In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Acquired by Channel 4
Calling your show This is Us is a bold move. It implies a certain universality of the human experience, which in an age of identity politics is hard enough in a single city of the US, without TV producers having to think about how much of the New York City cultural experience transfers to South Africa, for example.
Yet that’s what This is Us is going for. You probably have to look back to Parenthood and before that thirtysomething to find shows that were so convinced of their universal applicability and smartness.
This is Us – or perhaps that should be This is US, given it’s American focus – tries to demonstrate its pancosmic thesis through the conceit of three storylines, each involving one or more people who all have the same birthday: a married couple (Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore) who are about to have triplets; an actor brother and a love-lorn sister (Justin Hartley and Chrissy Metz); and a rich trader (Sterling K Brown) whose drug-addict father (Ron Cephas Kones) abandoned him as a baby after his mother died.
A title card preceding the drama says that according to Wikipedia, people who share the same birthday aren’t guaranteed to have anything else in common. But how much do you want to bet that it’s hinting at a “universality of the human spirit”, that universality being love, predominantly for family, predominantly in an American way? And that on top of that, that there’s a secret link between the three storylines that will become immediately obvious by about two-thirds of the way through? One that involves a bit of cheating involving Milo Ventimiglia’s physique?
Sometimes life will surprise you. Starring Mandy Moore (A Walk to Remember), Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes, Gilmore Girls) and Sterling K Brown (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story), this refreshingly honest and provocative series follows a unique ensemble. As their paths cross and their life stories intertwine in curious ways, we find that several of them share the same birthday and so much more than anyone would expect. From the writer and directors of Crazy, Stupid, Love comes a smart, modern dramedy that will challenge your everyday presumptions about the people you think you know.
Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley, Chris Sullivan, Susan Kelechi Watson and Ron Cephas Jones also star.
Dan Fogelman, Donald Todd, John Requa, Glenn Ficarra, Ken Olin, Charlie Gogolak and Jess Rosenthal executive produce. This Is Us is produced by 20th Century Fox Television
Is it any good?
It is very good, but it also is quite insufferable and very keen to think it’s very good, too.
Trouble is, I wasn’t that interested by any of the storylines. Ventimiglia and Moore are having babies? Whoopdy do. Brown’s dad left him? And? Hartley’s obviously bad sitcom is bad? Oh noes! Metz can’t find love but can find the food in her fridge very easily? Oh well.
Okay, so bit of an empathy deficit on my part there, I know, but if a show is going to be called This is Us (rather than This is US), then it needs to be universal. It needs to be something that we can all go “Yep! That!” at. And This is Us never made me think that.
Much as with thirtysomething, though, most of the characters did irritate me, although Hartley’s still got a lot of good will from his Smallville days from me. Even that withered a bit when he started his Network-esque rant at his sitcom audience about how low the standard of writing in TV is these days and how it’s all their fault for watching it. Seriously, the dude’s 36 and he’s already harking back to some Golden Age of TV that never existed – normally, you have to be at least 50 before that happens.
Those problems to one side, the twist at the end is actually quite good, although like the show it was very convinced of its own cleverness, ramming home for about two minutes what all the clues were and how everything tied in together. The dialogue is smart and does sparkle quite frequently; the characters are also generally likeable.
But like so many similar such dramas (Parenthood, thirtysomething, Six Degrees), This is Us is a nice idea on paper, less palatable to watch, as it tries to extract every human emotion possible from you in as short a space of time as it can, all while flattering for your ego as well as its own, while not being as smart as it thinks it is.
To rework The Streets’ greatest hit, I reckon you’re about a 7 or and 8, maybe even 9 and a half in four white wines’ time – but my gosh, don’t you just know it?