I am not going to spoil the surprise twist that arrives at the end of the first episode of This Is Us, NBC's highly anticipated new drama that premiered September 20. Let's just say that it's unexpected and deeply touching — and also that it sets the show on a route that surprised me, but I am altogether quite pleased about. You should watch it. I mean that, and I basically watch television for a living, so it's not a recommendation made lightly. But to be completely transparent, while I enjoyed the pilot, I wasn't sure I would keep tuning into the series until I saw its ending. There is only so much heavy lifting one woman can do in a week, on TV or otherwise, and these characters require major emotional investment right off the bat. So go in prepared, because This Is Us is a lot to unpack. Rebecca and Jack (Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia) are a very much in love married couple who lose a child during a difficult delivery. Randall (Sterling K. Brown) is a successful lawyer with a beautiful family he loves — but he's also just recently tracked down his biological father, who abandoned him when he was only an infant. Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley) are twins, each at a rocky point in their own life; Kevin because, even though he's a successful actor, he feels unfulfilled by the pretty-boy part he's been playing on TV, and Kate because she is a chronic overeater who is sick of being fat, and angry at herself for not working to lose weight.
These characters require major emotional investment right off the bat.
The concept of the show — which links its characters by giving them all the same birthday; in the first episode, four of the five leads turn 36 — relies on the audience's willingness to see fated interconnectivity where they could just find coincidence. It asks you to have faith, and to believe that, somewhere behind the scenes in the universe, there might be something grander at play. Not God, but something that binds people together, or at least lets them find each other. Kate leaves post-its for herself on refrigerator items, berating her future self for wanting to eat. Randall at once wants to find his father and also wants to punish him for leaving him behind all those years ago, which is what he starts to do when he tracks him down before realizing that this might be a man he should get to know first. Kevin comes off as a dumb beauty — he's the star of a sitcom called Manny, in which he plays, what else, a male nanny — but he's not sure he wants success if it can't be on his own terms. And Rebecca and Jack — well, they are the connection on which this whole show is built, though you won't understand why until the final moments. (Seriously. Go find out for yourself.) Moore and Ventimiglia, both stars from the past who fell off the radar in recent years, are back and capable of making you adore them all over again, and their story is the foundational element of This Is Us. I will admit I teared up a little bit at the end, when they take their family, minus the infant that didn't make it, home from the hospital. But it's not their loss that got to me. It was the optimism they have for the future. Hope is a compelling feature of this show — and in the end, it's what hooked me. This Is Us airs on NBC Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. EST.