The courtship of Rebecca and Jack gets off to a rocky start, as the hooking-up of Kevin and Zoe slams hard into a Beth-sized wall of "what the hell?!"
"This Is Us" creator Dan Fogelman and the cast have been saying this would be a lighter season for the hit NBC series, and right away we couldn't help but notice jokes -- and pretty good ones -- in the premiere.
Moments of levity have always been a part of the fabric of the show, but so much more of it has been pain and suffering. Not so this week, except for poor Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan), who really need to catch a break. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that's to be in the cards just yet for them.
At least the flashback sequences were joyful as we got to finally see the "bad" first date between Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and the first steps of their adorable courtship. We don't even care that we know how this story turns out, we still want to know. It's like when your parents or grandparents want to tell you how they fell in love; everyone wants to hear that story.
In the present, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) was so hilariously put out by the thought of Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Zoe (Melanie Liburd) knocking boots -- it's a song from the '90s, she hilariously told Randall (Sterling K. Brown) -- that she staged a very loud intervention. And Kevin spent the first part of it hiding on the stairs with the girls.
At this point, we've spent two seasons with these characters and we've really gotten to know them pretty well, so it's fun throwing new things at them to see how they respond. Well, except for Kate and Toby. We don't see the new thing thrown at them going over well at all.
This tissue was because a few of these jokes actually made us laugh out loud, and "This Is Us" usually has us ugly-crying into our pillows. Randall making Beth swear on Oprah that she wouldn't call out Kevin and Zoe for hooking up, knowing fully well she would, was brilliant. "Even Gayle let Oprah down sometimes," Beth said after he left.
Even better when he got back and she fessed up. "I don't know how you're gonna make this right with Oprah," he said to which she sheepishly replied she'd made a donation to her foundation. "Well, that's a start."
The hour was filled with clever wordplay, jumping from scene to scene, but one of the funniest came when Kevin was telling the girls he dated Jennifer Love Hewitt for a year. Cut to Beth telling Zoe he dated that girl from "Party of Five," and Zoe shoots right back, "I love Never Campbell."
Beth just needs to know what Zoe is thinking in hooking up with him. ""I'm thinking he looks like Batman and he's built like a truck," Zoe responded, to which Beth could only say, "Will you stop being honest!"
"This Is Us" just feels lighter this season, and maybe it's that we all got to let out that breath we'd been holding for two seasons during Kate's wedding. Maybe it's just seeing a lighter chapter of Jack's life and looking forward to an arc we know has a happy ending. The show is just as compelling as ever, but now it's back to being uplifting as well.
We'd like to say Deja's (Lyric Ross) storyline this episode really touched us, but it was somewhat redundant to past arcs she's had. The good news is it appears to be the conclusion of her resistance to being a part of the Pearson family. We don't expect her to drop all of her issues and become as giggly as her new sisters, but it will be nice to see her trying, at least.
But it had to start with another moment of defiance, after Randall awkwardly drove her to the apartment building where he met William (Ron Cephas Jones) and tried to compare their life stories and told her they want to adopt her, which she did not take too well at all. What seemed to resonate later was when he told her she was "exceptional" and that he missed talking to her.
Cut to Deja sneaking out of the house, but not to run away. Instead, she confronted her father in much the same way Randall did two years ago. "I just came here to say I'm gonna do something really great with my life and you're gonna miss it," she told him. She then plied him for a favor, which appears to be the nice pair of shoes she gifted Randall.
But the bigger gift was her casually brushing off how she acquired them and adding, "Oh, and you can sign those papers if you want."
We absolutely love how bad this first date was, and how earnestly Jack was trying. With only nine dollars to his name, he did everything he could to make those dollars stretch, even after it started raining and he was faced with a hard choice: buy Rebecca an umbrella with the last of her money, or save it in case she wanted to play games.
It was almost one and done, but then Jack did what Jack does. He opened up just enough. On their very first date as she's about to get out of the car and they both know it was a flop, he said, "I couldn't pay for the umbrella." From there, he detailed the money he had, where it went and what his thought process was.
Jack confessed he doesn't like talking about the war or his brother, but he does like talking to Rebecca. It's one of those lines that only works because he's so very sincere in how he delivers it. "You make me feel like I'm home and I never really felt like that before," Jack told her, and considering the home he did live in at the time, we believe him.
Beth was on fire tonight cracking us up with her anger at both Zoe and Kevin. But the absolute highlight was when she was ready to swap out yelling at Zoe for yelling at Kevin but couldn't even bring herself to look at him. Kevin is a mess and he's never had a real relationship, but it turns out that wasn't what she was really concerned about.
Later, Beth finally sat down with Kevin and admitted that despite her "shtick" of kind-of-sort-of hating him, she really does care about him. And it's actually him that she's worried about. "She eats men up and spits them out and you won't stand a chance," Beth tells him.
In a way, she might have a point. For all his success and staggering good looks, Kevin is incredibly fragile. And after his rock-bottom moment last season, he's only begun crawling back up and rebuilding himself. Zoe seems great to us, too, but if she's as volatile as Beth says she is, this could end in tears.
And this is "This Is Us," so it probably will. But not right away, as we already know Zoe joins him on his trip to Vietnam where he seeks to reconnect with the ghost of his father.
If Jack's honesty was unexpected after their disastrous first date, Rebecca surprised herself even more with her own honesty. After admitting that the date was a disaster and even her cat/dog, pepperoni/mushroom question went all wrong, there was something about this guy.
It was in his eyes, and there was something there. He told Miguel (Jon Huertas) earlier in the night that he'd met not just a girl, but the girl. Jack saw it right away, and Rebecca was seeing that reflected in his eyes. By this point, she knows he's got no job, basically no money and he's got a darkness in him from the war that takes hold from time to time.
But still she does something she never does and seals their date with a kiss. On top of that, she leaves something in his car even after talking about what a lame move that is. Yeah, these two are the real deal and we are here for it.
The entire episode was framed around the infamous "immaculate reception" football game. We even got sequences with receiver Franco Harris to show what a shocking and monumental moment it was. The ball bobbled through several hands before landing in his, culminating in a game-winning touchdown.
That was the game that played the night Jack and Rebecca meet, and that analogy will define their relationship, as Jack shows up for a second date only to see another man on the doorstep kissing Rebecca. In all honesty, she looked surprised to see this new guy, so it may be someone she has history with and would prefer to keep it there.
"A single moment that changed destiny forever" is a line from the sportscasters the night of that game, but it also appears to be foreshadowing the crytpic scene we saw of Toby lost in depression. With Kate agreeing to do the IVF treatment, despite the risks and even after Toby had said he had a lot of concerns about it, he opted to dump his anti-depressants in order to try and improve his own chances at impregnating her.
The good news, though, is that we now know for sure that this isn't a death sentence for Toby. The flash-forward sequence with Randall and Tess continued and we got to see Randall call Toby to see if he was going to be there. If you'll recall, Tess isn't sure if she's ready to see "her," and we don't know who her is.
When we see future-Toby, he's alone on his side of the bed with Kate's side completely made. Is Kate the "she" that Toby isn't sure if he should go see? Did Kate die and "she" is someone else? They set that possibility up with no subtlety with the bed shot, so we think that one was probably a red herring.
But it could be that Kate and Toby are no longer together. Or maybe the "she" is someone else entirely. There are a lot of women in this cast. But Toby's response makes it less likely that it's Deja, which was one of the top theories after last season's finale. Let's not drag this one out for a season and a half like you did Jack's death, okay guys?