One would think a break from the traditional format of THIS IS US would be refreshing. And it could be too. If there was an episode that spent more time on William than on Jack and Rebecca, it would be great television, or if Beth got more screentime than Kate, it could be an interesting change of the form. However, in “The Big Day,” when the format changed to include none of Jack and Rebecca’s kids, and a whole lot of winking at the audience, This Is Us fell victim to the most self-indulgent side of the show, as opposed the most compelling.
For this week’s episode, instead of focusing on Randall, Kate, and Kevin, we take a step back into 1980, on the same day as the pilot, and ignore anything happening in the modern world. As well as seeing what Jack and Rebecca are up to, we also check in with the doctor who delivered the babies (and the sage wisdom) as well as the firefighter who brought Randall into the hospital. It’s a look at how all the puzzle pieces of the pilot came together to start the show. Though there are some sweet moments, in particular Dr. Katowsky in mourning of his wife, the whole situation feels unwarranted. Seeing the past without the grounding nature of the present gives the impression that the writers ran out of ideas for the triplets. It would be great to see Dr. Katowsky or even the fireman as a flashback in an episode that featured the main three, but when 1980 is all we get, the plots fall a little bit flat.
The most awkward of these involved Fireman Joe, the man who we all now brought baby Randall from the fire station to the hospital. It turns out that poor Joe is having some marital troubles. They are never really expanded upon, except for the knowledge that they can’t have kids, and that his wife is kind of mean to him. Mean wives and their poor sweet husbands that love them is a recurring theme in this episode, and Joe and his wife Samantha prove that tenfold. He tries to bring baby Randall into their home, and Samantha yells at him. Though our sympathies are supposed to lie with Joe, bringing home a baby will do the opposite of fix a marriage so Samantha is spot on there. Of course, later, post Randal drop-off, we get a sickeningly sweet scene of Samantha saying how sweet Joe is an how mean she had been. It’s eye-roll inducing, not even fully to do the plot itself, but do to the fact that we see the exact same thing with Jack and Rebecca.
In the couple’s prelude to their baby’s Rebecca is living her hormonal pregnant woman dreams. She yells at Jack, kicks him out of the house, but then realizes – whoopsie – it was his birthday. Though this feels like the plot of an 80s sitcom, This Is Us uses this lapse in memory as way too serious of a plot device. As Rebecca scrambles to find something for Jack’s birthday, Jack tries to go golfing with the bros, but realizes he loves his wife too dang much. It’s another example of the wife being mean and brittle, and then apologizing to her husband who has been perfect the whole time. Rebecca’s hormones and forgetfulness make sense, and having her character be flawed is a good choice, but there has to be something of a similar vein for Jack as well. As it is now, he is the saintly husband, and she is the bitchy wife. It’s boring, and we’ve seen it before, in this very episode, in fact.
The saving grace of “The Big Day” is Dr. Katowsky, who is trying to move on from his wife who died almost a year ago. It’s a very sad story of a man who has lived in a marriage so long, he doesn’t know how to live out of it. As opposed to a plot-heavy narrative, we follow him through his day of taking to his dead wife, and his son worrying about him. Of course, then he gets the page about delivering Jack and Rebecca’s kids, and is off. One of the best things about the pilot is the speech Dr. Katowsky gives to Jack in the hospital, and the whole show is proof for how much the speech affected Jack. The bright spot in this episode is that we get to see how giving that speech affected Dr. Katowsky to finally try to live his life beyond his wife’s death. It’s sweet and small, and what this show should be, but it almost gets lost among the couples and the references to the future in this odd duck of an episode. Hopefully, the next time This Is Us deviates from the form, it has a reason and maybe women who aren’t mean or dead. We can only hope.
Season 1, Episode 12 (S01E12)
This Is Us airs Tuesday at 10PM on NBC
Raina spends most of her time watching television and trying to find the perfect bagel and lox, because she likes being emotionally distraught.
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Raina Deerwater | Contributor