This is Still One of The Great Ones

This is Us Season 4 Review

At this point, it doesn’t seem possible that This Is Us, one of the few broadcast series in recent years to be both a critical and popular success, could do anything more to surprise the viewer. We watched Randall and Beth go through one of the most gutting emotional arcs last season, saw Kate and Toby have to deal with the premature birth of their son, and in the final moments of Season 3, watch a flash-forward that showed the final stages of matriarch Rebecca’s life — and it made everything else seem like child’s play.

But anyone who was expecting more of the same as Season 4 began clearly doesn’t know the show’s writers. The season premiere ‘Strangers’ harkened back to the Pilot, where apart from more on the early courtship of Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack, seemed to focus on three people who seemed to have nothing to do with the series — a soldier who went to Afghanistan (Jennifer Morrison) who saw a village bombed, went back to her family and began to suffer PTSD, a teenager trying to go to high school while raising his a baby son, and a young blind singer who was trying to court a waitress. There seemed to be no connection to anything else we’d seen — until the last two minutes, when we saw a series of events that connected them all to the Pearson clan in ways not even the viewer used to the twists and turns of the show would’ve seen coming.

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The episodes that have happened so far are back to business as usual, which doesn’t make them any less moving or amusing. Kate (Chrissy Metz) has been trying to adjust to her son, who we finally learned in the season premiere is going to be legally blind. (That won’t stop from having a great future… but I’ve said too much). Toby has been reacting to this by going to the gym, and getting ripped, mainly out of fear for his son’s life, something that seems to be causing Kate stress. Randall and Beth (the incredible Sterling Brown and Susan Kelechi Watson) have relocated to Philadelphia to handle Randall’s position as City Councilman, and Beth’s desire to run a dance studio. They are more worried about the children, and they no doubt will be worried about foster child Deja’s new love interest. As for Kevin (Justin Hartley) once again, he’s six months sober, but is still going through the biggest struggles of them all, which are not made easier by his uncle Nicky (Griffin Dunne) seemingly inevitable determination to destroy his life, no matter how much help people will give him. If you’ve seen the season premiere, you know exactly how the first two characters from the season premiere are involved, and its interesting watching them slowly weave them in.

Paradoxically, the flashbacks involving Jack and Rebecca are gradually becoming less interesting. However, as the Big Three begin junior high we’re beginning to get a clearer picture of the bonds that they would form growing up, and how it relates to their children going forward. Now that we know most of Jack and Rebecca’s mythology, I’d actually like to focus more on them going forward.

This is Us is that rare bird for television these days — a TV show about human beings that don’t have superpowers or a police procedural, where the mythology is based on a family story rather than some obscure serialized drama. The Emmys still feel love for it three seasons in (they finally got around to recognizing Mandy Moore last year), and NBC has confidence in it — it was renewed for three seasons last year. Yes, this show does have a tendency to play way too hard on the emotional strings, but how many broadcast series — hell, how many TV series period — even acknowledge that it’s viewers are human themselves? This is Us is a true jewel among television, and every time I watch it, I count myself bless for being a critic.

My score: 4.75 stars.

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