5 takeaways from the season four premiere of "This Is Us"
Grab a fresh box of Kleenex and your meticulously kept flowchart of all the show's intertwining timelines: "This Is Us" is back. Or ... is it? Because other than some flashbacks to Jack and Rebecca, I'm not seeing anybody I recognize here. Am I watching the right show? Is this "A Million Little Things"? WHERE AM I!?
Let's talk about the five biggest takeaways from last night's season premiere of "This Is Us."
1. I'm sorry, do I know you people?
To pull a "This Is Us" season premiere and talk about something almost entirely unrelated to the show, let's talk about "Grey's Anatomy." Do you remember when, about 47 seasons ago, the ABC hospital drama tried to spin Addison's character off into a whole new show, "Private Practice," but first they spent half the year constantly cutting away from the actual stars of "Grey's Anatomy" to hang out with Addison and a bunch of random doctors and storylines in Los Angeles that you didn't really care about?
That's what tonight's season premiere felt like: a pitch for a new show inside an already established show. I half-expected the episode to end with a surprise preview for NBC's new Tuesday night drama, "This Is Also Us." Hey, the extended universe brand of TV already worked for NBC's "Chicago Fire/P.D./Med/SVU/Pizza Delivery" franchise.
It's not that spending time with this trio of new characters was bad – and you have to commend the storytelling chutzpah of spending most of your 68-minute premiere with strangers. But these people and storylines also weren't what I signed up for when I tuned in – and after a while, it got a little tiresome waiting for the show to finally reveal how these new characters who I hadn't quite invested in yet tied in with the Pearson clan.
Because we all knew they would eventually – the season three premiere pulled a somewhat similar trick with Franco Harris, and after three years of this show, we're starting to get a handle on the games it plays, if maybe not the final outcomes. Plus, between Rebecca's first-scene speech and the blind singer's song, the show wasn't exactly subtle about the episode's "the universe works in mysterious interconnected ways/you never know who a stranger may turn out to be" theme.
So anyway, the new characters: There's Cassidy Sharp, a veteran of the Iraq War, haunted by her work – thanks to a drone strike, she knows how much a dead innocent civilian costs to the government – to the point that she's a distant, drunken wreck upon her return home, eventually kicked out of her house after accidentally hitting her son in an inebriated PTSD haze.
While she's at a low, the aforementioned mysterious blind musician is at an all-time high. Introduced naked side-butt first, he heads to a diner after his dog breaks his homemade breakfast platter and tries attempt two on the first meal of the day – while also attempting to flirt with his sweet waitress. His mopey musician act works, as the two end up dating, married (with the help of his exceptionally fluffy white dog) and eventually with a kid on the way as he takes a festival stage to the cheers of thousands.
And then there's Malik, a teen hanging out with his friends at the basketball court, unable to pry his eyes away from some girl he's in love with on his phone. No, not a girlfriend – his baby girl, as he's a young single father raising his child with the help of some family while working at his father's auto shop. That gig doesn't pay a lot to support two people, however, so he's trying to nudge his way into some shady street business with a local gang leader.
There's no bad characters or company here, but there's also no Randall, Kate or Kevin. At least until ...
2. Ohhhhhhhh, so THAT'S who you are
Viewers knew these strangers would tie into the Pearsons' story somehow – and while it took almost literally the entire running time, at the very last second in this supersized premiere, the show finally explained itself. With the help of a chair whizzing through a window.
Indeed, as Cassidy talks to her therapy group about her struggles adjusting to normal life after returning from war – BANG! – a window explodes and there's Nicky, clearly not having a blast at his VA therapy. Then there's Malik, serving up burgers at a neighborhood barbecue when – BANG! – OK, no chair or window this time, but there's Deja, flirting back with the young dad and smiling so wide that Randall barely even recognizes her.
Then, for the show's final and biggest reveal of the bunch, there's our blind musician, taking the stage as clips of Kate and Toby in an office with the new baby cut in. Are Kate and Toby putting the baby up for adoption, and these are the new parents? No, that can't be it; we didn't travel so far to get to Kate and Toby having a kid just to have them give up right away. Plus most doctor's offices don't have stages and curtains. No, the musician is actually the baby: He's young Jack in the future, blind but thriving in the Pearson family business of singing – and judging by the size of the audience, he's more than "Pittsburgh good."
It took only the entire episode, but confirmed: You're watching the right show, and no, it's not a glorified ad for a spin-off. We finally found the Big Three – and the point of spending all this time with these unknown people. And now hopefully their scenes won't play as dangerously tedious next time considering we know the bigger picture.
