by Julian Spivey
The finale episode of NBC’s six-season family drama “This Is Us” ended on Tuesday, May 24 with a quiet afternoon for the pre-teen Pearsons (which I assume puts us around 1992 or 1993) and the adult Pearson Big Three (Kevin, Kate and Randall) in the aftermath of Rebecca’s death in the previous episode.
“Us,” written by series creator Dan Fogelman, might not go down as one of the five-to-10 greatest episodes of “This Is Us,” at least in my mind, but it does make for a calm, nice way for the beloved series to say goodbye.
In a previous episode after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease Rebecca (Mandy Moore) was worried about forgetting the little things that make up a life. This series finale was all about the little things: spending a quiet weekend afternoon with the ones you love, watching home videos, playing board games, teaching your sons how to shave.
This was a brilliant way by Fogelman of bringing the final scene from the previous week’s episode where a dying Rebecca is walking through a train representing her life and when she gets to caboose she lies down in a bed beside Jack (Milo Ventimiglia). The finale features the conversation between the two with Rebecca saying she’s scared to leave the children behind and Jack assuring her that she’s done a terrific job of raising them, especially after his premature death.
In the modern timeline – which is actually some time in the future – the Big Three are experiencing life without their mom. Randall (Sterling K. Brown) is struggling to write a eulogy and wondering if life is all “pointless,” which he ultimately realizes it isn’t when Deja reveals to him the sex of her baby (Randall is having a grandson and thrilled by it). Kate (Chrissy Metz) and especially Kevin (Justin Hartley) don’t really have huge moments in the finale, which is kind of unfortunate, but there’s a lot packed into the 42-minute running time of the episode. Kate does have a nice moment with ex-husband Toby (Chris Sullivan) where he tells her both her mom and him are proud of her, and he loves her and would relive their marriage all over again if he had the chance.
A couple of my favorite moments of the episode appeared in the first half and provided the heavy episode with some nice levity and humor with Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) going through the worst case scenarios with Randall in post-Rebecca life in a poking at him way that only Beth can get away with. I also loved Uncle Nicky (Griffin Dunne) ribbing Kevin about how he changed his life the day he knocked on his trailer door and brought him into this loving, caring family and how that really “messed up” his life in a sarcastic manner. It was textbook Nicky.
The Big Three have a wonderful moment on the porch of the family cabin where they wonder what they’re going to do next. Kate is going to continue opening music schools for the blind. Kevin is going to focus on his nonprofit. Randall is thinking about going to a state fair in Iowa, the first steps to potentially running for President of the United States. Kate wonders if their mom, being the glue of the family, passing on will lead to the siblings drifting apart. Randall and Kevin assure her this is never going to happen.
“Us” was a perfectly pleasant way for “This Is Us” to send fans off with both a smile on their face and tears streaming down their cheeks, which has been the ultimate vibe for the series the entire way.
by Julian Spivey
“Saturday Night Live” said goodbye to a handful of longtime cast members in one of the season’s best offerings from its 47th season in this weekend’s season finale.
Going into the finale we knew it was going to be the final episode for Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Kyle Mooney and Pete Davidson, all of whom have been on the show for eight seasons of more (truly a rare feat for the sketch comedy show). All four of those cast members have played an integral part in the show over the last decade and most will be missed (I’ll get to that in a bit).
The episode was hosted by “Russian Doll” actress Natasha Lyonne, a New York native, who wound up being one of the better hosts of the season in her show debut, though she often took a back seat to the cast member’s saying farewell, as often happens in today’s ‘SNL’ during the season finale.
Lyonne’s monologue was unique in that it was one of the few non-stand-up monologues that seemed completely that of the host’s – meaning it didn’t feel written for her as much as written by her (though I don’t know for sure who penned the monologue). Lyonne spoke of her career, starting as a child, and the struggles she experienced as a young adult (arrests and drug addiction). It was one of the most honest and personal monologues you’ll see from a ‘SNL’ host. She was also joined briefly by former ‘SNL’ cast members and her close personal friends Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph (Lyonne and Armisen actually dated for quite a while) who offered imitations of her memorable NYC accent.
