THIS IS US Review: “A Manny-Splendored Thing”

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It’s the present mixed with the past that humanizes the characters in a way that no other television currently does.  We can watch twelve year old Kate sing “Lean On Me” in her kitchen before the big talent show that she eventually backs out of to rocking out “Landslide” as a grown woman in a room full of strangers.  We can watch Kevin try to impress Sophie on the playground and now present day on the set of Manny.  In this episode, “A Manny-Splendored Thing”, the Pearson children deal with their insecurities.  Insecurities that we have seen from previous episodes but are explored in this episode.

This felt like a stronger episode than the season premiere last week.  The reason is most likely because I could identity with the theme of self doubt, especially with Kate’s storyline this episode.  Her storyline reminded me of my own relationship with my mom – resentment and not feeling like I was “good” enough.  I have had the same conversations that Kate has with Toby at the beginning of the episode as well as the big talk after the club performance when Kate confronts her mom and Rebecca admitting she’s been hard on her.  And just like within our own life, we can piece together why Kate feels the way she does.  Last season we saw Kate look at her mom’s small size shirt and then look at her own XL shirt.  In this episode, Kate hears her mom singing “Lean On Me” in the shower, which makes her doubt her own abilities and pulls out of the talent show all together.  Its these small moments that makes present day conversations impactful and why we keep coming back each week.  And it’s also because we can relate to at least one character each week and themes that are universal.

While Kate’s storyline really resonated with me, Kevin and Randall experience their own self doubt this episode.  Kevin returns to the Manny set hoping to have his “George Clooney ER moment”, a show he quit from to pursue something greater.  Once again, he’s the comedic relief to an otherwise heavy, emotional episode.  His storyline always feels the most shallow.  He finds the confidence he needs by performing for Sophie, something he’s done since he was a kid.  But it’s missing the depth that Kate and Randall have within their own storylines.  By the end of this season, I want an episode that explores Kevin as much as it does Kate and Randall.  Perhaps it will happen when his relationship with Sophie falls apart, because let’s be honest, it’s going a little too well right now.

Even though Kevin is the least developed character on the show, there is always one scene with Kevin that surprises us. And in this episode, it’s Kevin’s conversation with Beth about Randall.  This scene didn’t need flashbacks to the past.  It used what we already know about the characters and shined a new perspective.  It was Kevin’s words that won Beth over the night Randall made his first move on her.  Kevin, the person that Beth has stated repeatedly isn’t her favorite person.  Yet, if it wasn’t for him Randall would have never had the courage to speak to her and perhaps never would have married him if it wasn’t for him.

Randall’s perfectionist nature and his insecurity of not knowing is what keeps him from filling out the foster forms this episode. But by the end of the episode, he finds the strength he needs thanks to Beth’s reminder they have each other.  Even though they have been married for years, they are still learning more about themselves and understanding more about one anther.  Last week it was Randall’s realization of his perfectly imperfect marriage and this week it is Beth trying to figure out how to help Randall overcome his own self doubt.  This of course leads to a beautiful moment of Beth leaping into Randall’s arms and reminding him that they have made their family great together.  Together they can do anything.  And once again I ask, can there just be a spinoff with just Randall and Beth?

Jack’s story picks up exactly where we left off last week with Rebecca picking up Jack and taking him back home.  The writers use flashbacks within flashbacks to show Jack’s trouble with alcohol – using scenes from last year and peeling back the layers a bit more.  What used to work before, doesn’t work anymore and by the end of the episode Jack realizes that he needs to be honest not only with himself and his wife, but also with his kids. In this episode, we’re reminded of his time serving in the Vietnam War and the struggle his father had with alcoholism.  It’s information that continues to push the plot forward, but feels much more natural than last week’s episode.  On a random side note, each of his scenes with Kate were spot on this episode.

I think the song Landslide was the perfect song to tie this episode together.  It’s a song about self-doubt and finding the strength and courage within a relationship to keep going.  Each character this episode experienced their own self-doubt and is in the process of moving forward – some moving faster than others.   Each needing each other to keep moving forward.

TB-TV-Grade-B+Season 2, Episode 2 (S02E02)
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 10PM on NBC

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