Review: ‘This Is Us’ moves beyond twists as we meet ‘Kyle’


A few thoughts on tonight's This Is Us coming up just as soon as I tell you about the time I met Jason Momoa at Seth Green's house…

After the series' first two episodes relied on big twists, “Kyle” provided welcome and necessary proof that This Is Us can function just fine without a surprise in the closing moments. There are some revelations along the way – notably that Rebecca has always known about William, and chose to keep that information from Randall – but they come out through the natural course of the story, rather than as a means to upend expectations or as a cliffhanger to tease the next episode. This is important, because a show built on surprise will inevitably crumble once the audience starts predicting the surprises before they come, or once the surprises become so outlandish that they undermine the characters and world.

The old age makeup on Mandy Moore wasn't perfect (though it was better than Jon Huertas's as Miguel), and it would probably serve the show well to not have this older Rebecca be a constant presence, but it did the job and helped to articulate the interesting way the Randall/William story is going. Despite Beth's reservations last week, William's not a con artist trying to get one over on his biological son. The cancer is real, and he just wants to enjoy this unexpected time with the family he never got to meet. Instead, the conflict's coming from an unusual place: Rebecca's fear that Randall's fundamental goodness and desire to help people will inadvertently harm his wife and daughters. On the one hand, this almost feels like a job interview cliche, where Randall's greatest flaw turns out to be the thing that's most admirable about him, but it feels new to this kind of show, and the writers and Sterling K. Brown have certainly sold Randall's saintliness – and the way it can border on obsession – over these first three hours.

Rebecca's arrival in the present ran in parallel to a group of flashbacks taking place before and immediately after the birth of the kids. Not only did that give the show an excuse to bring back Gerald McRaney (even if a pediatrician would more likely be checking out the babies at this stage), but it set up that powerful opening montage of young William riding the bus and falling in love with Randall's birth mother at the same time both were falling deep into addiction. Some great economical storytelling there, which in turn made his later encounter with Rebecca, where he suggested she give “Kyle” his own name rather than the one she and Jack intended for the stillborn baby, even more effective than it otherwise would have been.

The Kate/Kevin story, meanwhile, also did some necessary work, in establishing that there are stories to tell about Kate beyond how much she weighs. Yes, her stage fright is tied in part to her size, but most of the subplot was about the way she has built her entire life around Kevin, which includes us learning this week that her job is to be his personal assistant. He fires her as a kindness so she can stay in LA and be with Toby (while I imagine he'll be interacting a lot with Randall once he's in New York), but that's also going to be a tough road for Kate to follow for a while, since she's 36 and has apparently only had this one job her whole adult life. But this was a good story that laid down additional sources of tension between Kate and Toby, and Kate and Kevin, beyond the question of whether she can lose the weight.

So, yeah, three episodes in, it feels like This Is Us has a pretty sturdy foundation beyond that initial time-bending twist, and I'm looking forward to more. Don't know if I'll review every episode, but I'll definitely check in when I can.

What did everybody else think?