For nearly three seasons, This Is Us has produced quality dramatic and comedic storylines. It's embraced the melodramatic and the heartwarming without ever becoming too much like a soap opera or overly saccharine and cutesy. The series has followed the ups and downs of the lives of the extended Pearson family, spanning nearly a century in its exploration of the many generations. While the core of the series has focused on Jack and Rebecca Pearson and their children, known as The Big Three, countless other characters - those related to the family and not - have come and gone, bringing with them storylines that have been both wildly successful and others less so.
Regardless of the quality of any given storyline, This Is Us remains one of the most popular series on social media. There's never an episode that doesn't get the series name or any of its characters trending on Twitter, with cast members taking part in live tweeting and Q&A sessions on Instagram as well. The show has perfected the art of social storytelling, in addition to its nearly pitch-perfect delivery. It's been recognized with nominations and awards from the Emmys, the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, and more.
Basically, it's clear that these writers and actors really know what they're doing and show no signs of slowing down any time soon. But even the most talented of artists can produce some questionable stories every now and then, too.
Here are 10 Storylines That Hurt This Is Us (And 10 That Saved It).
20 Hurt: Rebecca's Music Career
It's impossible to deny that Mandy Moore is a talented singer. Arguably better-known for her singing than her acting prior to This Is Us' premiere, Moore is understandably given a singing storyline in her role as Rebecca, both in Rebecca's younger years and in her middle age. But the series perhaps would have been better off avoiding this altogether, since its presentation of Rebecca's talent strains credulity.
In her youth, Rebecca travels out to California to perform for record executives, who tell her that her voice - that of a professionally trained singer, no less - is only "Pittsburgh good." In her middle age years, Rebecca returns to music, playing in dive bars with her ex-boyfriend's washed up band, which of course causes strain in her marriage with Jack. Overall, the character's musical journey adds nothing positive to the series, and only lessens its believability.
19 Saved: Tess Comes Out
Ever since the first season, it's been clear that Eris Baker's Tess Pearson - Randall and Beth's youngest daughter - has been incredibly socially aware regarding preference. After all, she's the one who remarks, offhandedly, that William is of a particular preference. Tess and William aren't ever really afforded much screentime together in the way that Annie and William are, but it's clear nonetheless that Tess established some sort of bond of understanding with her grandfather.
That same bond is made clearer than ever and becomes one of self-identification when Tess tearfully comes out to her parents in the third season's midseason finale. It was one of the season's most emotionally realistic moments so far and allowed Baker a true showcase for her up-and-coming talents.
18 Hurt: Kate And Madison's Friendship
The weight support group that Kate attends early in the series provides her with two entirely unexpected and significant relationships. On the plus side of things, there's her relationship with Toby Damon, a fellow overeater with a heart of gold who wins her over with his quirky humor and grand romantic gestures. Three seasons into the series, it's clear that these two are meant for each other, now married with a baby on the way.
But on the flip side, there's Kate's friendship with Madison, an often judgmental and insincere woman with bulimia who goes from being Kate's nemesis to best bud in the blink of an eye. There's no real development to this relationship, and no real depth, either. Madison seems to pop up whenever the writers see fit to have her, and that sort of lackadaisical friendship support is really the last thing Kate needs.
17 Saved: Kate And Toby Attempt To Have A Baby
An ongoing storyline that has provided the series with some of its most emotional material to date has been Kate and Toby's quest to have a baby. In the second season, Kate learns she's pregnant, and despite her initial hesitation regarding telling him, she soon tells Toby and the pair begin planning joyfully for the future. However, all of that comes crashing down when Kate suffers a sudden miscarriage, sending their relationship into a downward spiral.
By the end of the second season, all is well again, and the two are married and resolved to try again. The third season finds them trying IVF, despite the risks, and successfully conceiving a child, with a bump in the road provided by Toby's brief abstention from taking his depression medication. We can only hope that all goes well for these two from now on.
16 Hurt: Jack And Rebecca's Separation
In perhaps the series' weakest episode to date, the season one finale "Moonshadow," This Is Us comes the closest it's ever come to being overly self-indulgent. The entire episode revolves around the beginning and near ending of Jack and Rebecca's relationship, ranging from the night they meet (when Jack had been considering robbing a bar but was saved by Rebecca's angelic presence) to when they decide to separate following an ugly, blowout fight.
The fight itself contains some particularly unforgivable barbs thrown back and forth - including Rebecca callously proclaiming that, because of Jack and the kids, she has no life at all. The resulting separation isn't that long, with Jack spending a few nights at Miguel's and returning to his drinking ways, but the cracks in the relationship are there to stay, for better or worse.
15 Saved: Young Randall Searches For His Biological Family
This Is Us begins with Randall, in his late 30s, on a quest to find his biological father - and succeeding in doing just that when he shows up on William Hill's doorstep and interrogates him about why he left him at a fire station when he was an infant. The series could have left this as something Randall didn't explore until he was an adult but instead doubles down on Randall's search for answers as early as his childhood.
