Deadshirt is Watching…This is Us and Westworld

Deadshirt Is Watching… is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt staff, contributors, and guests sound off on the television shows we’re tuned into, from intense dramas to clever sitcoms to the most insane reality shows. This week: This is Us and the finale of Westworld!

Andrew Niemann is watching…
This is Us
Season 1, Episode 9 “The Trip”
NBC


This is Us is a curious take on the network family dramedy, in that it’s really two shows in one package. The show centers on the Pearson family, but it follows them on two separate timelines: one where the main siblings are adults and one where they’re children. This episode is about how Randall (Sterling K. Brown) deals with the Thanksgiving fallout where his adopted mother (Mandy Moore) reveals that she knew his birth father (Ron Cephas Jones), whom he has just now reconnected with as an adult, for years and didn’t tell him. Randall works through his pain while staying in a remote cabin with his sister Kate (Chrissy Metz) and brother Kevin (Justin Hartley), who brought along his hipster theater friends. After accidentally ingesting a hallucinogenic mushroom smoothie, Randall begins to hallucinate his dead adopted father (Milo Ventimiglia), who literally builds him a window into the past to show him a reason his mother made that choice. Over in a B-plot, Kevin tries to convince Kate not to have weight-loss surgery, but the real emotional weight of the episode is on Randall.

Brown’s performance here, along with his star turn as Chris Darden in this year’s American Crime Story, has cemented him as one of my favorite actors. There’s something about Brown’s propensity for playing vulnerable nerds with dramatic integrity that really speaks to me. Another commendable part of this episode is Jermel Nakia’s portrayal of young William, Randall’s birth father. Nakia mimics Ron Cephas Jones so well that I had to blink a few times to make sure it wasn’t really good CGI. This is Us strikes just the right balance between sappy and real drama, and I can’t help but love it. I can’t wait to see where the Pearsons have been and where they end up.
Episode Highlight: Kevin calling out his sorta theater girlfriend Olivia on her bullshit is pretty great. Kevin is clearly the dumbest Pearson sibling, but he always gets the best monologues and callouts.

Joe Stando is watching…
Westworld
Season 1, Episode 10, “The Bicameral Mind”
HBO

As the “It” Show this season, it’s been impossible to avoid the deluge of theories that critics and fans have come up with to explain Westworld. Dan Harmon once described the internet as being like a really powerful render room, and that no long-form series can write twists anymore that will fool a million people thinking about it together for an hour a day. This was the case, to some degree, with “The Bicameral Mind.” We got confirmation on a lot of popular theories: The Man in Black is an aged William, the Wyatt massacre was the earlier Dolores incident in which Arnold died, we’ve been watching multiple timelines simultaneously, etc. etc. Some critics complained about predictability, while simultaneously bashing the show for being contrived and hard to follow.

Fuck ’em. I loved it. “The Bicameral Mind” was a great finale to a great show, one that had twists but played pretty fair overall. It’s strange looking back and remembering not caring especially for any of these characters. While some of the beats were predictable, the cast sold them on an impressively deep level. There are plenty of shows that are driven mostly or exclusively by hooks. After the success of Lost, it became a sad little genre (The Event, anyone? The Nine?). But I don’t believe Westworld wanted to blow minds with reveals as much as tell a compelling, purpose-driven story, with engaging performances and concepts. It’s almost the opposite of the reaction to the first season of True Detective, when viewers were angry they couldn’t predict the plot ahead of time well enough.

But enough about the reactions. Westworld told a tragic, frightening, compelling story of what it means to be free, to be alive, to be human. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.

Episode Highlight: There were a lot of strong little notes throughout, but I was especially impressed with how cleanly they explained/confirmed the non-linear structure of the season. The reveal that Dolores and Bernard had never met was a nice shorthand to which scenes involved Arnold, and if the Man in Black reveal felt obvious, both Ed Harris and Jimmi Simpson put in career-best performances. It’s a show that demands to be binged and rewatched, but they provide a pretty thorough timeline by the end, and the performances earn it.

Also: SAMURAIWORLD, baby.

That’s what we’ve been watching this week. What are you tuned into? Let us know in the comments, post on our Facebook page, or tweet us @DeadshirtDotNet!

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