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'This is Us' returns, so grab some tissues and grow some facial hair

"This is Us" is was NBC's surprisingly low-key hit last fall.
"This is Us" is was NBC's surprisingly low-key hit last fall.


NBC's new Golden Globe-nominated drama, "This is Us," debuted its winter premiere on Jan. 10, with plenty of twists and turns.

The show follows the Pearson family on their life journey through the past and into the present. It's unique in that it's not set in one time period, but rather critical moments in each family members' lives from the 1980s to the present.

Here's the deal: Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) are the heads of the family. Madly in love, outgoing and free-spirited, they don't originally plan on having children.

But, out of a Steeler's game bathroom hookup comes triplets, one of which doesn't make it. A baby boy left at a fire station fills the void after being dropped off at the hospital, and then, bam, the "Big Three": Randall (Sterling K. Brown), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley).

Fast-forward to the present, and we see the three Pearson children, now adults, each struggling in their own way.

Episode 11, "The Right Thing to Do", follows the same direction as episodes one through ten, except the audience is offered a piece of information about Jack's past for the first time. It leads viewers to realize why he has become such a caring, patient husband to Rebecca.

That new insight carries on into the episode, in which he is forced to confront his past when Rebecca hears word of the triplets and is so desperate, she considers moving in with her despicable mother.

Episode 11 also focuses on relationships of the younger generation. Kate's plotline is frustrating in that it constantly flips from her struggle with her weight to her relationship with Toby; so far, it's been hard for viewers to grasp the fact that for Kate, it has always been about the weight. So Toby, as something else to focus on, comes off as either an evil distraction from her goals or a good distraction from her constant concern about her appearance. Therefore, in the aftermath of his heart attack, we see Kate running back to his side. But is this true love or another distraction?

Kevin is also facing a choice between good and evil, having successfully moved on with playwright Sloane. But Olivia, Kevin's ex-fling and co-star, shows up to wreak havoc again. Kevin has his first relationship crisis, and it's great. Sloane is everything good: sweet, smart and caring, and Olivia is just the opposite, but what does Kevin want? Kevin's dilemma lets us see a new side to him, and it turns out he's not just a selfish, mess-around kind of guy. He has concerns for the feelings of others, so when Olivia returns, he denies his own wishes for the first time for the greater good. But will it cost him both relationships?

Randall, on the other hand, doesn't have girl drama, but rather dad drama again. Just when Randall's relationship with his father is coming together, Randall has a new threat in the way. He discovers that William is gay on Christmas Eve, and when his boyfriend, Jesse, comes into the picture, he is faced with giving up his precious time with his father to Jesse. The three-way struggle between each relationship is complex, but crucial to learning about the personalities of each Pearson child.

Episode 12 struggles to keep up with the drama and insight the other 11 have given us. It's a complete flashback, and we are handed back information we already have such as the drama surrounding the birth of the triplets, Dr. Nathan's past and Randall's arrival at the fire station. The only new information we're given is background about the firefighter who found Randall, which is completely irrelevant to the show's plot. While we do see more of Jack's immense love for his wife and the strength of his character come out, we already knew he had that in him.

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Episode 13, "Three Sentences," which debuted Jan. 24, brings an end to a lot of these struggles. Randall, Kate and Kevin, after finding time to reflect on their lives, each find points of clarity that help end their dilemmas. For Randall, it's patience and an open mind and for Kevin, it's moving away from his regular routine to go for the unexpected. Kate finds solace for the first time in letting go of the burdens of her past, and those burdens might give us the clue to what we have been waiting for this whole time: the cause of Jack's death. What I hope to see in episodes to come is a deeper understanding of why Kate holds so much more weight on her shoulders than her siblings and what information about the past it will reveal.