Lyonne’s contribution to an early sketch on the episode in which she portrays a (male) 1950s New York Yankees radio announcer who’s overcoming a cold with the help of a newly prescribed drug called methamphetamine was one of the entire season’s funniest sketches. When Lyonne’s announcer recalls a story of how Babe Ruth once ate a live child – clothes and all – I lost it laughing probably harder than I did at any one thing on ‘SNL’ all season long.
The farewells to cast members got underway right off the bat with McKinnon – who for my money may be the greatest female cast member in ‘SNL’ history – bringing back her recurring character of Ms. Rafferty, who is constantly being abducted and probed by aliens and has been my absolute favorite bit (original character or impression) from McKinnon’s decade-long tenure on the show. It was also just terrific to see a ‘SNL’ cold opening for once that had nothing to do with politics or current events. I know current events have often been considered the show’s bread-and-butter, especially for the cold opening, but my wish is for the show to just concern itself with being funny from the git go. Oftentimes in the last half-decade-plus the real-world has just been too depressing or “out there” to really get the humor out of it. The Ms. Rafferty cold open went from hilarious to emotional quickly as Rafferty volunteers to go off for good with the aliens in an exchange for the U.S. learning more about their alien technology. When McKinnon gets on the spaceship she says, both in character and breaking the fourth wall, “I love ya. Thanks for letting me stay awhile,” through teary-eyes before receiving the honor of exclaiming, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night,” one last time.
Bryant and Davidson’s farewells would come during Weekend Update when each got a moment to say goodbye in their own special way with Bryant doing so in character with Bowen Yang as their trend setter Update correspondents, who have been one of the last two season’s most beloved Update guests. Bryant, during the “Future Trends” segment of the bit, said: “In: Ten nice years.” Yang adds: “In: A friend I couldn’t have done this without” and then finally Bryant ends the segment with: “In: My best guy’s kissing me” to which Yang and Update co-anchor Michael Che lean in for a smooch on her cheeks.
Davidson, who has been away from the show for a good amount of its second half of the season while filming other projects, returned to Update one last time for one of his stand-up routines while seated at the Update desk and was understandably more emotional than we’re used to seeing from him, especially when thanking ‘SNL’ boss Lorne Michaels saying, “I appreciate ‘SNL’ always having my back and allowing me to work on myself and grow. And thank you to Lorne [Michaels] for never giving up on me or judging me even when everyone else was, and for believing in me and allowing me to have a place that I can call home with memories that will last a lifetime.”
Davidson truly did grow up on the show, beginning as a cast member when he was 20-years old, one of the youngest ever on the long-running show and got to experience very public ups-and-downs along the way that have endeared him to me and caused eye-rolling from many others. Davidson was always at his best on the show when doing these personal Update appearances.
Mooney didn’t really receive the same farewell as his fellow cast members saying goodbye after many years on the show, which doesn’t really bother me any. Mooney has been one of my least favorite cast members throughout the show’s history and honestly him leaving the show is a long time coming for me. His fame on the show came mostly doing digital short, filmed pieces, which disappeared in his final season as they were replaced by the Please Don’t Destroy trio, which have been massively popular for many fans of the show, but not my cup of tea.
Mooney did appear in most of the finale’s sketches in various roles and appeared alongside McKinnon and Bryant in the season’s final sketch about gray ponytails being all the rage with a certain segment of aging folk.
Overall, the finale was one of the better episodes of what was truly a mostly forgettable ‘SNL’ season. My problem all along with ‘SNL’ lately has been the writing staff providing many lifeless sketches that just have few laughs and are just “out there” in ways I either don’t get or aren’t for me. I’d hate to think that at only 34 the show’s humor has passed me by, but maybe that’s the way the show is going. Or maybe they just need to clean house a bit on the writing side of things because I genuinely think the cast is top-notch quality. We’ll see what’s in store for season 48 come September.
