This Is Us: “Career Days”

(Episode 1.06)

TV Reviews This Is Us
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This Is Us: “Career Days”

People joke about the affliction some call the “mid-life crisis.” When we think of it, we think of a 40-year old guy desperately trying to pass for 30 in his shiny new Mercedes and his dyed blonde hair. We may even imagine a young woman at his side for the sole purpose of boosting his ego. Many films and TV series have led us to believe that the need to reconnect with our youth is what constitutes a mid-life crisis, when the truth is, it often goes beyond embracing your inner Peter Pan. In fact, it’s almost like a rite of passage: In the same way it’s natural for teenagers to rebel against anything their parents stand for, it’s normal to question everything your adult self stands for by the time you’re pushing 40.

Even when everything seems to be going your way and you find yourself surrounded by the fruits of your success, there will always come a time in which you begin to wonder about the stones you left unturned. This can be a challenging time for anyone, but for Randall, a man who is only just learning about his biological roots, it has become more of a quest than a crisis.

When Randall’s daughter, Tess, hears William play a tune on the piano, she’s excited about the idea of having him speak at her school for career day. Let’s face it—her father’s job is kind of boring. No one really understands what weather commodity trading is all about, and even if they did, it’s hardly an exciting topic of conversation. Innocent banter between the kids, William, Randall and Kevin erupts as they all mock him for his snore-worthy job. Although he tries his best to hide it, Randall is hurt when he realizes Kevin’s Hollywood lifestyle and William’s musical skills are far more intriguing to his girls than he is. He won’t be persuaded to let William take over for career day, and promises his daughters it’s “gonna be lit.”

Unlike his father, Jack, who took on an office job to provide for his family rather than fulfil his passion, Randall enjoys his work and takes pride in what he does. He is motivated by the challenges it brings and feels accomplished when he puts on his suit and tie every morning, and he wants his daughters to know that. But as he thinks back to his own career day at school, he wonders whether his life would have turned out differently had he grown up in William’s artistic, musical environment.

In the past, Jack had his own creative ambitions. His plan was to set up his own company, Big Three Homes. The ideas were in place, the drive was there, but with five mouths to feed and bills piling up left, right and center, it never seemed like the right time. When Randall’s teacher calls them in to discuss the possibility of enrolling him in a private school, Jack puts his Big Three Homes project on the backburner for good. At first, he’s not entirely sure whether the predominantly white private school is right for Randall. He doesn’t want his son to feel any more out of place than he already does at home and his current school. Realizing that by trying to keep Randall shielded from the world he would be denying his son a shining future, Jack pushes him to embrace his gift.

In doing so, he finds a special bond with Randall; in the same way Kevin gets his special time with Jack when they’re hunched over model airplanes and boats, Randall gets his private time with his dad every morning before he drops him off at school. Their ties become a symbol of their bond, even though they mean entirely different things to both. To Jack, his tie is a reminder of the life he had to compromise in order to offer his kids the very best future; to Randall, it has become a declaration of independence. He no longer feels the need to put on an act in order to fit in with his siblings, and thanks to Jack’s fatherly urgings, he now feels secure enough to be himself.

Though “Career Day” doesn’t offer any exciting twists, it gives us something better: For a full four minutes we get to see the real Kevin. With the unconventional help of his colleague, Erin (Janet Montgomery), Kevin is finally able to break out of his seemingly unemotional character and channel the sadness and grief he has insisted on pushing down for so long. A complete stranger brought on the steady breakdown of the walls he’s built around himself, a nice touch considering he usually reserves his shows of weakness for his sister, Kate. Unfortunately, the moment quickly sours when Kevin hooks up with Erin. This storyline threatens to put him right back into the clichéd, tortured pretty-boy role I’d like to see him freed from.

The same is true for Kate, who’s taken on a new job as Marina Rosenthal’s (Jami Gertz) event manager/personal assistant. It would’ve been nice to see Kate gain a new sense of confidence after landing this gig, but her storyline always returns to her greatest burden in life: her weight. At first, it was exciting to see This Is Us celebrating body diversity, but now I’m not so sure this is the case. At the moment, Kate’s entire storyline revolves around her weight, and in doing so it’s her body type rather than her character that becomes the main topic of conversation.

While it’s important to convey the experiences of a young, overweight girl/woman in a truthful manner, we never truly get to know her and what she’s all about due to her constantly dwelling on her appearance. If the show was really out to change our perception in terms of body diversity, weight-related talk would be kept at a minimum. Take Orange is the New Black and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, for example: both shows include beautiful, curvy, even overweight women, but do they constantly talk about it? No. Because we don’t care about the weight they carry around their midriffs, we care about what’s in their hearts and minds, and that’s exactly what we’re missing from Kate. A little less conversation and a little more action, please!

Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers. She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.