THIS IS US: SEASON 2, EPISODE 8: NUMBER ONE
Even when he tries to tell people how pathetic he is, they don’t hear it. They just cheer. – Kevin Pearson
You were my purpose, Kevin, and I swear to you son, I swear to you, you will find yours. – Jack Pearson
Well, if you were a fan of the dark timeline Kevin story, this was likely a perfect episode for you. I don’t know anyone who fits that category, including me, so let’s take this for what it was and look at a week where we saw some of the classic This Is Us tricks, mixed with some very obnoxious characters and an hour I certainly won’t be watching again.
First, let’s get this out of the way off the top. Justin Hartley did a good, sometimes great, though not incredible job in “Number One,” as did Logan Shroyer, who played the high school Kevin. This was their episode, with some of Milo Ventimiglia mixed in, because without Jack, there’s basically no show. That makes me wonder just how long they’ll stretch mysteries about him, as creator Dan Fogelman has already stated we’ll know everything by the end of this season.
Honestly, it won’t matter in the end, because the flashbacks involving Jack, regardless of how he dies, aren’t going to cease. If they do, the series is virtually over, because more than perhaps any show this century, a deceased father dominates every character’s emotions on the series. Think about it. Kevin’s grief, which he never faced, led him to his current predicament, and perhaps the addictive personality came from Jack as well. Kate still doesn’t like to talk about it and also watches Steelers games with Jack in ash form.
Randall is the only one of the three that really relates to his mother regularly, but even he shut her out after finding out the truth about William Hill. They all love her, but they basically worship Jack, and the show does a good job of explaining why. Flawed, but wide open, emotionally available, and willing to die for anyone in his family, he’s the guy we all hope people view us as on a daily basis.
Kevin is hooked on Vicodin and he’s also become an alcoholic. We see him in the hotel room, where a week has basically passed him completely by, and all he’s worried about is refilling the booze. He doesn’t care about the towels or the sheets. He immediately takes the bad wine at the McKinley High School event, and we almost never see him again without that cup. We see what being famous means to everyone else around him, as they fawn over him and take pictures and try to get face time with him, but he’s miserable.
He delivers the sad sack speech as he knows he’s screwed up his life, he’s near to rock bottom, and ends up on the football field reliving the hit that cost him college football, and in his own eyes multiple championships, MVP awards, and even Super Bowl appearances and victories. This is the same belief we all have when we first begin in athletics, and usually we figure out there’s a ceiling for us. Even great high school athletes end up failing to reach the pros, or even the starting lineups in college. That said, This Is Us continually reminds us he was great, so we’re not really supposed to think about that side of it.
Charlotte Everly might be the most ridiculously poor caricature I’ve seen on television all year, and I had it completely wrong when we first met her. I thought for sure she was going to confront him about his alcohol, especially with her medical background, but she was the geek that he smiled at so many years ago, and she just wanted to sleep with him. If he was drunk and that made it easier, all the better.
That is sad, but what’s worse is the writing here. What an awful character, and one that was almost a trick in itself. What’s This Is Us trying to assert here, that not a single person could have actually cared about this guy? That everybody on earth is trapped in his stardom or his appearance? Even this seemingly nice woman, with her job and what she’s likely seen at least nearby to her own work, just wants a roll in the hay. This was putrid, and truly unnecessary and obnoxious. Any sympathy we might have had for her when Kevin rolled out while she was making them something to eat went out the window…BEFORE she ever made the meal.
Largely, however, that was the issue with the entire episode. Kevin came across like someone for whom it’s not particularly easy to root, both in his past and his present. It’s easy to watch a sequence of manifested, self-destructive addiction and feel for the victim, but after watching him treat the Pittsburgh coach like complete garbage, walk around like he owned the world, and then fall into a “can’t survive without a Vicodin every five hours” spiral, I found myself rolling my eyes. I don’t want to see him fail, but I’m not invested in his success to the degree THAT storyline demands.
Something else I started to think about last night was the selfish nature of the Pearson children, who are often so caught up in their own worlds, and so stubborn in their own lives, that they don’t seek each other out for support until after making immense mistakes. This is something that seems almost endemic in the family, as they routinely serve as their own worst enemies. Luckily, we see Kate now rely more on Toby, and Randall and Beth have a healthy relationship, but Kevin in particular has always tried to be the tough guy, despite his failures to be “strong at all.”
This guy also really misses his dad, to the extent he runs out of the pharmacy to get that necklace back. I’m not sure what the other five minutes would have meant, especially as much as he was jonesing for the fix, but it just pushed the idea of Jack’s importance and his children’s dependence upon him for structure and guidance. The shot of Kevin falling to his knees in Charlotte’s front yard, weeping as he begged for someone to help him, was telling. Notice the series continues to avoid the obvious help that we’ve yet to really see anyone ask for, and wonder if eventually that becomes a character’s saving grace, in more ways than one.
Finally, we get to the This Is Us twist, which was irritating because it means Kevin is going to bottle up his own problems, they’re going to get far worse before he confides in someone, and we’re going to continue to have to watch this. It’s a serious issue, but it feels so forced on us, and it just feels like a very easy way out for the writers. You can always go to this story, but you expect the addiction story to hit in Season 5, not Season 2.
So what does all this tell me? What it says is This Is Us is already running out of grounded ideas, so they’re going to start playing even more of the heart string hits. And, for what it’s worth, it may still be on the air for several years, but my guess is, most people will have their fill rather quickly if this is a sign of things to come. The performances and the talent remain there in spades, but eventually the substance has to equal it without all the manipulation and the lowest hanging fruit from a soap opera.
Kate losing the baby is intriguing, except for the fact that she’s only had it for about three episodes, so again, we’re on a high speed rail. How much more effective would this angle have been had we watched Kate and Toby get excited for the next few months, receive massive praise and love from the family, and then down the stretch of the season, just before we find out what actually happened to Jack, THEN Kate miscarries.
Why are we in such a hurry on This Is Us? The addiction storyline is another example. We aren’t looking at anybody’s clock, but the series seems to be content to rush through every big event a human being can encounter, and they’re doing it in about a year and a half’s worth of content. So, either there’s an alien invasion on the horizon for the Pearson family, or we’re going to retread half of this stuff in a few years.
This Is Us, right now, is like the Fast and the Furious franchise, but we don’t have a Fast Five to feel particularly excited about, as it completely changed the films and made them all loads of fun. This Is Us, right now, is a slog, and Kevin’s storyline is by far its worst current attribute. It wasn’t the time to go with an entire episode devoted to him, and even if I didn’t dislike him any more after it was over, I certainly didn’t care to see anything like that again.
By the way, next week’s episode is centered almost entirely around Kate, so we’ll see how they do with the same construct in seven days. Right now, you’d have to say This Is Us is trending in the wrong direction.
I’m @JMartOutkick. My facial hair is definitely for a movie.