One flashback finds little Randall approaching an African American couple at a supermarket and asking if they can roll their tongue like he can, since it's an inherited trait. Another moment sees teenage Randall placing an ad in the newspaper, with both of his siblings accompanying him to a meeting with a woman who responds to the ad but was only interested in the Pearsons' money. This has been a lifelong quest for Randall, and the series doesn't ever shy away from exploring it.
14 Hurt: Kate And Rebecca's Fractured Relationship
Kate Pearson has always been shown to be a clear daddy's girl. Her relationship with her father, Jack, has defined much of her life, regardless of whether he is alive. Their bond when she is a little girl and teenager offers some of the best insight into both of their characters, with Jack spoiling her and defending her in equal measure. Unfortunately, as a result of this trope of closeness with her father, Kate's relationship with her mother, Rebecca, couldn't be more fractured.
It's hard to find many scenes in the series featuring the two women where they aren't at each other's throats. Rebecca micromanages Kate's weight, even in her youngest years, and pressures her into pursuing the music career she was never able to have. As a result, Kate resents her mother's slim physique and vocal talents, and the two often argue about either of these topics.
13 Saved: Nicky Pearson's Backstory Is Revealed
The mystery of Jack's younger brother, Nicholas "Nicky" Pearson, was brought into the foreground of the series in the third season through flashbacks to their childhood with a bad father and their time together in Vietnam. But it wasn't until the series revealed that Nicky was, in fact, alive and living in Pennsylvania that it truly struck gold in terms of storytelling.
Bringing in Griffin Dunne to play a 70-year-old Nicky, the series revealed the harrowing truth of why Jack always let his family believe Nicky had passed away. During his time in Vietnam, Nicky was responsible for the accidental, violent passing of a young Vietnamese boy. The trauma of the event caused Nicky to be placed in a psychiatric facility, and Jack to cut off almost all contact with the younger brother he once adored.
12 Hurt: Rebecca And Miguel's Marriage
It wouldn't be fair to expect Rebecca to never move on with her life after the tragedy of Jack's passing, no matter how wonderful their relationship may have been. But it's still in especially poor taste for the series to have paired Rebecca up with none other than Miguel, Jack's former best friend, and her own former best friend, Shelly's, ex-husband.
The two didn't marry until late in life after re-connecting years after Jack's passing via Facebook, but the bitter taste the relationship leaves can't be over- or understated. Of course, the pair has a history together that few others would ever be able to understand, especially concerning their memories of Jack. But it also feels like the series merely thought putting the two characters who had no current spouse and were of the same age group would be a suitable idea.
11 Saved: William And Jesse's Relationship
This Is Us has handled the concept of diverse storytelling with considerable ease, especially given the diverse nature of the Pearson family itself. But it's through the introduction of William's character, and his relationship with fellow former-addict, Jesse, that the series finally embraces representation of the LGBTQ community. The relationship has only been glimpsed a few times throughout the series, particularly toward the end of William's life, but the warmth of their love for one another has been apparent from day one.
The third season's Thanksgiving episode even chronicles the early days of the couple's courtship, ranging from their first meeting to their first instances of flirtation and jealousy, both at their recovering-addicts meetings and in their own homes and social circles. Their bonding over music, in particular, provides their relationship with some moments of real sweetness.
10 Hurt: Kevin's Theatre Career And Love Triangle
Kevin Pearson has been one of the trickiest characters in the entire series so far. As a man who performs for a living, with varying degrees of success, it's often hard to get a read on Kevin, when so many of his problems can be so hard to relate to. In season one, Kevin throws a tantrum and gets himself kicked off his wildly successful sitcom, The Manny. He then decides to try his hand at the New York theatre scene.
The attempt is hardly a resounding success, with Kevin's performance hardly deserving any awards, even before he runs out on opening night to deal with a family crisis. But beyond his questionable talents, the storyline also introduces one of the series' worst ideas: the back and forth love triangle between Kevin, his costar Olivia, and the playwright Sloane.
9 Saved: Dr. K's Backstory Is Revealed
Over time, This Is Us has built itself a pretty impressive cast of supporting characters. Few of them are more impressive, more important, or better acted than Gerald McRaney's Dr. Nathan Katowski, better known to fans of the series as Dr. K. Dr. K was the OBGYN on-call who delivered Kevin and Kate and the stillborn Kyle, and from that moment onward, he served as an important voice of comfort and reason for the entire Pearson clan.
But it wasn't until an episode revealed Dr. K's own tragic backstory - that he was struggling to move on with his life after losing the love of his life, his wife of 53 years, to whom he still spoke as if she was still present - that the character truly became something really special.
8 Hurt: Rebecca Knew William All Along
The relationship between Rebecca and Randall is one that the series often mines for some of its most touching, difficult moments. As a young mother, Rebecca admitted that she had difficulty connecting with her adopted son, but over time, she came to be incredibly protective of him - perhaps even to the extent of damaging their future relationship.
