to think he might. And it worked because the season finale did fantastic ratings.

It just made me feel sleazy watching.

I’ll keep watching, mostly because I’m a very loyal watcher and need to see how things end.

I’ll keep wishing bad things on Toby. I will keep rooting for Randall and Beth (especially Beth). I will keep hoping that Backstabber Miguel gets the clap. But if the upcoming seasons are anything like the first, they’re going to try and manipulate emotions and give viewers the okey doke, which will continue to make me roll my eyes instead of forcing tears down them.

To quote the great American philosopher Jay Z, “I can’t see ‘em coming down my eyes, so I gotta make the song cry.”

Real emotion can happen. I’ve watched Friday Night Lights all the way through three times now and every single time the series finale is over, I feel like I’ve lost a friend. That’s real emotion.

I will commend the series for one thing in the season finale. We didn’t learn how Jack died. But at least, he took his testicles back from Rebecca.

After he punched out her performing partner because he was a sleezebag, Rebecca (who secretly loved Jack for punching him out), decided to lay into him. Jack wanted to go to bed. She wouldn’t let him because she wanted to yell at him for being a jealous drunkard and show dominance. Jack kind of yelled back, but he was going to let Rebecca win like he always lets her win. After not letting Jack to go bed when he wanted to, she does, but only after making him feel small.

What Rebecca expected was to wake up and walk out of their bedroom and see Jack sleeping in the hallway near the bedroom door like a puppy dog. He’d done it before. But Jack didn’t. He slept on the couch. When she walked out of her bedroom, she had a worried look on her face because he wasn’t where she thought he was going to be. Instead, he was waiting with a soliloquy.

It was titled, “The day I got my testicles back.” Actually, there wasn’t a title. But that should’ve been it. You can watch it below.

That was a drop the mic moment if there ever was one. I don’t imagine they get divorced before Jack dies. I don’t imagine Rebecca loses interest in him. Well, unless Backstabbing Miguel puts the moves on her. Wait, I think I just figured out how Jack died.

Backstabbing Miguel puts the moves on Rebecca. He and Jack decide to have a knife fight to the death for Rebecca’s love like it was the West Side Story. As he and Miguel square off for a duel, young Kate screams for her dad and then Backstabbing Miguel front stabs Jack and then he dies. No wonder Kevin hates Miguel so bad.

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