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When This Is Us premiered in 2016, it took the world by storm with a great pilot episode that introduced various, seemingly unrelated characters and then pulled the rug out from under its audience, revealing in a twist ending that they are actually all relatives and that the story is taking place over multiple timelines.
It was a compelling start, but that pilot episode’s ending also provided the seeds for issues that have plagued the show for four seasons now. It’s a family drama that also wants to be a LOST-inspired mystery box show. It is both telling its audience the story of a family and constantly getting caught up playing games and intentionally misleading its audience.
For example, the show spent 30-some episodes building up to a character’s death. We knew he was going to die, we just didn’t know how. The show went all-in on showing that the character is an alcoholic, and even ended an episode with him getting behind the wheel drunk. The show was intentionally, openly leading audiences to believe that he would die in a drunk driving accident. Except… he didn’t, and later, they revealed that he died from smoke inhalation completely unrelated to his drinking.
In another season, the writers teased one couple would get divorced with a misleading flash-forward, only to later reveal they are still happily married. Another character believed to have died at war was later revealed to be alive. After a while, what began as a fun, shocking twist-ending has become a constantly increasing bar of shock value. The writers began their show with a twist, so now they are constantly punctuating every episode with a twist or a red herring and, after a while, it’s grown tiresome.
As the audience, we have been taught to never trust a character interaction, to never believe what the show itself is implying, and to always expect the opposite of what seems logical. The topsy turvy construction of This Is Us has diminished what was once a pretty good family drama. There are no stakes because nothing is to be believed.
This Is Us airs on Tuesdays on NBC.
I’m Evan Rook.