If you’ve been tuning into NBC on a regular basis for the past two years, you’ve no doubt become accustomed to having your heart-strings tugged by the dramatic TV series, This Is Us. Developed by Dan Fogelman, starring Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore, This Is Us has become one of the most highly decorated dramas on television since it first premiered in 2016. The series follows Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore) as they raise their three children. Using flashbacks, This Is Us allows viewers to immerse themselves in the life and times of the Pearson family across several decades. For viewers preparing for the third season, now is a perfect time to take a long look back at the first two seasons of this award-winning program. Let’s dig right in so that we can give you a proper series recap for NBC’s This Is Us.
Season One: A Family Growing, A Family Divided.
With This Is Us, creator Dan Fogelman sought to put together a television drama that followed the lives of an unconventional family as they grew up with heartbreak, love, passion, and tragedy filling out their lives. With an ensemble cast and lofty ambitions, it would have been easy for This Is Us to become mired in melodramatic mediocrity. This doesn’t happen. Instead, the series jumps right into the complicated lives of the Pearson’s and the story takes off like a rocket. It’s always moving forward but has the ability to cast eyes backward to see how life got the family to where they are in current time.
The series starts with Jack and Rebecca Pearson in the 1980s, deep into the rocky road to parenthood. Rebecca goes into labor with triplets, looking very pregnant. Since this is a drama, things do not go as planned. The Pearson’s lose one of their children during birth, leaving Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Kate (Chrissy Metz) as the only surviving two of the triplets. This heartrending loss is brought into perspective when Randall (Sterling Brown) is abandoned as a newborn at a fire station and essentially orphaned. The Pearson’s make the emotional decision to adopt Randall, bringing him into their lives along with all of the stressors that a mixed-race adoption can involve. From the very beginning, This Is Us shows that it is capable of punching you in the gut while still leaving a tiny trace of a silver lining.
As the series weaves back and forth between the ’80s and present day, we get to learn more and more about the Pearson family and the melancholy that has followed them. In the present day, Kate is working hard to lose weight. Kevin is a famous, albeit unhappy, star of a TV show (‘The Manny’) and Randall has succeeded as a businessman and is in headlong pursuit of finding his birth father, desperate to get some answers. Unfortunately, despite the seeming positivity of their relatively normal lives, not all is well. Rebecca is widowed, Randall’s biological father has a mysterious past, Kevin is locked into a career he no longer admires, and Kate is struggling with weight loss as well as her love life.
So Where Does It All Lead?
Season one is so thick with drama that it would be impossible to detail it all in just a few short sentences. So, for the sake of clarity, we’re going to outline the major character arcs that followed each core member of the Pearson family. With so many plot threads up in the air, to be tangled or straightened out in Season 2, these arcs only represent a portion of the Pearson family’s future.
Rebecca – Throughout the season we get to see how Jack and Rebecca first met and fell in love. Rebecca is eager to chase her dream of becoming a musician but failure prompts her to accept her friend’s advise and enter the dating pool. She forward slightly to the future and Rebecca is reeling after her bandmate, the jerk Ben, assaults her. Rebecca abandons the tour, heading home with a drunk and livid Jack. The two quarrel and Jack storms out, heading to stay with his friend Miguel. Flash forward to the present day and Rebecca and Miguel are now married. Jack is dead, and we’re left wondering where it all went wrong.
Jack – Maybe one of the most complicated characters on the show, Jack has a character arc that is as dark as it is frustrating. Jack starts off the series as an alcoholic with a heart of gold, reeling from a poor relationship with his father. Jack repeatedly bares his demons, most notably his drinking problem, and it leads to the disastrous fight that results in a temporary separation from Rebecca. We get hints as to Jack’s reckless behavior, like in the season finale when Jack decides to rob a poker game, and the only thing we know is that in the present Jack is dead.
Randall – The adopted son, Randall spends most of the first season trying to come to grips with finding and getting to know his biological father, William (Ron Cephas Jones). Randall is a workaholic, determined to bury his demons in his work but this clearly isn’t effective. William ends up passing away and Randall realizes that he can’t go on like this anymore, deciding to abruptly quit his job.
