The Breakout Show of 2016
When NBC's This Is Us premiered last September, it drew in a surprisingly strong audience for a family-based sitcom. This success was partially due to the show's gimmick, revealed at the end of the pilot: This Is Us jumps around between a modern-day timeline about three siblings and the story of their parents, dating back to the 1970's. The twist element was enough to get fans involved in the storylines, and for 17 more episodes, This Is Us established itself as a tear-jerker, to the point where the cast starred in promos in which they apologized for making viewers cry. Fans obsessed over the confusing timelines, cliff-hanger mysteries and potential explanations for storylines, so NBC responded to the phenomenon by giving the show a second and third season.
But as excited as fans in the 18-49 age group were, some critics were less-than thrilled by the show's handling of certain plots. Let's take a look at some of these criticisms.
Kate's Weight-Loss Journey
This Is Us spent a lot of time pushing the fact that one of their main characters is an overweight woman getting equal screen time, a definite rarity in Hollywood. While the creators have spoken about this with pride, the character's storylines proved problematic. Kate Pearson (played by Chrissy Metz) has had little to no opportunity to develop as a person outside of her weight-loss goals. The first season shows her get a job, become engaged and interact with her family, but each of these plot lines are connected to her weight. She says it explicitly when she tells Toby, "It's always going to be about the weight for me." Several reviews have pointed out the issue with a show that boasts an overweight character and then treats her as nothing more than a walking weight-loss plot.
Kevin's True Character
Justin Hartley plays Kevin Pearson, the charming ditz of the Big Three who has aspirations of becoming a serious actor, but can't seem to channel any seriousness into his own life. This Is Us is so reliant on emotionally heavy storylines that they often turn to Kevin as comic-relief. While Hartley can always pull off the one-liners, this use of the character means that, like his sister Kate, it's impossible for him to develop a personality beyond the list of traits assigned to his arc. The "playboy with a heart-of-gold" thing was wearing out quickly in Season 1, and while the show did give him a legitimate love-interest in the form of his ex-wife Sophie, the lack of explanation about whether Kevin is really that clueless makes it difficult to take his serious plots seriously.
There's Too Much Love
Despite the fact that most of the character's are poorly developed (excluding Randall, who had an opportunity to grow alongside his biological father), no issue is bigger than the fundamental theme of the show: the family's undying love for each other. They are unquestioningly loyal, and while this does make room for plenty of heart-tugging scenes to enjoy, these scenes will always ring a little false as long as the show refuses to dig into the deeper issues. When This Is Us introduces a fundamental flaw in the relationships between characters, like the rift between Kevin and his parents or the lack of communication between Kate and Toby, these problems are usually wrapped up by the end of an episode. This gives the relationships little depth in the show. It can be slightly unnerving to see them painstakingly reenact a Thanksgiving that happened decades ago, when there is no basis for it.
The devotion that they show to the events of their past is meant to make audiences feel that same devotion, but without seeing a family in the small, day-to-day moments of their lives, it's difficult to put value on the big emotional ones.
'This Is Us' Has Plenty of Room To Grow
These issues with storytelling haven't stopped an eager audience, and the additional seasons certainly mean that This Is Us has time to work out the wrinkles from it's freshman season. Viewers will soon have more cause to ugly cry, more timelines to dissect and critics can approach Season 2 with the hope that This Is Us will start treating its characters like real people, and not just tools to give big speeches and make grand gestures.
What did you think of This Is Us Season 1? What do you want to see in Season 2? Meet me in the comments to discuss!