Every hour of This Is Us is better than the last.
That's not just a pat phrase. This Is Us Season 1 Episode 4 took one simple day at "The Pool" for the Pearson family and from it explained so much about how Kevin, Kate and Randall became the people they are today.
The way those stories were all interwoven with the contemporary narrative was seamless and so engaging. Sometimes flashbacks can be so tedious, but the back and forth on This Is Us only makes the series more enjoyable.
It does not, however, make for a simple and logical review. So bear with me as I try to figure this out. Oftentimes I had to choose different ways to make sense of Parenthood, and the same will be true for This Is Us.
If you've never been in Pittsburgh in the dead of summer, you might think Rebecca was exaggerating how much the family was suffering just by eating breakfast. My family lived by box fans sucking stifling, humid air in through my parent's bedroom window and out mine. No air conditioner. My sister and I spent our summers at the pool.
All three of the Pearson kids had much different experiences at the pool. Kate had friends and a brand new bikini. She was excited to show it off and have a good time.
Rebecca: People are staring at her in that bathing suit, Jack. Some jerky little kid is gonna say something.
Jack: It's baby fat. She's only eight years old. Kids haven't turned mean yet.
I look back on my childhood and realize I was kind of terrible at times. The girl who ate her boogers didn't have the best time when we sat next to each other in class. But I had a lot of friends that looked a lot like Kate, and I'm still having a hard time with all of this weight stuff.
Yes, kids are terrible, but was young Kate really so offensive for 1988? She's chunky, sure, but hardly embarrassing, even in a bikini. When they get a little older, the girls might not want to date boys who are chunky, but not to play with a chunky girl just seems off to me at eight years old.
But that's the writing I'm questioning and not Kate's story. As it stands, Kate has been suffering her entire life and from what we're seeing in her adult life, she's still not dealt with it on a professional level. More on that in a bit.
There wasn't an internet for Jabecca to research how to raise a black boy, and they obviously had questions. They didn't even know for sure whether they should use sunscreen on him. Maybe they should have asked Dr. K.
Randall was seeking people who looked like him, though, no matter how much he loved his family. It's natural. Rebecca didn't even know he should be taken to a barber to keep from getting ingrown hairs on his neck, and only considered it a rash.
By Randall wanting to go to a different community pool, Rebecca found someone she may be able to befriend and learn more about her son in the process. It just seems sad that it took so long. Randall felt so alone he was keeping count of all the black men he saw that could have been his father.
Kevin: I almost drowned! Do you even care? I tried to get to the deep end, but you never watch me me. Don't touch me!
Jack: Watch yourself, pal!
Kevin: You're so busy making sure that Kate's not eating too much and Randall's not too adopted, and meanwhile where's Kevin? Oh. Guess what? He's dead!
If we had any doubts why Kevin turned to acting, he was overlooked growing up because he wasn't suffering as much as Kate and Randall. He didn't have a specific need for Jack and Rebecca to watch over and because of that, he was constantly trying to get their attention.
In doing so, he was becoming a pain the arse to his own father. When he was so desperately jumping up and down in the water screaming "dad!" over and over, Jack just looked at Rebecca and said with a smirk, "Remember the first time he said dad, how happy I was?" By pool day, he was just plain sick of it.
But that feeling is also what propelled him to want to be an actor.
Kevin never really seemed to get any friends, though, even as an adult. Being thrust into the big city to start his theater career left him with nothing but ties to Kate via cell phone.
I am not familiar with how auditions for plays work, but Kevin scored one fairly quickly. That scene when he arrived late was perfection. He tried taking the subway and walking like a New Yorker. That didn't work out well for him, but I feel his pain when I'm in the city. I always feel like someone playing grownup.
Justin Hartley again reminded me why I have so fallen for his talent when Kevin auditioned against Olivia Main (or Miss Maine, if you like). He can turn on being an actor and acting while really being an actor and acting, which just blows my mind. He has been too underrated, and I'm very happy he's shining on This Is Us.
Kevin may actually make a friend in New York, because in my experience, the more awkward a friendship starts out, the more likely your relationship to become something special.
Olivia: You're in over your head, Kevin Pearson. If you really want to do this, then go home find a class, get some training. I'm just being honest.