Kate – Comparatively speaking, Kate (Chrissy Metz) has a lot going on. Struggling with weight loss, much of her story revolves around getting gastric bypass surgery while dealing with a love life that may not be quite as polished and charming as she had thought. Kate is challenged by a flirty man named Duke and she is forced to look inside to see if she is really ready to marry Toby (Chris Sullivan). Permeating her own internal strife is a sense of self-loathing, as she blames herself for the death of her father.
Kevin – For Kevin, life should be easy — but it isn’t. Despite a starring gig on network television, Kevin is dying on the inside. He hates the meaningless nature of his work and abruptly quits the lucrative sitcom in order to move to New York to challenge himself as a playwright. After an affair with his ‘The Manny’ co-star, Kevin falls back into the arms of his ex-wife before getting a phone call from, who else, but Ron Howard. Howard begs Kevin to come to Los Angeles in order to star in a film. Things might be on the up-and-up for Kev, but life as a Pearson is never easy.
Season Two: Things Change & Stay The Same.
After an enormously successful first season, NBC brought back This Is Us for another run in primetime. The resulting season received incredibly high marks on aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes. With a foundation of character development and a huge opening for dangling plotlines to be addressed, season two of This Is Us starts out quick. Let’s take a close look at what all transpired with the Big 3 and their parents.
Jack & Rebecca, Tragedy Explained – Dominating the storyline of the second season is the unstable but deeply passionate romance between Jack and Rebecca. Flashing back in time we see that Jack struggles to get his alcoholism under control, causing frequent friction and a semi-withdrawal from Rebecca. The two battle their own frustrations and decide to ‘give it another shot’, which ultimately leads to Jack’s death. The death revelation was a gut punch and left people sobbing as it was revealed that Jack died of smoke inhalation while trying to save Kate’s rescue dog from a house fire.
Kate & Toby, Struggling Romance – Kate is a miasma of different issues wrapped up in her own guilt and self-doubt. She decides to work toward becoming a singer, going to auditions, and leaning on Kevin for support. This upsets Toby, who believes that he should be Kate’s rock from now on and into the future. Kate and Toby end up getting pregnant (which results in an unfortunate miscarriage), and then ultimately married, but it isn’t easy — Toby’s family fights the marriage all the way up until the Wedding Day. Toby’s frequent battle with depression takes center stage in the finale, forcing Kate to become the caretaker — a reversal of their earlier relationship.
Randall & Beth, Family Problems – Echoing his own childhood, Randall and Beth spend much of season two focused on the adoption of their foster daughter, Deja. Deja is wild and spirited and her continually butting heads with Randall causes tension in almost every scene. Still, while Deja and Randall struggle, Beth and Randall glow. The highlight of their arc in season two involves Randall helping Beth to give birth via a home delivery. Deja goes through the ringer on her own, dealing with her birth mother Shauna and all of the trouble that she gets them into.
Kevin, Avoiding The Past – Easily the highlight of season two, we get to see all of the trouble Kevin got into as a kid which led to his problems as an adult. We learn that he is more like Jack than any of the other members of the family, echoing his father’s substance abuse issues. We see Kevin repeatedly fail his ex-wife Sophie via flashback, routinely dealing with problems via stolen prescription medication. Fortunately, Kevin’s darker arc is bookended by a silver lining. He makes the final cut in the Ron Howard picture and even becomes an item with the photographer, Zoe. The attractive couple ends the second season on a plane, heading to Vietnam. Kevin clutches a picture of his father in his hand. There is hope here for Kevin.
So, What’s Next?
Spanning 36 episodes, This Is Us is an incredibly intricate show with many layers and complexities. While our recap shows viewers the broad strokes of what they need to know, in order to get a full understanding of the series a to rewatch or two is probably necessary. With two seasons in the books and numerous awards, season 3 has already been announced for September 25th, 2018.