Nominated for eleven primetime Emmy Awards, NBC’s This Is Us took the world by storm when it aired last fall. Here was a family show that covered everything from weight loss to race, addiction to fame, and America embraced it in a way few network shows have been embraced since TV’s viewership split. While there remains a broad range of half hour comedies, the idea of the prestige drama has moved firmly towards cable and streaming networks, and watercooler shows don’t really exist anymore. This Is Us is as close as it gets.
The show’s title may be cutesy, but the tears that fall each week, like clockwork, are real. It’s a show that’s dependable for a cathartic cry, that finds the relatable in the specific, and avoids falseness at every turn. In telling stories that expand across multiple generations, memory is tapped for both the joyous and the bad times, while structurally, each episode touches on the past and the present. That’s real life. Who we are is heavily entrenched in who we were, and if there’s one thing every tissue-carrying fan of This Is Us knows, there’s no end to the ways memories wade into our thoughts.
Here are 15 occasions when This Is Us had us bawling on the floor.
15. The pilot’s surprise twist
It’s hard to say which was the greater feat. Few pilots in recent memory have been better crafted than This Is Us’ for delivering a closing montage of such magnitude, but for all that construction, it wouldn’t have amounted to much without the cooperation of the media. Somehow, they were able to keep the twist under wraps until the pilot aired.
There’s a reason Kate, Kevin, and Randall have the same birthday. Jack and Rebecca weren’t their peers. Jack and Rebecca were their parents. When one of their triplets was born stillborn, they adopted Kyle, and renamed him Randall. Today the trio live on different coasts, but they were raised as siblings, and the tough to surprise modern viewer doesn’t put it together until the show deigns to tell us.
14. Kevin trying to secure the same diner booth he always sat in with Sophie (“I Call Marriage”)
Kevin may have caught us off guard declaring his love for Sophie after spending episode thirteen, “Three Sentences,” pining after two other women, but it’s how he follows-up on that speech that Kevin proves his heart’s in the right place. Able to convince Sophie to meet him at the same diner where they had their first kiss (eighth grade school trip to the Statue of Liberty) and convinced themselves they could make long distance work, his plans meet a brief snag when, who should be sitting at his booth but Marla Gibbs (The Jeffersons).
Giving one of those longwinded pitches where it’s obvious he wants something from her, Gibbs ultimately makes her price easy – one napkin autograph for the booth – and Kevin, ever impatient, obliges. Admittedly, if he hadn’t rushed, the lava fries wouldn’t have been ordered in time, and those are his secret weapon.
13. Randall teaching William how to drive (“Three Sentences”)
By breaking him out of work early, William sabotages Randall’s lunch plans to get ahead of his business rival, Sanjay. Using the powers of the cancer guilt trip for good, he slyly makes his way through a bucket list that strings Randall along with the promise it won’t take long, when it definitely will.
They buy sunglasses, find the precise egg cream that fulfills William’s requirements, and pull into a parking lot so that Randall can teach William to drive. From Randall’s perspective, it’s all rather spontaneous and random, but for William, these are the habits of the record store owner, Mo, who he admired growing up. Making time to enjoy life, and walk in another person’s shoes, William’s a good influence who knows how to present adventures that Randall will accept.
12. When Kevin ‘fired’ Kate (“Kyle”)
It’s not often that firing someone reflects well on the person doing the firing, but Kevin has everything to lose by letting Kate go as his assistant. Yes, he could benefit from becoming a little more self-sufficient, but it’s a benefit, like eating vegetables, that’s less appealing than good for you.
Kevin’s not a sacrificer, and Kate made his life easier. That’s not to cheapen their relationship. Kevin loves Kate, but besides the invaluable moral support, Kate was always a phone call away, and it’s a phone call that makes him decide to move to New York without her.
Toby could’ve acknowledged their twin bond more when he was upset she left their date early to run and help Kevin out, but that doesn’t diminish how supportive he was, to arrange the perfect scenario for her to sing in public. Kevin’s move will force Kate to put herself first, and, knowing himself well enough to jump on a redeye so he doesn’t back out, Kevin ensures she’ll at least see what it’s like.
