Pilot: “This Is Us”

When it comes to any drama series, it’s not too difficult to get into the story and find a way to like the characters, maybe even relate. But with most dramas, while you may care for the characters, the drama’s not typically rooted in anything that’s close to tangible. The situation’s character’s face may seem familiar, but there’s something still missing. Something that truly makes it a one of a kind must see drama.

The new 20th Television series “This Is Us”, is a touching and easily accessible human drama that didn’t disappoint, but now must prove its worth.

This drama stars Milo Ventimiglia (upcoming “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life”, “Ultimate Spider-Man”), Mandy Moore (“47 Meters Down”, “Sheriff Callie’s Wild West”), Sterling K. Brown (“Spaceman”, “The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”), Chrissy Metz (“American Horror Story”, “Huge”), Justin Hartley (“Mistresses (US TV series)”, “The Young and the Restless”), Susan Kelechi Watson (upcoming episode “Divorce”, “The Blacklist”), Chris Sullivan (upcoming “Live by Night”, “Morgan”), and Ron Cephas Jones (“The Get Down”, “Mr. Robot”).

The series was created by Dan Fogelman (“Pitch”, “Grandfathered”).

The series originally aired on Sept. 20, 2016 on NBC.

Some new show’s build hype, but after all is said and done, that’s all the show ends up being. Hype. It’s an unfortunate part of any new Fall broadcast season, or any time when a lot of new series debut. However, some aren’t just hype, and when you see it and experience what it’s all about, you know you’ve made the right choice. You know that there’s a lot that the new series will have to offer. This one, of all of the new series thus far, is my favorite and the most memorable. I wasn’t expecting what I got. I’m not sure why that is, but it allowed me to get so absorbed in the pilot, I was actually disappointed it had to end. A lot of shows can convince me that it’s worth my time to watch, but so few can move me the way this one did. I hate to add on to it, as I know some professional critics have already said so, and they’re not wrong, but not since “Parenthood (2010 TV series)”, have I been this emotionally moved. If only all dramas could achieve a very similar depth, then I think we’d see more quality shows, and not just juicy, addictive, Primetime soaps or lite-soap dramas.

Everything is so perfect! Or as perfect as it’s ever going to be. For a pilot, top notch! It’s so evident why the network wanted this show for the Fall. In all, I truly can’t pick out anything that’s wrong, nor do I feel I can choose one moment over another, as they were all so wonderful. I’m going to move on, as I feel I could go on and on about how much I responded to this pilot, and at some point that wouldn’t serve anyone. Not even myself.

So, what made this pilot such a fantastic experience? Well, for starters, it’s probably got some of the most subtle work I’ve ever seen. Nothing is over the top, not even close. Each moment hits a certain point head on, and it’s never gimmicky. The level of emotion, dramatic and human, works its way down deep. You feel so much, instantly. I was amazed at the opening scene, not just because Ventimiglia’s ass was on full display, which is weird for a broadcast network, but because I instantly cared. I was pulled in. This emotional level, which I believe was as real as any show currently on the air, may resonate in some real and relatable way for a lot of people. Because of this, even when things seemed sluggish, you were just invested in ways most other dramas can only dream of achieving.

For instance, to make the point for a serious scene, particularly those involving Ventimiglia and Moore, there was no score. It would pop up in other moments, and some heavier ones too, but at times it was absent. And the effect was even stronger than if it had been there. There was no need to manipulate you. The scene and performances were already doing the work. And that never ceased throughout the episode. Because of this approach, each character was introduced so wonderfully and given the chance to show who they are and what matters to them, which is what makes them who they are. You could quickly find out, that these are characters you wanted to care for, and that following their lives would give you something you don’t typically see. Maybe it’s just the approach, but regardless of what it is, it allows for human drama and emotion to truly be felt. This could be your life, or someone in your family or even a friend’s.

On the other side of the coin, but just as incredible, is the humor. Yes, humor. It pops up quite a lot, but it’s never awkward, never forced, and always maintains that honest feeling you’ve been getting. It adds greatly to the characters, and helps you to see how much of this series will be driven by character. It also, of course, just gives you some brief moments to laugh and be happy, before you are thrust back into something that’s moments away from making you cry. I must admit I got close, but I never became a puddle. If you’ve seen the episode, you know what scene’s I’m talking about. I hope the writers can maintain this as the show goes on because it’s a tough task to balance these two elements, and I think they’ll manage.

With all this now said, I must acknowledge the actors. Each one was in fine form. I noted that Hartley might possibly have his best role yet. Much like the emotion you felt, nothing was off. Each performance was full of warmth, honesty, and humanity. Have I mentioned that it’s not difficult to like these characters or in some way relate to them? This being a character driven drama, and a different drama in general, I must note that if anyone had problems I can see why and will name one. It’s seemingly disconnected. The characters, as we see, don’t really know each other. Only two (Hartley and Metz) come together in a not so random way. So too do Moore and Ventimiglia, but as she’s pregnant with his babies, that’s obvious. This in turn leads to the fact that the day to day events seem random. You just go from one thing to another, but that’s the point. You’re just exploring people’s lives. Day to day. It’s really quite simple, and yet so beautiful. I personally loved this, and I can’t wait to see where things go next.

And, I know it seems contrary to what I should do, but I feel that I can’t talk about this without mentioning how the pilot ended. It’s definitely a factor in why I want to continue with this series, but it’s not the only one, nor do I feel it’s the majority reason. The episode ends with a twist. No matter how much I try to avoid social media when I’m not watching a given series, for fear of spoilers, it doesn’t always work. I couldn’t pull it off this time. As a result, I read some things that had me believing there’d be a lot of heartache, which there was, but not at the end. Instead, those who tune in, or will later on, were treated to a happy surprise. Hartley, Metz, and Brown, as it turns out, are all siblings. The episode plants a lot of seeds, which drives you believing these stories are all occurring in the same time, but they’re not. Moore and Ventimiglia, as it turns out, are in the year 1980. I believe that’s right, but I can’t trust my math. Regardless, it’s the past and the present. Everyone else, obviously, are in the present and dealing with their own complicated lives. Not only was it an amazing and welcome surprise, but the overall execution of this last few minutes of the episode were perfect. After so much heavier content, you get this lighter and happier moment. It was a brilliant and beautiful way to end.

Which is what brings me to why I bothered mentioning it at all. I want to know how Fogelman and his fellow writers plan on approaching the rest of the series. Will it stay like this the whole season? Will Moore and Ventimiglia show up in makeup that ages them many years? Then, there’s the why? Why tell a story like this? It’s a very bold step, and one I truly believe will pay off, but there’s something of a gamble still going on. What if the split stories don’t capture the audience’s interest the way I’m hoping? Fuck the audience, what about mine? What if I find it’s not as charming, clever, or effective the way it should be? Having deep character driven stories, not to mention very grounded and human characters is great, but a series that can’t come together because of its own creativeness doesn’t mean much. I guess I’ll just have to watch over the next several weeks, as I don’t think I’m going to want to look away, nor do I think it’ll lose too many viewers.

A lot of drama shows are fun to watch. Putting characters in situations that we care about or can relate a bit to certainly helps. While I myself may respond to so many, in many different ways, I seldom get the feeling that it truly matters. The stories never leave me with a feeling that hits hard. To get that again, after so many other well made dramas have gone off the air, is a special kind of treat. It shows me that there are creators that care about characters and exploring them in a much more deeper and personal way. I’ll take it where I can for most other dramas I watch will probably just be the juicy and fast paced kind, which is usually better suited for binge watching.

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