This Is Us returned for its third season this week, and for reasons I can’t quite explain, I returned to watch it, despite swearing off the show over half a dozen times. The third season premiere, alas, gave me little reason to continue watching and yet, I know I will. There’s just enough mystery built into each season (this week, we learn that Rebecca began dating a mystery man after she began dating Jack); there’s a stand-out performance or two in each episode (this week, it’s Beth, selling out Oprah to dress down Kevin for dating her cousin); Kate is always miserable (easily my least favorite part of this show); and Sterling K. Brown always delivers a monologue that bends me out of shape (although, in this week’s episode, Deja proved to be immune).
The premiere opens with a mysterious man in flashback, who we later learn is Pittsburgh Steelers’ legend Franco Harris, the receiver who caught the Immaculate Reception in 1972 to give the Steelers a playoff win. That play unfolds over the course of the episode as its thematic throughline — Harris caught the pass after it bounced off another player, and see? Everything in This is Us eventually works out, just not always the way they planned.
For instance, Jack and Rebecca will eventually end up together, even though we learn from this episode that their first date was a disaster and Rebecca is the metaphorical football that bounced off another man before landing in Jack’s arms. Meanwhile, Beth is trying to keep Kevin and her cousin apart because — we assume — Kevin is a player and Beth doesn’t want him near her, but in reality, it’s because Zoe eats men alive and will destroy Kevin. Randall, meanwhile, prepares a speech for weeks before asking Deja if they can adopt her, but she rejects the speech. However, after telling off her biological father, she shows Randall an appreciation for the effort. She agrees to be adopted after by Randall, but only after she guilts her biological father out of enough money for her to buy Randall a pair of sneakers for his birthday.
Kate’s “Immaculate Reception” also foreshadows an “Immaculate Conception,” of sorts, after a doctor initially rejects her appeal for IVF treatment because of the low odds of conception given Kate’s weight and Toby’s slow swimmers, but the doctor has a change of heart and accepts them as patients (and Toby tosses out his anti-depressants to increase the odds, which is obviously a terrible plan). I like Kate. I like Toby. But Jesus Christ, can this show give them a win that sustains them through at least three or four episodes because Kate’s misery — and Toby’s constant efforts to accommodate her misery — put a damper on this series that not even the feel-good musical cues can salvage.
But then comes the scene set in the future — the one that ostensibly keeps way too many of us returning to the series — which sees old-man Randall and adult Tess visiting someone in the hospital, only here Randall calls up Toby to see if he wants to stop by. “I don’t know if I should,” Toby says, lying glumly and alone in his bed while NOT wearing his wedding ring. “She wants you to be there, Toby,” Randall responds.
Who is it? Is it Kate? Have she and Toby divorced? Did they have a baby? Is she mad at Toby? That’s probably what the episode wants us to believe, but no doubt future episodes will lead us to believe something else entirely, like that it’s Rebecca on her deathbed, and why would Toby visit his mother-in-law on her deathbed after he and Kate just got into a fight because Kate’s tired of Toby smothering her with affection, which she demands by making a public show of her unhappiness at every opportunity?
This show is the worst.
So, same time next week?
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