11. Beth’s postcard from William (“What Now?”)
While This Is Us never pretended that Williams’ cancer wasn’t terminal, his funeral’s a ruining affair. From his grandchildren designing the memorial, to his son mourning the loss of another father, William touched a number of people, and it’s a credit to both him and the show that it’s not just Randall who gets to express grief. He may be the first person people think of (the postman who shares his condolences the last), but grief isn’t reserved for one person.
Beth is equally hit, and not in a platitude way. She’s mad William left for Memphis, knowing he wouldn’t be coming back, and when Randall hands the eulogy over to her, little details like missing William hum when he brushed his teeth show how much she cared. William loved Beth back, and when his postcard arrives in the mail – the one he promised to send her, when it was just a regular road trip – it’s the confirmation she needs to aid in her grief.
10. Rebecca eviscerated Ben (“I Call Marriage”)
Nobody insults Jack Pearson in front of his wife and gets away with it, and when that person is Ben, the bandmate who’s been causing havoc in her marriage with his schoolboy crush, you better believe she’s got something to say to him. Insinuating Jack doesn’t care enough about her, if he’s not gung ho about her touring, Rebecca knows off the top of her head the reasons why Ben couldn’t be more wrong.
It’s a shame Jack doesn’t hear that speech, because maybe then he would trust her about having no interest in an affair. As a viewer, we know she’s not soft-spoken about being in a committed relationship, but that seems to be Jack’s one hang-up, when it’s actually what he need worry least about.
9. Jack raising Randall up in his martial arts class (“The Trip”)
Looking to provide Randall with more male, black role models, Jack and Rebecca sign him up for a martial arts class. As part of the initiation for new members, Jack is invited to join the other fathers and boys on the floor. There, they express what it means to be a community that’ll always be there for Randall.
As a symbol of that promise, Jack is told to do push-ups while Randall climbs onto his back, but when the sensei says he can stop, Jack throws in a few push-ups more. It’s about literally being there to raise Randall up, and when the other fathers form a line, Randall takes a turn on each of their backs so that every father in that room is marked as someone he can turn to for help.
8. Rebecca’s last minute attempt to make Jack a birthday cake (“The Big Day”)
The origin story for the cupcake in episode one you didn’t know you wanted, Rebecca forgot Jack’s birthday, and worse, Rebecca kicked Jack out on his birthday because she wanted time to clear away moving boxes. Being pregnant with triplets and close to her due date’s an infallible excuse, but not much for making her feel better about snapping.
Seizing on any means to make it up to her husband, Rebecca finds the box that holds her cook book, but no ingredients and no car. After taping flip flops onto her feet, the best she can do is walk to a nearby liquor store. One hilarious, desperate conversation with the cashier later, Rebecca returns home with a banana muffin, some Twinkies for icing, and a Steelers towel, and it couldn’t be more heartfelt.
7. Randall’s panic attack at work (“Jack Pearson’s Son”)
Kevin dropping everything to help Randall might be considered the bigger moment, but his rescue’s adherence to TV timing is slightly problematic (Sloane has to walk out on stage before he realizes he’s going to leave) and the lack of consequences for his play (the New York Times critic doesn’t show up) doesn’t help. Seeing Randall put himself under so much pressure, there are medical consequences has Kevin running, and it builds up to Randall quitting his job in episode seventeen, “What Now?”
In his strive for perfection, Randall starts to lose his sight, and as much as he loves his job (he sang a song about it on his girls’ career day), his bosses offer nothing in return. Here’s a man who never asked for time off before, and they make him feel like his position’s in jeopardy. When William passes away, they send a pear basket with a typed note. Randall’s allergic to pears. These guys won’t be missed, but a big question for season two is what Randall will do next.
6. When Kate taught Jack how to vogue (“Three Sentences”)
Kate’s relationship with her dad is magical, and knowing how much his loss devastates her (her tradition of watching the Steelers game with him in episode five, “The Game Plan”), even the happy memories they shared are difficult to watch.
