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By Andrea Peyser
January 6, 2017
Here’s something to look forward to in 2017.
Sometimes, not very often, a TV show jumps from the mediocre pack and makes us laugh, bawl and snort chunks out of our noses as it entertains, enlightens and perfectly captures the zeitgeist.
The struggling “The Walking Dead,’’ I’m sorry to report, is clinically undead this season as it sheds eyeballs faster than a zombie apocalypse.
Then there’s NBC’s freshman dramedy “This Is Us,’’ a surprise hit that raises the act of television-making into a kind of modern art form that neither insults the audience nor scares viewers to the liquor cabinet.
The show came seemingly out of nowhere in September and quickly captured hearts and minds with a winning cast, quirky scripts, and something even more critical in these times of physical and emotional dread: It celebrates the American family, in all its messiness, warmth and dysfunction.
If you haven’t caught up with the show online as it resumes Tuesday with its mid-season premiere, do so now.
At the series’ heart are three characters who suffer from neither financial insecurity nor epic turmoil of the sort they haven’t brought on themselves.
The show centers around Caucasian twin brother and sister Kevin and Kate and their adopted African-American brother, Randall Pearson, played by the standout Sterling K. Brown, who won an Emmy Award for his supporting role as prosecutor Chris Darden in FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.’’
As the show begins, the “Big Three’’ are celebrating, or ruing, their 36th birthdays.
Chrissy Metz had me at “hello’’ with her vivid portrayal of Kate, a smart, funny, gorgeous, sexy woman whose role, sadly, so far has revolved almost exclusively around the fact that she’s morbidly obese, my one quibble with “This Is Us.’’ The real-life actress has revealed that her contract requires her to lose weight. I’m all for her achieving good health, but I’ll miss the plus-size glamazon.
Justin Hartley Getty Images
And then, there’s Kevin. Justin Hartley plays the hot and successful TV actor who lands in crisis mode when he realizes that the show in which he stars — “The Man-ny’’ — is pure shlock in which he’s regularly required to strip off his shirt.
“Because trust me when I tell you that I will have you replaced with Ryan Phillippe or Ryan Gosling or Ryan Reynolds or any handsome Ryan by the time you get to your car,’’ the showrunner scolds him after Kevin rebels. Kevin smashes a prop baby in an on-set meltdown captured on YouTube and witnessed by the late actor Alan Thicke in a cameo role.
“Listen, Ryan Gosling may not do this crap, but neither do I. I quit. I quit,’’ Kevin says, throwing away a part that made him rich and famous.
Randall, who grows up feeling like a perpetual outsider among white people, lives happily and prosperously in New Jersey with his wife and two young daughters, but becomes obsessed with tracking down his biological father, William Hill (Ron Cephas Jones), a former addict.
He pounds on William’s door in Philadelphia to tell the man who abandoned him on the steps of a fire station as a newborn that he paid cash for his $143,000 automobile parked outside “because I felt like it and because I can do stuff like that!’’
He starts to storm off to his “fancy-ass car’’ when William asks if he wants to come inside. He does.
Randall asks, “Do you want to meet your grandchildren?’’ William, who is dying of stomach cancer, does.
Then there’s Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia), perhaps the world’s greatest father, and his annoying (to me) wife, Rebecca (Mandy Moore.)
Why do I love this show?
It’s a program I’m not embarrassed to watch with my husband and teenage daughter. It’s also one that offers continual surprises and twists, the latest of which is the introduction of William’s “friend’’ Jesse (the always amazing Denis O’Hare). Randall is mystified when Jesse lands on his doorstep.
“Dad, Grandpa’s gay, or at least bi,’’ his daughter Tess (Eris Baker) explains to her clueless father.
Let’s hope the Television Industrial Complex gets the message and offers more witty, complex and elevating programs to a deserving public. Now, more than ever, we need this program.
Long may “This Is Us’’ play.