So help me, I cried. I’d almost made it through the hour-long pilot of This Is Us, NBC’s latest family drama, tear-free. And then the story shifted. And then the tears sprang forth.
Respect, then, to Dan Fogelman, the show’s writer and executive producer and maestro of heart strings. It’s easy to promise a tearjerker, after all, in the manner of ER and Grey’s Anatomy and Steel Magnolias; it is considerably less easy, however, to create a piece of television—interrupted by commercial breaks, no less—that actually succeeds in eliciting a good, old-fashioned catharsis-cry. But This Is Us manufactures its Feels with a factory efficiency. They come at you, indeed, with a conveyor-belt inevitability. If tearjerkers are your thing—if you are someone for whom a good cry is a purifying payoff—then NBC, via the writer of Crazy, Stupid Love, has created the show for you.
This Is Us is, in theory, the logical successor to Parenthood. Here is a series that’s finally capable of filling the soft, squishy void left within NBC’s Thursday-night lineup after the Bravermans bid their final farewell. In practice, however, the show is more akin to another bit of rom-comic treacle, Love Actually. Here, as in Christmastime London, characters double as warm-blooded cliches, and collide and collude. There’s Kevin (Justin Hartley), a successfully sold-out Hollywood actor, unsatisfied with his career. There’s Kate (Chrissy Metz), an overweight woman who, unsatisfied with her life, decides to commit to losing the pounds she thinks are holding her back. There’s Randall (Sterling K. Brown, fresh off of his Emmy win for The People v O.J. Simpson), a businessman and family man who’s haunted by the fact that, despite all his success, he was given up by his birth father on the day he was born. And there are Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore), an almost-cloyingly-in-love couple who begin the show on the precipice of that most Feelsy of experiences: She, after a “high-risk pregnancy,” is about to give birth to triplets.