Geez, just tell us how Jack Pearson died already.
It pains me to write this, but “This Is Us” is suffering through a sophomore slump. Season 2 is not as good as Season 1.
It’s not terrible. It’s not bad. It’s … pretty good. Sometimes really good. With outstanding moments.
But anyone who started watching the show in Season 2 has to wonder what the fuss is all about. Season 1 was magic, and Season 2 is … not.
“This Is Us” has never been an easy show to write. The narrative bounces back and forth between present-day and in-the-past storylines. And not just one point in the past, but multiple points.
That Season 1 was so amazing remains nothing short of miraculous. But its one significant flaw involved the death of the Pearson family patriarch, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia).
”This Is Us” airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC/Ch. 5.
Early in Season 1, we learned that Jack had been dead for a number of years. And late in Season 1, we were led to believe that he died in a drunk-driving accident.
It was sort of narrative bait-and-switch, and unworthy of the show.
As the second season began, creator/executive producer Dan Fogelman offered up, “If that is a question that is haunting people, in the course of the second season they will get all the answers about that that they need and more.”
Well, that was vague. Although no one was expecting Fogelman to offer up details. Spoilers are called spoilers for a reason — they spoil the viewing experience.
While the Season 2 premiere certainly led us to believe that Jack died in a house fire, we haven’t actually seen his death — and the drunk-driving red herring makes it impossible to believe that the fire wasn’t another diversion of some sort.
It’s not altogether Fogelman’s doing that how Jack dies has become such a … thing. You never know exactly how audiences are going to react and what they’re going to latch on to. It’s not unusual for viewers to prefer characters who were supposed to be secondary, or decide they’re more interested in the romance in the B storyline than the romance in the A storyline.
Clearly, “This Is Us” is about a whole lot more than just how and when Jack died. But, just as clearly, making it a mystery of sorts became part of the plan after the pilot episode was produced in early 2016.
In the original pilot, screened for critics, it was revealed that Jack was dead in the present. That was edited out before the episode aired, and Jack’s demise wasn’t revealed (or confirmed, if you guessed right) until Episode 5.
At this point, Fogelman and his team have dragged the Jack storyline out so long that they’re making it hard on themselves. They’ve built up expectations so much that they’re going to have to come up with something incredibly amazing, because even something good will feel … disappointing.
And they’re running the risk that, by dragging it out even further, they’re going to reach the point at which fans no longer care how Jack died.
“This Is Us” remains a fine show. One of my personal favorites. It’s great to see a show about a family — about good people — become a success. To see something this heartfelt be taken to heart by so many viewers.
But, whether it was part of Fogelman’s plan or not, the show is listing under the weight of the mystery of how Jack died. It was intriguing for a while, but it’s not why we watched “This Is Us.”
We’ll keep watching once we know what happened to Jack. But stringing viewers along — it’s been more than a year — has gotten old. And it’s draining “This Is Us” of the remaining magic it still holds.