Every week, I watch my husband agonize over his fantasy football team: Who he should play, who he should leave on the bench, who he should trade, who is on waivers. (I still don’t totally get that last one.)
Now, I know nothing about football. But I know TV (as I’ve long said, the Emmys are my Super Bowl). And as I listen to him talk, I realize that a lot of the things that apply to football apply to This Is Us. Exactly one third of the way into the show’s third season (This Is Us has 18-episode seasons), I thought I’d break down how all the characters are doing, fantasy football-style. I knew pretending to be interested in what my husband was talking about would pay off!
Randall: Randall (Sterling K. Brown) is your must-start character. No matter what’s going on, you’re going to start the game with him and leave him in for as long as possible. He can catch a bad pass and pull off a miracle play. So, even saddled with the (and I’m being kind here) ridiculous story line of running for councilman—in not just a city, but a state he doesn’t live in—Brown is able to pull it off. Part of that is due to Brown’s megawatt smile and charisma; part of it is due to the fact that he’s created such a fully realized character in Randall that I believe anything he does.
Beth: For too long, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) has sat on the bench, waiting patiently as other characters have had their time in the spotlight. We’ve never seen Beth’s backstory, and besides her cousin, we’ve never met her extended family. Beth has always offered a humorous take on the Pearson family she married into (I loved her comment about how she, Toby and Miguel have a text chain going), and, of course, she and Randall offer up serious #relationshipgoals. But this season Beth is finally getting a storyline of her own, and it’s a good one. She’s clearly has a lot at stake in her career and how it defines her. Being unceremoniously fired has her off-kilter. It’s a great thing for the series to explore. That said, if Randall isn’t working and Beth isn’t working, how exactly is the family surviving? I mean, the rent from William’s apartment building can’t be pulling in that much income, right? I need them to worry about money at some point. Savings can only take you so far.
Jack: Just like Brett Favre, who retired only to return to the game later, not only did Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) death not take him out of the show—his demise last season has freed up the series to tell more interesting stories about him. Now that we know how he died, the show can travel back to his days in Vietnam and develop more insight into his relationship with his brother and his parents. Ventimiglia so seamlessly moves between eras and roles (son, father, friend, husband) that it’s easy to forget how challenging it is to play the same man at such disparate points in his life.
Kevin: Kevin (Justin Hartley) is booming. For two seasons, he hasn’t been underperforming, necessarily, but he’s not been playing to the full extent of his capabilities. Now, the necklace that Kevin wears has become the key to investigating what happened to his father in Vietnam. The storyline plays to Hartley’s strengths: He’s funny and can bring a moment of levity when it’s needed, but there’s always the undercurrent of Kevin struggling to discover who he is under the façade of the star football player and famous actor. (Sidebar: The show really needs to decide how famous Kevin is. Sometimes he’s not recognized at all. Sometimes he is constantly stopped.)
Kate: Always, in fantasy football, there’s someone who has a renegade theory or unexpected prediction about who will play well in a given week. So, hear me out: Could Kate be pregnant with triplets and have a Big Three of her very own? I’m waiting for that embryo to split. And let’s not worry about what’s medically possible at this point, since the show takes many leaps in the willing suspension of disbelief department.
Toby: Um, can we trade him to another NBC drama? I’m not trying to make light of the character’s mental health issues at all. I’m just not sure Toby is the best lens through which to tell the story of the devastating effects of depression.
Season MVP (So Far): The casting and make-up departments do not get enough credit for the amazing work they do casting such spot-on younger versions of the adult characters (they even found a young Toby) and using make-up and wigs so deftly that I believe Mandy Moore as a grandmother and as a harried middle-aged widow and as a young woman with the world in front of her.
On the Bench: What of this season’s big mystery of who Randall and adult Tess are going to see? We haven’t seen it in a while. Not that I’m complaining. The show doesn’t need this gimmick and is a stronger show when it’s not playing games with its audience.
I’ll be back next month to process what the Pearson clan does in November. In the meantime, read previous editions of “This Is Us Analyzing This Is Us” here.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .