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This Is Us - Pilot - Advance Preview

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Based on this pilot (the only episode of the show I've seen), it's hard to give this new NBC drama series a fair review, for the simple reason that this pilot will be so unlike every future episode. The entirety of the show's first episode is very carefully designed and crafted in order to build to a twist near the end, a twist that upends one's perception of the show and its characters.

It's not that the twist works or doesn't work - only future episodes will be able to answer that - but given that every other episode of the show won't be able to do anything like it (I certainly hope they won't try), this pilot in retrospect is going to be very different to the rest of the show. And if a pilot's job is to give us an indication as to whether the premise of the show can work, this pilot fails, because it only sets up the series' true premise in its last couple of minutes.

That being said, this really is a very good episode of television, and easily one the strongest pilots of this fall season. And though this pilot doesn't give an indication as to the success and sustainability of its premise, it does capture a very specific tone that will carry over into future episodes. This tone, reminiscent of the likes of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood (especially the latter), is unapologetically sappy. It's very clear from this early stage that This Is Us knows exactly what it is, and that assuredness lends the show an emotional power, which is already present after one episode. This one's going to be a tear-jerker, without a doubt.

To be as vague as possible about the series' plot, the show tells the story of a bunch of people who share the same birthday. And for much of the pilot, any further connections between these people are left unclear. This pilot intead isolates the characters in their own distinct storylines, and each of them are effective, though some more so than others. This is due to some of the characters making stronger first impressions than others, with standouts being Milo Ventimiglia's Jack and Sterling K. Brown's Randall.

The pilot follows Jack and his wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore), who is pegnant with triplets, as she goes into labor. It also follows Randall, a successful New York business man who is trying to track down his birth father (Ron Cephas Jones). Other major characters are Kevin (Justin Hartley), a frustrated sitcom actor who feels he's being exploited for his good looks, and Kate (Chrissy Metz), a woman struggling with weight issues who finds a kindred spirit in Toby (Chris Sullivan).

None of these characters are, thus far, particularly well-drawn, with Jack and Randall making the most impact mostly due to them recieving the most screentime. The performances are excellent across the board, with People vs OJ standout Sterling K. Brown proving that his stunning performance as Chris Darden was not a fluke. Ventimiglia gives a touching performance (one scene between him and guest star Gerald McRaney is the episode's standout moment), and both Hartley and Metz achieve a lot with little screentime.

It is remarkable how well this pilot works, balancing all these characters and almost functioning as a 40-minute short film. The episode never gets bogged down in heavy emotion, with moments of levity scattered throughout. But telling an effective story in 40 minutes is very different to sustaining that for several seasons of broadcast television. But based on this pilot I'm hopeful for this show.

I'll be interested to see how many people guess the twist during the episode. I didn't see it coming until a couple of minutes before the actual reveal, but I watched this episode about a month ago and wasn't looking for a twist.

This Is Us premieres September 20 on NBC.

About the Author - candon_sean
Sean is a student living in Ireland. He has a keen interest in dramatic television (as well as some comedies). Some of his favourite shows right now include The Leftovers, The Americans, Game of Thrones, Black Sails and Mr Robot. Some of his favourite shows of all time include The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Person of Interest, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Lost. He is also an "A Song of Ice and Fire" obsessive. You can visit his blog at
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