This Is Us Review: Yes, Parenthood Fans, It's Safe to Cry Again

grade_A-It’s been a year and a half now since Parenthood went off the air (RIP, Zeek), and it left a gaping void on NBC — and all the major networks, really — in the heartfelt-family-drama category. These days, it’s nearly impossible to find a network drama that isn’t about cops or doctors or superheroes or vampires, but instead about real people and their everyday problems.

In an effort to cure our Braverman withdrawals, NBC gives us This Is Us (premiering Tuesday, Sept. 20 at 10/9c): a kindhearted, acutely observed family drama that presents four stories that are loosely connected (I won’t reveal how) but share common themes of family, romance, and what it means to be an adult. It’s way too early to declare it Parenthood 2.0, and the pilot does contain a late, game-changing twist that sets it apart. But in a fall season overrun with lazy reboots and formulaic procedurals, it’s a soft-spoken gem worth admiring.

Opening with an acoustic Sufjan Stevens tune to get our heartstrings nice and plucked, This Is Us tells the story of four people celebrating their 36th birthday: Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), whose very pregnant wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore) is about to give birth to triplets; Kate (Chrissy Metz), who’s struggling with a weight problem; her brother Kevin (Justin Hartley), a TV star who’s fed up with his brainless sitcom; and Randall (Sterling K. Brown), a successful businessman who’s determined to track down his birth father.

This Is Us - Season PilotNone of these stories, taken individually, is particularly groundbreaking. But again and again, creator Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid Love) manages to take what could be clichéd situations — a weight-loss support group; an adopted kid confronting his biological dad — and infuses them with warmth and authenticity. The dialogue feels real. The people seem to really care for one another. And so we can relate, and empathize, and start to connect with these characters.

It helps that the cast is uniformly strong. Brown follows up his Emmy-nominated work as Christopher Darden on The People v. O.J. Simpson with another quality performance, and Hartley (Smallville, Revenge) is winning as a poster-boy hunk who yearns to be taken seriously. Plus, Major Dad himself, Gerald McRaney, appears in the pilot as the folksy doctor delivering Rebecca’s babies — and he has a knockout monologue that might one day be remembered as This Is Us‘s first good cry.

Now about that twist: There is a revelation near the end of the pilot that explains how the four stories are connected. I admit it came as a total surprise to me, and I won’t reveal it here so viewers can have the same experience. (In kind, if you have a theory about, or have heard of, the twist, please refrain from blurting it out in Comments.) I will say it opens up some interesting storytelling avenues for Fogelman and his writing staff to explore in the weeks to come. (It might even have you rewatching the pilot to see what clues you missed.)

But ultimately, the twist doesn’t matter all that much. This Is Us earns its emotional impact (and yes, its tears) not by pulling a rabbit out of its hat, but just by looking deeply and honestly into human lives and the unseen strands that tie all of us together. It proves, once again, that we don’t need fancy bells and whistles to get invested in a TV drama. The truth, well told, is enough.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: With emotionally resonant dialogue and top-notch performances, This Is Us should fill that Braverman-sized hole in your heart.

Again, if you have a theory — or have heard — about the twist, TVLine asks that you respectfully refrain from blurting it out in Comments.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Ingmar says:

    This is one the two shows (the other one being Kristen Bell’s comedy – duh!) I look forward the most. Really, really miss shows like Brothers & Sisters and Parenthood, so I’m glad to read this is perhaps just as good…or at least it has the potential to.

  2. Kay says:

    I cannot wait. And I literally don’t even care what the twist is, as long as it doesn’t ruin what looks to be everyday stories at their finest.

  3. wrstlgirl says:

    This and Designated Survivor are the two I’m looking forward to the most.

  4. Parenthood never clicked for me, so I’m wondering if I would like this? I’ll probably do the pilot, since there is such a dearth of interesting sounding new shows, and they’ve ruined my favorite new show from last year, Code Black.

