Thursday, 8 December 2016

This Is Us

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The new NBC show which is appearing on Channel 4 is one of those shows that comes along once in a while, and it is the sort of feelgood show that a nation in crisis needs.  Offering escapism from the trying nature of day to day life, the series offers a heartwarming glimpse of a life full of homespun notions of goodness and wellbeing.

Starting out with a silly Wikipedia reference, stating that any person shares their birthday with 18 million other people on the planet, we witness four people sharing their birthday. They are all 36, and it seems this is the mid-point crisis level for all three people.

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Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) is with his pregnant wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore) who is expecting triplets on his birthday.  When her water breaks they rush to the hospital.  We then switch to Kate (Chrissy Metz), an obese woman who is keen to lose her weight this time in spite of self-help post it notes adorning her fridge, she has a twin brother Kevin (Justin Hartley), an actor at a fork in the road of his career, between being taken seriously as an actor in spite of appearing in lowest common denominator comedy where he frequently takes his top off to show his washboard abdominals.

The fourth person is black man Randall (Sterling K. Brown - who was excellent in The People vs OJ Simpson), a modern day successful professional who has found his biological father by way of a private investigator. Randall is reluctant to make contact with him, as he left him outside a fire station on the day he was born.

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Having seen shows of this sunny disposition before (Thirtysomething, Ally McBeal) falling into the trap of having a good cast without the necessity of a solid script, This Is Us has the admirable quality of having a well written script that helps bring the best out of this well assembled ensemble and vice versa.

The script is clever as well such as when Randall describes his interaction with his father to his wife, as if it is some lame sitcom like 'The Man-ny' which Kevin is appearing in within the show; this willingness to refer to the intertextuality of lives and how similar people may watch the same shows in spite of racial differences is indicative of this unified world the show wants to picture.

The moments Randall confronts his estranged father and Kevin's breakdown on the set of his sitcom are neither histrionic striking the right balance between being heard and making sure they are said in the right way. Even the pediatrician who delivers Jack and Rebecca's triplets gives Jack a pep talk in the hall after the birth; it could be construed as too sweet for a serious moment, but the balance between the light and the delivery by Gerald McRaney is expertly handled.

While moments of saccharine may grate on bah humbugs in this seasonal time of year, those moments are necessary to the plot such as the birth of children or reunions of lost family members. The show does not ask too much of its audience, nevertheless, it leaves you smiling and beaming.

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The reveal at the end of the pilot episode of the connection between the four thirty somethings is a real eureka moment of plotting by creator Dan Fogelman, ably assisted by co-directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra. The twist allows for a more expansive exploration of the characters which will certainly get this viewer returning for more of this show's positivity.

This Is Us screens at 10pm on Channel Four weekly.

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