As we've already explored, Randall was desperate his entire life to learn the truth about his biological parents. Unfortunately, the series revealed, partway through its first season, that Rebecca had known William ever since Randall was a baby, and had told him to stay away. What's more, it was revealed that Rebecca only named Randall because of William's favorite poet. The revelation of his mother's betrayal caused Randall to have a total breakdown, losing trust in his mother for quite some time after, and putting an unnecessary strain in an already fraught family.
7 Saved: Randall's Anxiety
This Is Us has tackled plenty of complicated issues in its brief tenure, including addiction, depression, and PTSD. But one of the topics it has handled with the most success has been Randall's struggle with anxiety. Beth once described an instance when Randall worked himself so thin that he experienced hysterical blindness, showing that the anxious drive manifests in physical ways, too.
But it's perhaps been the flashbacks to a young Randall's many panic attacks, when he was aided by his father's reminders to "just breathe with me" and his hands on either side of his head, that have made the biggest emotional impact. And who could forget the moment when Kevin ran all the way to his brother's office and held him as he suffered a complete panic attack? This Is Us has handled Randall's anxiety with the adequate serious touch, never once cheapening his struggle in any way.
6 Hurt: Kevin's Addiction
If only we could say the same for a storyline that took up the bulk of the series' second season. Following the downward spiral of his career and an unfortunate injury sustained on the set of a film that was going to be his big break, Kevin fell into addiction, following in his father's footsteps in a way he never could have anticipated. While the series made Jack's addiction struggle a fascinating, heartbreaking journey to watch unfold, the same could never be said for what it did with Kevin's struggles.
Much of what Kevin goes through can be described as "first world problems," which makes it hard to understand his issues. Even in recollections of his failed attempts at becoming a football star, which he spends much of his time returning to his high school dwelling on, Kevin's struggles never feel like anything more than self-pitying.
5 Saved: Jack Becomes A Good Man Despite His Difficult Upbringing
It's easy to take for granted what a good man Jack Pearson has proven himself to be. While undoubtedly human and with his fair share of flaws, Jack has always been a good man deep down - a good father, a good husband, and a good friend. But through the illuminating flashbacks of his difficult upbringing - featuring a drinking, hurtful father as played menacingly by Peter Onorati; and a painful tour of Vietnam - Jack's innate goodness becomes even more amazing to behold.
There are plenty of times throughout the series when it seems that Jack may be slipping, tempted by the dark world he left behind. But time and again, he shows that he's better than the man who came before him and that he's working each and every day to be the opposite of the environment in which he was raised.
4 Hurt: Randall's Political Career
Randall Pearson is one of the most self-motivated characters on television. He never lets anything stand in his way, whether it comes to pursuing the college of his dreams, finding the biological father he's never known, or becoming a foster parent in William's memory. He buys William's old apartment building and resolves to solve all the problems in it, because that's what Randall does: whatever it takes for the sake of the greater good.
However, one storyline takes that drive of his a little too far. Randall runs for a councilman office in Philadelphia in the series' third season, against a long established and much-beloved candidate, and somehow, he manages to pull out a victory in the eleventh hour. It's unclear what effect this will have on the series going forward, but considering how unprepared he was for the campaign in the first place, we're more than a little nervous.
3 Saved: The Mystery Of Jack's Passing
It wouldn't be hard to make the claim that This Is Us was manipulative in the way it handled the reveal of Jack's passing, particularly in how long it took the series to reveal the truth of it all. Information was revealed little by little for the first season and a half, before the full truth finally came out in the second season's final episodes.
But as painful as the series may have been in revealing the circumstances of Jack's passing and the family's trauma, there's no way of ignoring the fact that the storyline, in large part, made the series what it is. Jack's character is one of the beating hearts of the series as a whole, and his absence from the present storyline has stuck out from the very beginning to the point that it's now impossible to imagine the series at all without this central mystery.
2 Hurt: The Vietnam Storylines
It was an ambitious choice on the series' part when it was announced that they would be heading to Vietnam, not only in the past but in the present. Jack's story in Vietnam was one the series had ever only alluded to in passing, but now they would be diving headfirst, exploring it in real time and in retrospect as Kevin journeyed around the world to learn more about the father he'd always thought he knew.
Yet when it came time to actually travel to Vietnam, it quickly became clear that the series was losing its way. Kevin was never believable as an investigator of any caliber, and the storyline set during the Vietnam War always felt as though it was dragging on too long. The episode set almost entirely during that time period felt as though it was dragging on and on with no end in sight.
1 Saved: William And Randall Travel To Memphis
Without question, the best storyline This Is Us has ever produced was the development of the relationship between Randall and his biological father, William. With powerhouse performances by both Sterling K. Brown and Ron Cephas Jones, the dynamic quickly became something truly special, with countless heartwarming and heartbreaking moments along the way.
But it wasn't until the season one episode "Memphis," arguably one of the series' best episodes to date, that the dynamic truly got to shine uninterrupted in all its glory. As Randall and William took a road trip back to William's hometown of Memphis, father and son learned more about each other and their lives than they had learned in the entire year leading up to that moment - and the audience witnessed a true gift in the process.
What have been your favorite and least favorite storylines so far in This Is Us? Let us know in the comments!