  5. Kevin K says:

    This Is Us should make people bring a box of Kleenex by watching an episode or two. FNL and Parenthood were both emotionally charged dramas and I cannot wait to see how the series goes from here.

  6. c-mo says:

    You had me at Sufjan Stevens! Ok, I was really looking forward to this one anyway but now am even more excited at the prospect of an amazing soundtrack as well!!!

  7. DJ Doena says:

    Cops and doctors are fantasy creatures and not “real people”?

  8. Eric says:

    As a big Parenthood fan, I’m very excited that NBC is returning to that kind of story. Emotions make us human, and I love television that reflects and brings out our humanity.

  9. Luis says:

    I’ll take a flier on the big twist. I say one character in each of the four connected stories is the recipient of an organ from the same donor. If that isn’t it, it would a great basis for a story, wouldn’t it?

    • patricia says:

      No,I heard something else involving the twins.I don’t want to say in case I am right.

    • z says:

      I noticed when the husband is looking at his newly born children there is a CRT TV in the background. Now I haven’t been in a hospital for a while but I have to imagine they would all be replaced by LCDs by now. So my prediction is the couple giving birth are the parents of Kate, Kevin and Randall (that they adopt) in the early 1980s.

      • Danyelle says:

        I saw that too but the hospital i just too my son to for appendix had old TVs too, some place it isn’t a “priority” upgrade i guess.

      • Helen says:

        You have to be right! It says they’re all celebrating their 36th birthday so that totally makes sense! Can’t wait to find out!

  10. Joey Padron says:

    Good review of the show. Really looking forward to see the show. Glad NBC have a new show that is kind of like Parenthood which I missed so much since it ended.

  11. Liz985 says:

    Well, I loved “Crazy, Stupid Love” – “Parenthood,” not so much – so I’m more than willing to give this a try.

  12. GraceM says:

    Well thanks to this review, I know what Milo Ventmigila’s bad news is.

    The reviews said his wife is expecting triplets. In the hospital you only see two babies and even the doctor said you have two healthy babies.

  13. Rose says:

    I was also a big fan of Parenthood so am looking forward to this show very much. For the future, please don’t mention any guesses about the twist since I want to be surprise!

  14. Cas says:

    I cannot wait!! This and Kristen Bell’s new comedy are the only new shows I plan on watching. Fingers crossed both will survive the season and be renewed!

  15. Steven says:

    Crazy Stupid Love is my favorite movie so so watching a version each week is amazing. The pilot was really good and I did not see the twist coming.

  16. Katrinka says:

    I’m sadly still in denial about Parenthood being gone. If this show is even the slightest bit Parenthood-ish, I am all in. As other posters have commented, this show & Kristen Bell’s new sitcom The Good Place are the two shows I’m looking forward to the most. And they’re both on NBC. Crazy!

  17. Iris says:

    I wanted to check this out in case it was like Brothers&Sisters (maybe a little less OTT version of it) with hilarious moments to balance the gripping drama. I like the cast. But I don’t see any mention of comedy, humor, comic relief…so it’s just a gloomy tear-jerker? Not for me, then.

  18. SKay says:

    You have a real actor on your hands in Justin Hartley. This man oozes talent that stays in your heart and mind forever. He was my favorite in Young and the Restless. After seeing him act, it’s like what time is it, is it time for Justin [Adam}. He is infectious to watch. Look at his eyes he always fits the part. Love him Love him…..

  19. gavin says:

    What is Braverman? Stop assuming everyone gets the reference.

  20. Jamie says:

    You had me at Justin Hartley. I would watch him watch paint dry. He has grown so much as an actor on Passions, and I’ve followed him to Y&R. Huge loss there is the world’s gain, to see how amazing he is.
    And he’s easy to look at, which is good for ratings 😉

    • Jacqi says:

      My thoughts exactly. Loved him on passions. I watched Emily Owens MD before it got canceled just for him (but grew to love the show). He was good ln Revenge and Mistresses too.