Voguing occurs after Kate’s friends ditch her Madonna-themed birthday party for Kevin’s Princess Bride-themed event. Broken to see his daughter abandoned, and with little way of making nine-year-old girls less mean, Jack explains that they weren’t grown-up enough to appreciate her party, and raises a smile from her with his eagerness to learn the dance move himself. Kate isn’t fooled, and that’s what makes the scene more tender. She knows what Jack’s doing, and she adores him for it, but while their ‘strike a posing’ ends with her asking to be alone, she knows her dad’s permanently in her corner.
5. Dr. Katowski’s lemon speech (Series Premiere)
Dr. Katowski is the kind of character who usually appears in one episode of a show and never gets seen again. This Is Us makes him a repeating figure in the Pearson’s lives, and along with delivering Kevin and Kate, he is the one who gives Jack the terrible news that his third baby died.
In one of the worst moments of Jack’s life, Dr. Katowski provides hope and sparks the idea to adopt Randall when Jack finds out he needs a loving home. His “lemonade” mantra is part of the pilot’s reveal, as advice Jack passed onto all three of his kids, and when Rebecca suffers from postpartum depression, Dr. Katowski is there to help when Jack doesn’t know what to do for her or himself.
4. Everything that went down at the pool (“The Pool”)
It’s such a packed episode, with each of the Big Three going through an important experience. Randall asks that they go to the pool where he knows there’ll be other black people he can tally on his list of black people he’s met. Kevin almost drowns when his parents get distracted and he follows his football into the deep end, and Kate gets ostracized for wearing a Care Bears bikini by some of the cruelest little girls to ever hit the water.
Take into account the time Jack and Rebecca have keeping an eye on the Big Three, outnumbered, outmanned, and “The Pool” hits on every emotional cylinder, including Rebecca seeking advice from one of the other black moms for what Randall needs, and Jack covering speech-making duty with Kevin and Kate.
3. When we learned Rebecca knew who Randall’s biological father was all along
There are few things more devastating than Randall realizing he could’ve had his biological father in his life (except maybe Randall imagining Jack and William meeting in “What Now?”). Viewers find out in episode two, but Randall doesn’t learn the truth until episode eight, “Pilgrim Rick.”
He had asked his mom growing up if she knew who his dad was, and was very clear about his desire to meet him, yet she kept them apart. In their first meeting, William was struggling with addiction, but the second time Rebecca met William, he had gotten clean. She let fear dictate her actions, and if Randall hadn’t sought William out for himself, he’d have never been the wiser. William would’ve died of stomach cancer, and they wouldn’t have gotten the little time they did to get to know each other.
2. When we found out Rebecca re-married Jack’s best friend, Miguel (“The Big Three”)
At this point in the show, it wasn’t clear whether Jack had died or if they’d gotten a divorce. Jack did die, but as for the timeline, and why, we’re still unsure. He and Rebecca separated over Jack’s drinking and Rebecca’s tour, so divorce is still on the table, but they might have reconciled. Rebecca still wears the necklace Jack gave her, that she said she’d never take off, but not knowing is rough.
When Miguel reminds Jack he married a great woman, we see it with the awareness that he’ll marry her himself someday, and in episodes like “Pilgrim Rick,” where he wants to pick up Jack’s Thanksgiving traditions, Kevin’s resistance to the idea is easy to share — especially when you have glimpses at Jack for comparison in the episode’s flashback scenes.
1. When Randall and William visited William’s hometown together (“Memphis”)
If you’re going to go out, you couldn’t ask for more a beautiful, ruining last road trip than William’s with Randall. Ditching the maps so they’d get there when they get there, William doesn’t have much time, but he’s not about to let death pressure him along. If that means paying his respects at the tree where Jack’s ashes were scattered, he’s going to pay his respects. If that means throwing the new owners off by returning to his childhood home, so be it.
Along the way, we learn more about the hardships life dealt William and the music career that came this close to taking off. Randall winds up in drunken ecstasy meeting his second cousins and William plays piano in the background. They never get a chance to see if the ducks are still at the Peabody, but the pair bond in plenty of other ways during their last hours together. We were crying pretty much the entire time.
Which This Is Us moment left you the biggest mess afterwards? Let us know in the comments.
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