3. Rebecca's parents are jerks
For most part, Rebecca and Jack's flashbacks serve simply as a helpful reminder that, yes, this is "This Is Us," not one of the other networks' knockoff weepy dramas. But the scenes have their own meat on their bones as well, as Jack and Rebecca head off to dinner with her parents at a swanky country club shortly after returning home from their road trip out west to California. There, Jack meets Rebecca's parents (Hi Tim Matheson and Elizabeth Perkins!) – and oh boy, will he wish he hadn't.
Coming into the night, Rebecca warns him that her mom will be a challenge – but instead it's her dad who turns into the night's greatest nemesis as, despite Rebecca requesting no Vietnam talk, he dives right into debating the war and whether or not it's even a "real war." Not that her mom is much help either, prying about his parents' lives and giving some ferocious side-eye to taking a girl on a cross-country trip on their third date. Thank god for some lobster sauce slopping onto the lapel of Jack's borrowed suit coat, giving him an excuse to leave the table – and hopefully leave this ambush of assholery.
But no, he stays – and after he wipes away the sauce on his shirt in the men's room, he comes back to wipe the floor with Rebecca's parents. Filled with confidence and some tasty lobster, he lets her dad know that he lost his brother in Vietnam – so yeah, it was a real war – and her mom know that his parents didn't give him a great home, but that won't stop him from being a great man to her daughter. It's an A-grade dunking that Rebecca's dad respects so much that he doesn't even say anything about the tag of Jack's borrowed suit jacket popping out.
Don't start liking Rebecca's dad just yet, though. At the end of the night, he tells Jack that he thinks he's more broken and haunted by Vietnam than he's choosing to let on – but most of all, he doesn't think he can give his daughter the life she deserves. Pretty rude, Otter – and pretty wrong, as he'll probably learn over the course of this season.
But that's not the most important revelation from these flashbacks: WE SEE HOW MIGUEL AND JACK MET! Fitting perfectly with the "importance of strangers" theme, Miguel's the suit store clerk who lets Jack simply borrow the jacket – plus a few fashion pointers – for his big night. DAWWW! He got a suit for the night, but a friendship for a lifetime. That's not fair; whenever I go to a gentlemen's fashion store, I just get ill-fitting slacks and upsold into buying a new belt.
4. Let's rank the new cast members
For all of the time spent on new characters and new plot threads, there isn't really much new to report from the "This Is Us" season premiere. So let's just quickly rank the new storylines while I've got some word count to burn:
3. Jack Damon
While I'm intrigued by baby Jack and how Toby and Kate will learn to live with their son's blindness, adult Jack's storyline feels a little similar – like a mishmash of Kate and Toby's starting-a-family drama with Kevin's handsome famous guy melodrama. He even looks a bit like Kevin, which doesn't help him feel like a new flavor in the show's recipe. Plus, a lot of the meet-cute dialogue was very Dan Fogelman-y – which is to say a little too screenwriter-esque and clever for its own sake rather than actually clever or charming.
That being said, he has a great dog, so I can definitely give this storyline a chance.
2. Cassidy Sharp
Another storyline that feels a bit like a retread after spending so much of the last season focusing on war and the scars it leaves, but as a former fan of "House," it was nice seeing Dr. Cameron again. It's a well-acted introduction with enough of its own particularities and details to feel different in the moment, and I'm very intrigued by her future interactions with Nicky. Also: Odds of a romance between her and Kevin are 100 percent, correct?
MALIK, I SWEAR TO GOD IF YOU HURT DEJA, I ... will do nothing because you're a fictional character. But this was easily the subplot that got the biggest emotional rise from me during the premiere. It's got an outstanding cast – including "When They See Us" star Asante Blackk and Omar Epps, and that's before the stellar Lyric Ross showed up as Deja – and while the "kid wants to get into the street business" storyline is nothing new, the sympathetic angle of Malik being a young father feels fresh and uniquely thoughtful.
Plus, it DOES help that he has the closest tie to a character we're already invested in; Cassidy is paired up with Nicky, who we're still getting to know and embrace, while Jack Damon may not interact with any of the Big Three since he's far into the future and off working in the music industry. So here's to more of this subplot – unless he breaks Deja's heart, which in that case BURN THE STORYLINE TO ASH.
5. A reminder ...
M. Night Shyamalan will guest star at some point this season. I don't know if that's a casting announcement or a threat. Let's just make sure we keep him away from the writer's room – and definitely the dialogue.
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