  21. Anne says:

    I’m annoyed that the fat woman gets a story about being a fat woman. Like come on; that’s not even creative. And as a fat woman myself, I’m getting tired of these one-note representations. Why can’t she be a character who just happens to be played by a fat actress.
    I’ll tune in in the off chance they give her other storylines, but I’m not optimistic

    • Elizabeth says:

      Then you better stay away from Kevin James’s new show. The previews show nothing but fat jokes. I’ll pass.

    • rnunley2013 says:


    • AnnieM says:

      Well, they probably wanted a wild contrast between the twins’ appearance. But I do see your point. It’s like TV and movies feel the need to ‘justify’ hiring a zaftig woman by calling attention to her size in some way, like, “Ooh, see how *accepting* we are of her size!” *Sheesh* I’d love to see a character played by a larger actress where her size was never even mentioned. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that done before.

    • LisaM says:

      I thought the EXACT same thing. Along with the fact that the black guy had drug addicted parents was all a bit too stereotyped. Although I did like that women weren’t sex u a liked or objectified.

  22. Chloe says:

    I never watched Parenthood & from what I’ve seen in the previews, I have no interest in this, either. I’d rather watch the cops & doctors than “feel good” schmaltz. Plus the guy with the greasy hair who needs a shave is a major turn-off. Pass.

    • Michelle says:

      Yes, but as the seasons progress he become more like eye candy! Trust me he’s hot in my eyes. I thought the same when I first started watching it but wow…how he changed and that sideways grin he has is contagious!

      • Gregory Hoffman says:

        Duh, ditto. you folks don’t have enough emotion in your life??? Get a life, shoot em ups, Black List, Person of Interest, etc.

  23. rnunley2013 says:

    This Is Us… Can’t wait to see it! We need a new set of Braverman! The washer commercial makes me happy just to see Dax!

  24. Carole says:

    You people all such. You were asked SPECICIFICALLY to not reveal the twist or interject your opinions of what it might be so as not to spoil it for those of us wanting to experience the surprise. Why must there always be those people who just love to be the spoiler?

    • DJ Doena says:

      Most people here are just guessing on the sole basis of the trailer. They haven’t spoiled anything because they don’t actually know anything. Am I going to spoile the next football guess if I’m guessing that the Packers are going to win 21-14?

      If you don’t want to read speculation why are you reading the comments? What else is there to comment on besides “can’t wait” and “won’t watch”?

  25. Kim says:

    Looking forward to this show, but it’s in the same time slot as Chicago Fire which premiers on October 11th. I’m curious if this will only be a 3 episode show, or where it will move to once Chicago Fire starts?

  26. Gabriela says:

    But where’s the trailer with the twist…?

  27. Ada says:

    Definitely, the Bravermans “left hole in our hearts”!! I m overwhelmed! Looking foward to
    viewing the.pilot…Will greatly miss Zeeke, though!

  28. Gregory Hoffman says:

    Oh my God…you’ve got to be kidding! PUKE.

  29. Nina Waren says:

    I liked the show. But I disagree with you when you say that the dialogue seems real. The conversations were very heavy handed.

  30. ninergrl6 says:

    The twist wasn’t surprising to me at all. I guessed it from reading preview articles about the show that were attempting not to spoil anything. Plus the foreshadowing within the ep was super obvious. The whole show was very average IMO. I’ll give it another week but so far I’m not compelled. I think “real people” dramas just don’t do it for me.

  31. Linda Gibson says:

    I watched it and was laughing and crying at the same time. I loved it and the twist at the end

  32. Aem says:

    This show is amazing! Just watched episode one and I’m already hooked. Please don’t change anything. A million thanks to the writers and actors.

    Please don’t kill Randall’s father too soon😊
    Much success

  33. Rhonda says:

    I love THIS IS US. I also love the Netflix series STRANGER THINGS. And Benny from ST is Toby on TiU. That is so cool to me, worlds colliding and such.