It's Time To Boot Kevin Off This Is Us
On the eve of the season finale, Mark Blankenship argues for eliminating the glaring weak spot in an otherwise wonderful show.
When William died in Memphis, I was crying so hard that I had to sit on the bench in my entryway and compose myself. When Rebecca told Randall how fear kept her from introducing him to his biological father, I couldn't recall the last time I'd seen something to honestly moving on network TV.
And yet when Kevin ran away from the opening of his own play to console Randall during a nervous breakdown, I was irritated at him, the show, and everyone involved in creating it.
Such is the emotional yo-yo of This Is Us.
As I prepare for tonight's finale, I'm well aware that it's not a perfect series. It can lean too hard on melodrama, like Toby having a heart attack immediately after everyone feels good about Christmas Eve, and it can leave Kate stranded with same-old-same-old storylines about her weight. (The less said about that dumb "romantic intrigue" at the fat camp, the better.)
Most of the time, though, I can get past these problems. Take Beth, who is the most thinly written major character. Right now, she exists to respond to the men in her life, whether as a loving supporter or a no-nonsense truth-teller. Does she have a job? What is it? Does she have hobbies that don't include smoking weed with William in order to facilitate exposition about his secret past? She deserves more. But at least she got to deliver William's eulogy after admitting she was hurt and angry that he didn't do anything special for her before he died. That whole arc was complex and lovely, and Susan Kelechi Watson more than had the acting chops to pull it off. Plus, it added Beth to the season-long rumination on death that has delivered so many astonishing moments.
Then there's Kevin, who just never fits into anything that makes This Is Us work.
It doesn't help that he's been written as a thundering narcissist. Setting aside how cheap and stereotypical it is to saddle an actor with that personality trait, it means that while we're sitting around being moved by everyone else's generosity, we're left with Kevin thinking only of himself. As a kid, he's awful to Randall because Randall gets too much attention. As an adult, he uses and manipulates Kate and the many ladies who sleep with him, all because he needs capital-A approval. Oh, and he basically stalks and badgers his ex-wife until she agrees to date him again, all because he needs to see himself as the hero of a romantic fantasy.
And like...it's okay for the show to have an unlikable character. Real life is filled with them, so why not? But it's NOT okay to pretend a self-obsessed jerkface is just as wonderful as the actually lovely people around him. Yet the show keeps framing his shitty behavior as though it were beautiful.
But guess what? If you leave your play for a family emergency mere moments before curtain, you are a dick. If you do so without telling anyone about it -- thereby stranding the poor playwright/leading actress alone onstage -- you are a mega-dick. And if that playwright/leading actress is only in the role because your sexual shenanigans made the original star quit, you are a Double Dick With Bacon from the Dollar Menu.
Yet This Is Us fronts like it's all good, because Kevin momentarily realizes his brother is a human being. Is this because the show is so doggedly committed to its narrative of decency that it can't metabolize a true asshole? Or is it because the writers are as besotted with Kevin's good looks as anyone else?
Either way, he keeps bringing out the show's worst. Putting Kevin's play on the same day as William's memorial, for instance. Why do that? Why suggest that everyone going to big brother's rescheduled opening is on the same emotional plane as a grief-ridden service? Because you know what? Most people would just go to the matinee the next day.
But it goes deeper, y'all. Because even though there are established playwrights working on this show, the scripts are blithely unconcerned with how the theatre business works. No actor would ever, EVER storm into a theatre critic's office and beg for a review. No TV star's dressing room would ever be as accessible as Kevin's is, with people surprising him all the time, no matter the venue.
I realize that TV shows distort every profession they portray, but for a series that gets so many things right about how families work, this fudging just underscores how much they get wrong with Kevin. And let me tell you, the prospect of watching him fret about moving to L.A. for a Ron Howard movie is not exciting. Oh no, sweetie! You've got everything you want, and you're still not happy! Why don't you complain about it some more, and then remind us how nobody ever loved you as much as they were supposed to, and then have another series of love affairs with poorly conceived tertiary characters? Meanwhile, everyone else will get on with the business of being there for each other in meaningful ways.
It's wild to me that a show I love so, so dearly could have such a glaring weak spot. Maybe the season break will give everyone a chance to recalibrate this character. Or just kill him off in a Ron Howard-related accident. Either way, I'd be content.