‘This Is Us’ wraps up a shaky but satisfying final season

The promotional poster for the final season of "This Is Us" (2016–2022) is pictured. Courtesy IMDb
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Since its premiere in 2016, the NBC family drama series “This Is Us” has become known for its honest portrayals of family dynamics, its punchy emotional moments and its interconnected plotlines that chronicle the life of the Pearson family over the course of several decades. The series has been received with critical acclaim, and it has seen high viewership at a time when network television has struggled to compete with streaming services. As it wraps up its sixth and final season, the series continues to engage viewers, albeit without some of its original charm.

The main characters of the series’ multigenerational Pearson family are siblings Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) — also known as the “Big Three” — and their parents Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia). In 1980, Rebecca becomes pregnant with triplets, giving birth to Kevin and Kate; when the third child is stillborn, Jack and Rebecca decide to adopt Randall, an African American child born on the same day. The show’s episodes feature storylines in many different time periods, following the lives of the Big Three as adults in the present day along with flashbacks that feature their childhoods and teenage years in Pittsburgh, including the tragic death of their father Jack in 1997.

In the sixth season, Kevin is co-parenting with his ex-fiancee Madison, Randall is a city councilor with big political ambitions, Kate is at odds with her husband Toby, and Rebecca — now remarried and in her 70s — is struggling with memory loss. The season’s plotlines jump between Philadelphia, Los Angeles and several other locations as the story of the Pearson family comes to a close.

One of the series’ biggest and most consistent strengths has been its cast, whose chemistry and charisma are always impressive. Because of the show’s frequent use of flashbacks, several characters are played by three or four actors at different points in their lives. The younger actors are well cast, and they admirably mirror the performances of their older counterparts. Sterling K. Brown gives an emotionally layered performance as the Pearsons’ adopted son Randall as do Susan Kelechi Watson as his wife Beth and Chris Sullivan as Kate’s husband Toby. However, the strongest performance comes from Mandy Moore, who plays Rebecca Pearson, the matriarch of the family. Moore plays Rebecca across six different decades, from her early 20s to her late 70s, and never fails to impress, stealing the spotlight in both heartwarming and heartbreaking moments.

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Moore’s ability to play her character at any age is also a testament to the series’ hair and makeup design, which allow the actors to transform into their roles as the series jumps around in time. Additionally, the costumes and set design effectively situate audiences in the show’s countless settings, whether it’s 1990s Pittsburgh, 2020s LA or 1970s Vietnam. The series is also enhanced by its music, with an original score by Siddhartha Khosala and a wide-ranging selection of popular songs.

This season, the show’s biggest weakness has been its writing. While the show continues to deliver with emotional moments that tug at your heartstrings, it has struggled with pacing. This season has used flash-forwards to hint at how the series will end, but sometimes it seems like the writers came up with an ending before figuring out how they’re going to get there. Kevin’s story arc this season has been slow and unfocused while Kate’s arc has been devoted to her crumbling relationship with her husband Toby and her eventual marriage to Phillip, a peripheral character who has very little chemistry with her. While it looks like all the loose ends will be tied up by the time the series finale airs this May, it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride getting there.

It’s hard to keep any show going for six seasons and over 100 episodes and — despite Season 6’s weaknesses — in many ways, the series remains as strong as ever. The show began nearly six years ago with a simple concept, and since then, it has grown into an expansive, ambitious story about the life of a unique family. With only a few weeks left before the series finale, viewers will have to wait and see if the show is able to reach a satisfying conclusion.

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Summary

“This Is Us” is a heartwarming family drama with a strong cast and an ambitious story that spans over half a century, but it’s hampered by weak writing in its final season.

3 stars
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