by Aprille Hanson-Spivey
1. Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore)
If you told me as a teenager that singer turned actor Mandy Moore would give one of the best performances to ever grace a TV screen, I wouldn’t have believed it. But Moore’s acting legacy is forever cemented in her portrayal as the Pearson family matriarch Rebecca. When the series began in 2016, it was heavily focused on her husband Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and his death (damn you crockpot!). And while you can argue the show was really about the kids, The Big Three, “This is Us” is really a story of growth and forgiveness, with Rebecca as a central focus. Her character was undoubtedly the most three-dimensional and ever-changing. Moore portrayed Rebecca as an aspiring singer; a sexy young wife; a grieving mother who didn’t have time to grieve in order to take care of her three newborns; selfless in adopting a third baby upon losing hers; selfish or protective (take your pick) in keeping Randall’s birth father William (Ron Cephas Jones) out of his life; a wife struggling to recognize her husband’s alcoholism; a young grieving widow who must move forward with her life for the sake of her children; an older woman finding love again; and a woman fading from Alzehiemer’s. There’s just not many people who could create poignant moments within each stage of a character’s life like that. My favorite moment from Rebecca will forever be a simple one: When she’s told that Jack has suffered a massive heart attack and died, she stares at the doctor and quickly takes a bite of the candy bar in her hand. It’s the most gut-wrenching, raw moment of real grief that will always make me teary-eyed. Make no mistake — Rebecca was the glue for “The Is Us.”
2. Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia)
Jack Pearson will forever be known as one of the best fathers in TV history. Milo Ventimiglia portrayed Jack in a way that balanced a man who could seemingly do no wrong, knew the perfect balance of compassion and love for those around him, but on the other side of the coin, a man with real life flaws that could easily hurt those very people he loved so deeply. I admired how the show never made Jack a caricature. Yes, he was willing to do whatever it took to make Rebecca and his family happy, creating a space of love and kindness that could make every female viewer swoon. And he did it all without having much – remember the carnival date with Rebecca and his lack of money? He knew on paper, he wasn’t “good enough” by society standards to be with her, but their love story was perfect. At every turn, he was a bit of a contradiction – Jack went to Vietnam essentially to protect his little brother Nicky, only to cut him out for the sins committed during the war; Jack despised his abusive father, helped his mother get out, only to not visit later in life like he said he would; He took on a job that was stifling to help his family, only to fall into alcoholism. The decisions, good and bad, made him real. He was heroic, even until the end, saving the family dog from the house fire, something that would ultimately kill him. It was one of the most tragic deaths in TV history, one that’s seared in my memory. For most of the series, viewers learned about Jack through the rose-colored glasses of a grieving family, making the flashbacks so vital to show that you can be an amazing, unworldly human being, while also battling demons. And if you ever had to wonder about Jack's ongoing legacy, Google the controversy Crockpot had to deal with after Jack’s death. He was and is the heart of “This Is Us.”
3. Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown)
Every “This Is Us” character had baggage. But Randall’s were the kind you’d have to pay obscene amounts to check at the airport. His entire life he felt incomplete in this very loving family as the one abandoned at the fire station and adopted by the Pearson’s only because of the loss of their third child when Rebecca gave birth. And while the love there was so strong, his identity as a Black child and then man amid the backdrop of a happy white family who really did not give him the strong Black role models he needed growing up impacted his entire identity. Yes, he was loved, but one of the most heartbreaking things addressed in the show was the unintentional racism he experienced from Kevin and really the whole family in trying to ignore his Blackness, to the point he daydreamed about being in an imaginary Black family. It no doubt contributed to his intense bouts of anxiety and desire to overachieve. It’s also what made his close relationship with Rebecca such an added tragedy when she later admitted she knew his birth father and he was alive. It was the kind of betrayal that got more intense as the show included episode after episode showing Randall’s identity struggles. But his relationship with William and essentially the ghost of his mother, made for some of the best moments of the show. Not to mention his Jack-esque way of protecting his family, whether it was his love story with Beth, adopting Deja or his quest to do anything to slow the march of Alzheimer’s disease plaguing Rebecca. Even though Randall was always closest to Rebecca, he was overall more Jack-like than any character.