Kevin: I see. As a friend.
Kevin: I still think you're using the word friend wrong.
One thing is certain. Olivia isn't going into this expecting either a real friendship nor a partner on stage. She thinks Kevin's talent is nonexistent when it comes to stage work, and it very well may be...at the beginning.
But picture little Kevin letting his parents know nobody was watching out for him and you'll know he's not going to let an opportunity pass him by, even if it came to him by way of The Manny.
I really need to know if Kate has been to therapy for her weight issues. She's clearly gone to support groups in her attempt to lose weight, but I'm not even talking about losing the weight. Thirty years is a very long time to be saddled with self-doubt and to believe you're unworthy of love.
Kate is always searching for validation, and if she finds it, she doesn't believe it's the real thing. It's understandable. You don't have to be overweight to have the same issue. But you do have to try to pinpoint what might help you move past it.
Toby: Maybe I'm a little tired of being nice. Some stranger tells you that you're great and you believe her, I tell you that you're great and you think I'm lying. Why is that?!
Kate: I don't, I don't know. I have a problem.
Toby: We all have problems, Kate.
Kate: Toby, all of my life...
Toby: You've been fat. Yeah, I get it. I empathize. Clearly. I empathize, then I say something cute, then you feel better, rinse and repeat. She was terrible to me Kate. Josie, this skinny, successful woman that you admire so much? She cheated on me, she lied to me and then she took half my life savings. I gained 90 pounds in one year after she left me.
Kate didn't even talk to Toby about his ex-wife. She made assumptions about her based on her looks. That's the same thing people do to Kate.
Is it any better to make a positive assumption about a bad person than it is to make a negative assumption about a good person? In this case, I'd say it's worse, because the person Kate could have really hurt would be someone she loved.
She could have allowed herself to let down her defenses because Josie was pretty and successful and shared something with her about herself and Toby, something Josie may have in turn used against Toby to hurt him.
Hopefully Kate learned something about herself by judging that book by its cover. It's sweet how easily she and Toby were able to get over it and rub down that portfolio, but I am sincerely interested in seeing Kate do a lot more digging into what motivates her.
Finally we have Randall and family. I'm a little skeptical about the writing of a couple stories with regard to his family, as well, so let's get that out of the way.
What, exactly, was William wearing that would ever in a million years make the neighbors think he was someone to be concerned about while taking a walk in their gated community? A sweater vest? Even if there were no families of color living there, I'd be skeptical, but the neighbors clearly knew Randall, and by name.
Being the socially conscious person I am, I wouldn't disagree that someone would have likely called security if it had been a young man with those pants where his undies hang out, sporting a hoodie. But William? I was lost on that one.
I was equally lost with the rude, male, over-aged bankers who apparently had children far too late in life who were all watching a production of Snow White at the kids' school.
They LAUGHED when Tess announced she was Snow White? And again when the Prince said she was lovely? Were they drunk? Even if it's ironic that Snow White was black, unless they were ten, I don't see them laughing. At least not out loud and in front of children. Please tell me adults, parents, are not that far gone.
Nonetheless, despite all of those horrifying things, they happened in the world of the Pearsons. It made me angry.
But Randall is so full of goodness. The two discussions between him and William were top notch.
Randall pointing out William's face, so similar to the scars on his arms from integrating schools and the blisters on his feet from marching for freedom, but despite having grown up in a white house, Randall never forgot he was black.
He had already noticed the security guard (also black) take two steps closer to him just in case he was thinking of stealing something and knew he would need to show ID to use his credit card, but he would never change who his parents were or their color because of the love.
And to have William later follow that up by apologizing to William, finally, and then tell him he is doing everything right and he couldn't possibly give him advice when he's basically in awe of the man his son has become.
Of course. Randall is the center of the family. It's to him his family comes when they need someone, when they want to visit. He is the cornerstone. He has done it all right. To think how close he came to never being a part of the Pearson family brings tears to my eyes.
Will This Is Us Season 1 Episode 5 finally produce the long-awaited scenes between Randall and Kevin? What else can we expect from TV's newest obsession? Be right here for the rundown.
What was your favorite segment of "The Pool"? Drop me a comment below. And if you haven't seen it yet, by all means, watch This Is Us online because it's just that good.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.