‘This is Us’ Review: Dan Fogelman Mines Great Melodrama From Everyday Life

NBC’s ensemble includes Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore

This Is Us

In a season rife with superheroes, time travel, remakes and flawed protagonists who seem to have all the answers, there’s not much that’s stood apart from the fall preview pack this cycle. Perhaps that’s why NBC’s “This is Us”–the second fall entry from executive producer Dan Fogelman (Fox drama “Pitch” is his other)–has garnered so much attention ahead of its premiere. Or why the pilot trailer has broken through with millions of video streams, practically achieving “Star Wars” levels of shares.

Unlike those aforementioned series, “This is Us” revolves around a simple premise: life. Those everyday, simple moments that push us through, guide us and make us cry. Because everyone’s experiences are so unique, these are stories told through several vantage points, with the characters only sharing one thing–a birthday.

They include Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and his very pregnant wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore); eye-candy actor Kevin (Justin Hartley) and his overweight twin-sister Kate (Chrissy Metz); and successful career- and family-man Randall (Sterling K. Brown), who decides to seek out his real father after growing up with an adoptive family.

It’s a unique blend with four very distinct but compelling stories, proving there’s plenty of drama to be mined from real life. It doesn’t hurt that each of the actors is perfectly cast in his or her role, driving home the beautifully written scenes that often pose pertinent and universally relatable questions.

What do you do when your life isn’t turning out the way you expected it to, and how do you deal with awful curveballs when they come your way? Do you persist and drive through, rely on family, stick to your convictions or turn the other cheek? Are you in the career you’re meant to be in, or is this it for you? And why do you keep proving you’re your own worst enemy rather than being the harbinger of your own change?

These are just some of the questions raised within the first hour of “This Is Us,” setting up a series that has the potential to be heartfelt and thought-provoking week after week – provided that the creative team can keep up the ambitious pace (unfortunately only the first episode was made available to press). Essentially, if you’ve been missing a “Parenthood”-style drama from your schedule, this is the series you’re going to want to make the time to watch.

Ventimiglia, who rose up the ranks thanks to standout roles in “Gilmore Girls” and “Heroes,” once again proves he has the chops to be a leading man with a few particularly heartbreaking, yet at the same time heartwarming, scenes. It’s that juxtaposition of ups and downs–those contrasting emotions–that makes this such a gripping show. Add in a few comedic beats (Hartley and Brown in particular are great at mining the lighter moments within darker storylines) and an infinitely watchable star in the relatively unknown Metz, and it’s hard not to root for these characters.

Of course melodrama isn’t for everyone, and “This is Us” may prove too realistic for those seeking escapism or fantasy. There’s also the boxed format, which constricts writers to tighter storytelling as the narrative shifts from character to character. This isn’t a bad thing, per se, but it’s different than many of the large, sweeping stories currently out there. Stick with the first hour though, and there are big payoffs by the episode’s end that could convince even fence-sitters that this is a project worth tuning into. For the first few episodes, anyhow. After that, we’ll see. That’s life.

“This is Us” premieres Tuesday, Sept 20 on NBC.