4. Beth Pearson (Susan Kelechi Watson)
In the hands of another actress, the character of Beth may not have ranked so high on my list. But man, for someone who was not an original Pearson, ultimately the outsider looking in with the rest of the spouses, Beth was the most versatile character on the show. Susan Kelechi Watson played Beth with such depth that allowed her to be a constant support and love to Randall, but not in a way that sacrificed her own strong nature, or in a way that babied him. She masterfully balanced, and often pointed out, the total craziness that is the Pearson clan, something that made for some of the best comedic moments. She was often the voice of reason and comic relief, in a sea of serious situations. And between the biting way she delivered lines to her facial expressions, she constantly had me laughing out loud. Like when William, Randall’s biological father came to live with them, saying, “How long is your crack-addict biological daddy gonna be sleeping in our 6-year-old daughter’s bedroom?” She wound up having a beautiful relationship with William, one made all the more poignant by her origin story starting with the episode “Our Little Island Girl” in season 3, and how close she was to her father who had died before she met Randall. Her strength was unapologetic and the show needed her. But for as much as she made me laugh with her witty doses of reality for Randall and forming a bond with non-Pearson’s of her own with Toby and Miguel, there were times her character touched my soul so deeply. Most notably, her goodbye to a dying Rebecca, saying, “Thank you for helping me with that complicated, incredible, beautiful boy that you raised. But I got him now.” Even reading that quote has me tearing up. It was not only one of the best lines for Beth, but one of the best in the show.
5. Kevin Pearson (Justin Hartley)
Oof, Kevin Pearson was a lot. Whether he was picking on Randall as a child, drinking too much as a teeanger, cheating on his childhood sweetheart-turned-wife Sophie, complaining about his acting career, breezing through women trying desperately to find “the one,” picking on Randall AGAIN as an adult, driving drunk with Randall’s (Sterling K. Brown) daughters in the car, having a one-night stand with Kate’s best friend and getting her pregnant, always at it with Toby (Chris Sullivan), etc. But despite all the bad, Justin Hartley portrayed Kevin in a way that never let me give up on him. On paper, his unlikability list is endless, but every time he’d hit a good milestone, it’d be a triumph for everyone watching, from his role as a father and co-parent with Madison, saving his Uncle Nicky (Griffin Dunne) and changing the lives of countless veterans, his friendship with Cassidy (Jennifer Morrison), saving that one random guy from a burning car, his bond with Kate (Chrissy Metz) and eventually realizing that bond with Randall, finally getting it right with Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) and his best role – caregiver to his mother Rebecca (Mandy Moore) in her last years of life. Without a doubt, Kevin experienced the most mature growth in a series of characters constantly evolving, so while he’s middle of the pack overall, he earned his spot.
6. Toby Damon (Chris Sullivan)
I loved Toby. I loved everything about him from the moment he made Kate laugh in the food-disorder support group they were in and all the subsequent moments he filled a hole in Kate’s life, showing her what it meant to be truly loved. While viewers soon learned about Toby’s struggles with depression, we never truly got an origin story for him. It could have been a purposeful decision by the writers, given how Katoby would one day fall apart. I don’t think there was a joke Chris Sullivan delivered as Toby that didn’t have me in stitches, from his absurdity with “Dessert is my life’s work” to his sweetness in “I’d marry the hell out of you, Kate Pearson.” Getting healthy mentally and physically is not something that should make a spouse sad, but Kate felt a shift when Toby lost the weight and seemed to change in general. Viewers felt it too. It’s why Toby’s line of “You fell in love with a coping mechanism” was such a gut-punch. And while Toby and Kate did eventually divorce, I was so happy as a fan that the humor wasn’t just wrapped up in the depression. Had the show made him a serious curmudgeon, it would have been a wrong turn. But only Toby could make me laugh in the penultimate episode saying goodbye to a dying Rebecca when he tells her she can be honest – she likes him more than Phillip (Kate’s new husband). It was so true to his character and in a heavy show like “This Is Us” Toby was the character to make you smile.
7. Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz)
As Kevin’s twin, it’s understandable that Kate (Chrissy Metz) also might be a lot, at least at various times throughout the series. Her character may be far down the list in terms of where she ranks overall, but her role was an important one. While Jack’s death took a piece of each of the Pearson kid’s hearts, Kate undoubtedly had the biggest chunk ripped away. Watching her watch her dad, her hero, as a child and the complicated relationship with her mother only made the devastation more palpable when he died. It scarred her mental health, her physical health and emotional health whether it was trying to build up her self-esteem, struggling continuously with her weight and forming healthy bonds with not only men but those around her. Not to mention her dream of being a singer in life completely dashed. But Metz’s greatest portrayal was Kate’s love story with Toby. We lovingly watched Katoby laugh together, get through a scary pregnancy and adoption, navigate parenting a blind child and then we watched them crash and burn over time. But as the series went on, even in that dark moment, Kate’s strength and maturity flourished. Their “love story” never ended, she found love again and wound up being the most trusted of The Big Three in the end for Rebecca. She was flawed, messy and amazing.
8. Miguel Rivas (Jon Huertas)
Poor Miguel. How do you compete with Jack Pearson? Hell, even Toby couldn’t compete with the memory of him. And while it’s sad that even in this list he ranks at the bottom, it’s not like his character wasn’t vital. It didn’t really sink in until the final season, particularly with one of the best episodes of the series titled “Miguel,” how much he loved Rebecca, sacrificed for her and put up with more than enough bullshit from not only his own family, but The Big Three. No, Miguel was not the fairytale love story in Rebecca’s life, but he was the love story she needed more than ever when Jack died. Not only for the companionship, but the quiet resilience for him to take on caregiver responsibilities later in their marriage. Jon Huertas played Miguel with a strength that really outmatched many of the other characters on the show. His friendship with Toby (Chris Sullivan) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) was gold, and just a funny, but kind of stinging reality that yes, they were a part of the family, but they’d never be truly in that special Pearson club. But all that mattered to Miguel was his love for Rebecca, and that’s admirable.
What's your ranking?
by Julian Spivey
Over the last week the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and CW) made their remaining renewal and cancellation decisions for the 2022-23 television season. Many shows got the boot – especially if you’re the CW – and numerous ones got to live on for at least one more season.
Here are my three favorite renewals and three most disheartening cancellations of the last week.
1. Grand Crew (NBC)
“Grand Crew” was the biggest renewal shock for me because I had seen data showing it was either NBC’s least watched comedy of the 2021-22 season or second least watched (I can’t remember which is true). But the fact is it had fewer weekly viewers than sophomore shows like “Kenan” and “Mr. Mayor” and smaller names and those two shows got the ax. But the series following a group of African-American friends through their daily lives and love of wine created by Phil Augusta Jackson was my absolute favorite new comedy of the season (yes, even more than the universally beloved “Abbott Elementary” on ABC and “Ghosts” on CBS) and I desperately wanted to see it get a second chance to potentially gain an audience. The network must really see something in the ensemble comedy starring Echo Kellum, Nicole Byer and others to keep it around. Maybe one or some of the higher ups liked it as much as I did?
2. The Resident (Fox)
I’ve watched three network medical dramas regularly over the last few years: ABC’s “The Good Doctor,” NBC’s “New Amsterdam” and Fox’s “The Resident” and of the three my favorite has been “The Resident” and I believe it to have been the most consistent in quality over that time. On Monday (May 16), Fox renewed “The Resident” for a sixth season and I’m thankful because I’m not ready to say goodbye to the doctors of Chastain Park Memorial Hospital and any show that’s been on the air this long deserves an opportunity to go out on its own accord.
3. Home Economics (ABC)
In its sophomore season on ABC “Home Economics” has been one of the best all-around sitcoms on network television. The ensemble cast (Topher Grace, Caitlin McGee, Jimmy Tatro, Karla Souza and Sasheer Zamata) is one of the best on television and each character is perfectly written and idealized. It’s one of those shows I thought could go either way when it came to renewal or cancellation and I’m happy to see ABC give it another season to continue the good roll it’s been on.
