There was a moment in last week’s This Is Us that I adored.
Coming back from a commercial break, we were suddenly watching a family we didn’t know. An adult daughter had returned home to live with her parents after her relationship had failed. We got a sneak peek at their tension, until Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) rang their doorbell, wanting to get a look at their childhood home.
But it’s this idea that every family has a story, that everyone’s life is interesting, that we are all the stars of our own drama, that pervades and sustains This Is Us. It’s the reason the series is called This Is Us. The Pearsons aren’t our family, but, in many ways, they could be. Their lives, while heightened and much more dramatic, reflect our own. We squabble with our siblings. Get annoyed with our mothers. Argue with our spouses. Question our parenting decisions.
And so it came time to learn more about Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), as we travelled back in time to see her family and her childhood. Beth married into the Pearson clan, but, obviously, she had her own life before she bumped into Randall at a college mixer.
Phylicia Rashad and Carl Lumbly were terrific as her parents, Carol and Abe. But this was definitely a case of stunt casting working against the show. While watching it, I couldn’t help but think “Claire Huxtable and Marcus Dixon are Beth’s parents! And Luka from ER is her dance teacher!” That said, the casting of the younger Bethanys was, once again, superb. Akira Akbar and Rachel Hilson were terrific, even capturing Watson’s head tilt, smile and cadence.
The minute Abe was introduced, I expected him to die. I don’t know if this is because Beth mentioned in a previous episode that her father died when she was a teenager (a tragic event she and Randall share), or that This Is Us treats fathers the way Disney movies treat mothers. But her father’s death derailed Beth from dancing the way Jack’s death derailed Kate from singing. The reasons were different—reeling from her husband’s death and wanting to assure her daughter had a secure future, Carol was insistent that her daughter choose a different path—but the results were startlingly similar. I also loved the idea that as Beth started this new direction in her life, she changed her name from Bethany to Beth. That “the little island girl” could no longer dream big. That she had to choose practicality.
The backstory also brought us Beth returning to dance and wanting to teach, which we can assume leads to her eventually running her own studio. You get the feeling we could watch an entire series just about Beth’s family. Which, of course, is the problem. Beth’s isn’t the family currently living in the Pearsons’ childhood home. She’s an integral part of the show. So, almost three seasons in, shouldn’t we have seen her mother before now? Wouldn’t it make sense that Tess and Annie would be close to their other grandmother? Or even spent a single holiday with Beth’s family instead of Randall’s? I don’t think that’s happened, has it? My hope, now that the drama has expanded Beth’s world, is that the creative teams continues to explore it. Beth has mentioned several times older siblings who we’ve never seen, or even heard much about. Will we see them at some point in the future?
As much as I enjoyed Beth’s stand-alone episode, it’s also a sign of This Is Us struggling, and maybe not having the long-term plan at the outset necessary to keep the wheels turning over time. Ideally, Beth and her family could have been woven in and out at least beginning in Season Two.
This is Us is in the back half of its third season (there are only five episodes remaining) and, unfortunately, it’s not telling stories from a position of strength. As previously discussed, bringing Jack’s long deceased brother back to life smacks of desperation. I am doubling down now that it’s only a matter of time before a long-lost half sibling of Kate, Randall and Kevin shows up. My working theory is that Jack had a relationship in Vietnam that produced a child he never knew about. You heard it here first. When this story eventually happens (as I firmly believe it will), I will accept your praise and accolades with grace. I promise not to gloat.
I’m rooting for This Is Us, but I’m officially concerned.
Read previous installments 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 .