Over in the "TV Shows I Am Binging" thread, I noted that I got hooked on This Is Us, which led to a quick discussion over the show's merits and a pledge to talk about the latest episode. We threw out the idea of having that conversation in the "What Are You Watching Right Now?" thread, but I decided to start one dedicated to the show. Although I titled it "Season 4," I'm not going to limit my observations to that season alone,

So far, it's just been me and Jeff, but I welcome anyone else to join in -- especially Tracy! We've seen too little of you here in the Comics Cave!

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Actually, I do (and I didn't even have to follow the link!).

SEASON 5:

Well. they certainly didn't delay throwing COVID in, even establishing it was behind-the-scenes at the end of last season, just like real life. I don't think it was intrusive, though; more intrusive (or distracting), I think, would have been for them to ignore it. Verbal irony: Tom Hanks is revealed to have the virus and Deja remarks, "Now everyone will start to take it seriously." I suspect the pandemic caused at least one change in the storyline, specifically Rebecca going to St. Louis for treatment, but they couldn't have realistically proceeded with the travel aspect, including the crew if they were going to film on location, which I hoped they would. 

And then there's the George Floyd murder and the reactions it drew from the various characters. I must admit, I can relate to Kate during her final scene with Randall. Tracy cried a lot during the last half hour, most of all during the last five minutes. Dan Fogelman wanted this episode to air prior to the election due to the positive message it projects. That's all I'll say for now.

This Is Us often employs little storytelling "tricks"; in this case it was the parallel "bad medicine" stories (Rebecca and William's wife). It's a good thing Randall relented and went to the birthday party after all, and that was a HUGE EYKIW they through at us at the end.

I spoke to my sister last night about an hour before the show started. I asked her if she watched This Is Us and she said no, but she's heard a lot of good things about it. I didn't push her to watch it because I wasn't sure how easy it would be to jump in at this point. I wish now I would have. Maybe she watched it anyway. Hope so.

Lots to unpack,and I'm still processing it. But I think This Is Us went beyond "realistic" in these episodes; this was true.

VERY well done, and a strong contender for 2021's Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama and Outstanding Writing.

Some thoughts:

The This Is Us team moved heaven and Earth to get these episodes on the air before Election Day rather than after. Series creator Dan Fogelman said, “It was really important to me — and to us — to get these episodes on before the election, not because they are political but because I think they are difficult and they are hopeful, and we felt it was important to us to put them on TV now with no agenda other than that, But it also created intense rush.”

I am SO glad they did.

After watching This Is Us last night and Superstore tonight, I'm rethinking my belief that shows shouldn't incorporate what happened this year into their stories.

After all, Randall is a councilman in a major American city. So of course his district office would be dealing with distributing coronavirus tests, and there would be lots of demand for constituent service, what with school closings and small businesses struggling to stay alive. Small businesses like Beth's dance studio, which was probably closed for weeks and probably now is reopened with few, if any, of her patrons willing to return.

I think This Is Us and Superstore both fudged when we got word Tom Hanks got coronavirus, but I'll have to give them a pass on that. I liked Deja's wry belief that people will start taking it seriously because Tom Hanks got it. (What we know now that we didn't know then ... ) 

Randall and Kevin are giving each other the cold shoulder after their blowout argument in last season's finale triggered by Randall pressuring Rebecca to join a nine-month clinical trial in St. Louis for her early signs of dementia. The whole thing is moot because the clinical trial's been postponed, but it's not moot because Kevin and Randall said things that can't be taken back. 

In the episodes, we saw Rebecca have an episode of confusion and get lost, which we saw previously in a flash-forward. Since that moment was tied to the Big Three's 40th birthday, that tells me that the writers were never going to send Rebecca to St. Louis, and took the opportunity to make coronavirus the reason why instead of some other reason. I do wonder what they would have written instead.

When Randall was texting Kevin, it was telling that both of them edited themselves before they sent their messages. But when Randall got the alert, for a moment I thought it was about "Central Park Karen," the woman who called the NYPD when a Black man (a former Marvel Comics editor!) challenged her about walking her dog without a leash in Central Park, and lied, telling the cops he attacked her.

I thought so because that story broke the same day, a couple hours before the George Floyd news hit. And I can only think that "Karen" wanted a George Floyd result. (She has sacrificed any benefit of any doubt, so please, don't even try.) She was wrong, she knew she was wrong, but she told those lies because she wouldn't accept a Black man telling her so, and she was going to put that uppity Negro in his place -- in jail, in the hospital, or in the morgue.

But instead, it was the George Floyd news.

Randall's family watching the news, and the reactions, and the protests? That was real. Tess asking her dad if they can watch something else made me think of a running gag in Candorville: Clyde watches TV, flipping channels from one bad news story after another until he finds something soothing, "... Gilligaaaan, the Skipper toooo, the millionaire, and his wiiiiiiiiiife ..." But what does Annie choose, when she gets the conn?

Family Feud

Stepping back a bit about the COVID-19 changes ... also real. Randall wearing a mask. Randall taking his shoes off and changing his clothes when he enters the house, and Beth approaching him with hand sanitizer at the ready. Kate and Toby keeping a careful distance from Kevin and Madison when they come to call.

The explanation of how everybody can be safe in the cabin was a little contrived -- Rebecca and Miguel came out there early and, basically, got stuck, and the other couples self-quarantined -- but hey, you can't let the plot get in the way of the story.

One thing I wonder, though: The Big Three's birthday is now and forever linked to the murder of George Floyd (and the attempted murder perpetrated by Central Park Karen). But did This Is Us previously definitively establish that joint birthday (it's Jack's too) as May 25?

Speaking of Jack, I have to say it was a little contrived that he comes within a hair's breadth of meeting William at the hospital, but, hey, you can't let the plot get in the way of the story.

It is interesting that both of them go to the hospital chapel and pray in different ways for very different things. William is grieving and remorseful, knowing he's failed his wife Laurel (she was his wife, right?) in the most egregious way -- and to add insult to injury, he's handed their child to strangers, unable to honor her dying wish to take care of him. Jack is bitter and defiant, still raging about the father he's estranged from and rejecting God ... but believing just enough to pray for Rebecca's life.

And that phone call from Jack to his father ... that was real. No, that went beyond real; that was true.

Randall's conversation with Malik was interesting. It was kind of like a fatherly conversation with the son he doesn't have (but the son-in-law he might have? Who knows?). Malik gallantly comes by with a bag of burgers and fries to recreate his first date with Deja (It's been a year? Wow.), and very considerately queries about Randall's health. 

Randall telling Malik about the killing of Jonny Gammage shows how on the ball the This Is Us team is. In 1995, Gammage got stopped for Driving While Black, and died after being smothered to death under five police officers, who all escaped conviction. 

Yes, such an incident would be traumatizing for Randall, who absorbed this news alone when he was 15, just as the George Floyd incident is traumatizing for Randall's whole family 25 years later. But it occurs to me that the conversation Randall had with Malik is one he should have had (or should also have had) with his therapist. By episode's end, it occurs to Randall, too.

Despite Randall's repeated insistence that he's okay, I'm not so sure. I mean, he turned down birthday sex from Beth!!!  (I so wanted to reach into my TV screen and smack him upside the head!)

I expected your response to be long and considered, and you did not let me down.

"I'm rethinking my belief that shows shouldn't incorporate what happened this year into their stories."

Good for you!

"...that tells me that the writers were never going to send Rebecca to St. Louis,"

Hmm...

"(a former Marvel Comics editor!)"

I did not know that!

"(She has sacrificed any benefit of any doubt, so please, don't even try.)"

Not me.

"Randall's family watching the news, and the reactions, and the protests? That was real."

Agreed.

"Tess asking her dad if they can watch something else"

That was real, too.

"...but hey, you can't let the plot get in the way of the story."

Indeed not.

"But did This Is Us previously definitively establish that joint birthday (it's Jack's too) as May 25?"

I don't know.

"(she was his wife, right?)"

I referred to her as William's wife above, too, but I'm not sure if it was ever established one way or the other. (I was relying on you to correct me if I was wrong.) Until this episode, I wouldn't have thought so (which I recognize as a display of my unconscious bias), but they were certainly behaving as a married couple.

"Randall's conversation with Malik was interesting."

And real. And true.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

I expected your response to be long and considered, and you did not let me down.

And not yet complete! There's more to come!

Stay tuned!

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