Most Disheartening Cancellations
1. Pivoting (Fox)
I think Fox’s “Pivoting” was one of a decent crop of really funny new comedies on network TV this season (along with “Ghosts,” “Abbott Elementary” and “Grand Crew” – all of which survived), but the network just didn’t give it a good enough chance to live on. The show, which followed three female friends in their late 30s adapting to life after the death of a dear friend, had a hard to get 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was reportedly beloved by the Fox Entertainment brass, but ultimately just didn’t pull in enough viewers to grab a sophomore season.
2. Mr. Mayor (NBC)
3. Kenan (NBC)
I’m going to crop these two together because they were both sophomore series on NBC and both similar to me in that I thought with the talent both behind and on the screen they should’ve been better than they wound up being. “Mr. Mayor” came from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, the geniuses behind the all-time great comedy “30 Rock” and starred one of the all-time great TV actors Ted Danson, hot of his Emmy-nominated performance on “The Good Place.” It had all the pieces in place for it to be an Emmy-type show, but just didn’t hit it out of the park. “Kenan” had one of the most affable faces in comedy in its titular role with Kenan Thompson and a great supporting cast featuring Kimrie Lewis, Chris Redd and Don Johnson, but never really lived up to more than a handful of laughs each episode.
So, I admit both of these shows should’ve been better than they were. This would justify cancellation for many. But I still enjoyed both series and think NBC could’ve been loyal to names who’ve made a lot of money for them over the decades in Fey, Danson and Thompson and let them live on for at least one more season.
by Julian Spivey
The Pentaverate – Netflix – May 4
Comedies where Mike Myers plays multiple roles are hit or miss, but it’s been so long since we’ve seen the ‘SNL’ and ‘Austin Powers’ great do it that it feels like nostalgia to see him try it again. In Netflix’s “The Pentaverate,” premiering Wednesday, May 4, Myers stars as a Canadian journalist looking into a secret society created by five men in 1347 that has influenced important world events ever since. Myers also plays six other roles in the series that also co-stars Keegan-Michael Key and Ken Jeong.
Hacks: Season 2 – HBO Max – May 12
The best new comedy series of 2021 was HBO Max’s “Hacks,” featuring Emmy-winner Jean Smart as veteran stand-up comedian Deborah Vance and Hannah Einbinder as Ava Daniels, a down-on-her-luck comedy writers tasked with helping Deborah modernize her sets. Smart and Einbinder share perfect chemistry and “Hacks” is one of the most smartly written series on streaming. The only disappointment of the upcoming second season, premiering Thursday, May 12, is its only eight episodes long.
Conversations With Friends – Hulu – May 15
One of my favorite TV limited series of the last few years was Hulu’s adaptation of author Sally Rooney’s “Normal People” in 2020, so it’s my hope that Hulu’s newest adaptation of a Rooney novel, “Conversations With Friends,” is similar in quality. Premiering Sunday, May 15, this limited series stars Joe Alwyn, Jemima Kirke, Alison Oliver and Sasha Lane in a story where two university students befriend an older married couple and end up intertwined in secrets, affairs and unforeseeable revelations, according to insider.com.
Stranger Things: Season 4 – Netflix – May 27
It’s been nearly three years since the third season of “Stranger Things” debuted on Netflix, so fans are extremely hungry for the long-awaited fourth season, which drops its first part or a two-part season on Friday, May 27. I’m sure these Hawkins, Ind. teens are going to look like 30-year olds by now! Season four of “Stranger Things” is supposedly going to be the darkest season yet, though there’s not a whole lot of news on plot. The show will see a major influx of new characters, though, and episodes have reportedly cost about $30 million to make.
Pistol – Hulu – May 31
Director Danny Boyle is bringing the story of British punk royalty The Sex Pistols to Hulu in an adaptation of Pistols guitarist Steve Jones’ memoir Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol. The six-part limited series will see the band’s rise to prominence and notoriety and feature Toby Wallace in the lead as Jones, with Anson Boon as Johnny Rotten, Louis Partridge as Sid Vicious and Jacob Slater as Paul Cook.