This is Us is finally back! The family drama had its Season 5 two-hour premiere on October 27, 2020, giving suburban moms everywhere a good reason to crack open a bottle of white wine and cry on the couch. This is Us is known for tackling difficult, often depressing themes and conflicts, and this season will be no different; look at the world around us, after all. The year of 2020 thus far has provided no shortage of complicated environmental, social, and personal issues to work through, and the Pearson family are going through it just like the rest of us in the real world.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic changed the world as we know it earlier this year, and there is no clear end in sight. Unsurprisingly, with the pandemic still on everyone’s mind, TV shows are quickly adapting to our new normal and focusing a lot of their efforts on showing us that hey! our fictional characters are living through the pandemic just like you! and we’re trying to make this disturbing reality entertaining and funny! The sitcom Superstore’s new episodes show the employees of the Cloud 9 megastore working through the usual shenanigans, but this time they have masks on. The new season of Black-ish portrays the Johnson family mom Bow working hard at the hospital to save COVID patients, while her husband Dre goofs off at home as he works remotely. Although the new season isn’t out yet, there is no doubt that the detective comedy Brooklyn 99 will eventually have to address America’s serious police brutality problem, and the Black Lives Matter protests that took place (and are still taking place!) in the United States.
My point is, TV shows are scrambling right now to keep up with current events and stay relevant and relatable to audiences. If you were looking for some kind of escapism by watching your favorite sitcoms, I’m sorry to say that they will most likely still reflect the real world outside. COVID doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, so TV shows are following suit. This is Us is no different; while the series’ sudden shift to our pandemic-ridden world is shaky and rushed, the drama still tries to address current issues in a respectful (and educational?) manner.
One of the biggest components that makes up Randall Pearson’s character is his struggle with identity. He is Black but was adopted into a White family, and this turmoil really comes to a head in the premiere when the BLM protests are addressed. Randall, as well as his wife and children, are horrified by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. We see Randall and his family watch the protests on the news, disturbed and trying to process everything. Meanwhile, Randall’s White siblings, Kate and Kevin, are unsure about how to address it. Following their big fight in the Season 4 finale, Kevin doesn’t say much. Kate, on the other hand, is checking on Randall constantly, asking how he’s doing and what BLM fund she should donate to next.
At the end of the premiere, Randall is tired. He is tired of having to explain himself to his White family members so they “don’t feel guilty.” He is tired from the years and years of wanting to talk to someone about brutality against Black people, but having nobody in his family to reach out to. The way his frustration and exhaustion is portrayed in the episode is done quite well; it’s not preachy, and it feels very real and tangible. The way the show addressed the current situation in America, in regards to racial discrimination and police brutality, was perhaps the best component of the premiere.
As for the other characters, well, it was just alright. Kevin finds out that after his one-night stand with Kate’s friend Madison, she is pregnant with twins. He immediately jumps into doting baby daddy-mode, first moving in with Madison and then proposing to her later in the episode. I haven’t been a fan of this new plot line ever since it was revealed in the Season 4 finale that Madison is pregnant with Kevin’s children. It feels too rushed, with very little romantic development between the couple. That’s just how one-night stands work, I suppose. Their relationship feels very artificial, especially after Kevin’s awkward proposal, which Madison just accepts, I guess? While the show’s writers must have wanted to create a heartwarming, budding romance, what they gave us was flat and unenjoyable.
Not much happens for the third Pearson triplet, Kate, and her husband Toby. Their son Jack is basically absent from the entire episode. They’re kind of just… there. They are pushed into the background when the Pearson matriarch, Rebecca, has a bad episode of dementia, thus causing an awkward reunion for the Pearson triplets when they group up to help their mother. Toby offers some words of advice to Rebecca’s husband, Miguel, while Kate tries to figure out what is going on with her brothers. The only real development we see from them is when, at the end of the premiere, they find out that they have a potential match for adopting a baby. Jack is getting a younger sibling! Yay!
As for the transition into our COVID reality, well, there’s not much that can be done to make it good. Kevin lamely opens the premiere with “oh yeah, that virus thing going on…” The show’s writers should’ve just added a subtitle at the beginning that said “OH AND BY THE WAY THEY ARE LIVING IN COVID PANDEMIC WORLD TOO! WE ARE KEEPING UP WITH CURRENT EVENTS!” The Pearsons are shown wearing masks throughout the episode, and guidelines are followed during scenes such as when Kate “air hugs” Madison after hearing the news about her and Kevin’s twins. It’s not a seamless transition by any means, but then again, I’m sure none of the show’s creators were expecting 2020 to happen when they were planning out Season 5.
The premiere left us with yet another shocking reveal. Through flashbacks, we see the events that took place surrounding Randall’s birth, including his real mother and father. For four seasons, This is Us has led us to think that Randall’s biological mother was dead, after overdosing on drugs soon after his birth. Even his biological father William, whom he found (and soon lost) in Season 1, believed she had died. Well, the show is doing a full 180 on us now: spoiler alert! Randall’s mother survived the overdose. We are left with an image of her on her apartment floor, revived by an EMT, gasping for air and seemingly very alive. Is she still around in the present day? Will Randall find her?
With new surprises and many old timelines to be explored, this season is off to a rocky start, but remains promising. I’m excited to see how Kate and Toby’s adoption story will progress throughout the season, and maybe the audience will learn more about the flash forward scene that we’ve seen a few times, with Rebecca on her deathbed. Will Uncle Nicky come back this season? We’ve got 16 episodes left to find out.