This week in television started out with a strong Season 6 premiere of Once Upon a Time that laid out some very compelling internal and external conflicts for each character. On Monday, Dancing with the Stars aired a head-to-head dance-off episode, and that was followed by the first U.S. presidential debate of the election season. Tuesday’s episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine brought us back to the precinct and balanced that with some biting, Florida-based satire from Jake and Holt’s storyline. Tuesday also featured a politically-minded episode of New Girl and a second episode of This Is Us that gave each character even more depth and each relationship even more nuance. On Wednesday, Speechless proved to me that it has the right balance of heart and humor to keep me invested for the long haul, and black-ish made me cry with its emotionally gripping sonogram scene. Thursday provided me with moments that sold me completely on two very different partnerships: Eleanor and Chidi on The Good Place and Ginny and Mike on Pitch. Finally, Saturday Night Live kicked off its season with a much-hyped debate skit and an entire episode devoted to reminding everyone why Kate McKinnon won her Emmy. (Her impression of Trump campaign manage Kellyanne Conway was exceptional.)
It was impossible for me to pick just one moment this week that I loved more than any other, but all of my favorite moments were connected by the same theme: emotional investment. All the new shows I’ve started watching featured a moment this week where I knew I was hooked—whether it was Maya listening to Kenneth help J.J. use the bathroom on Speechless; Rebecca and Beth doing their best to be good wives and mothers (and delivering killer monologues in the process) in two different timelines on This Is Us; Eleanor praising Chidi with nothing to gain from it on The Good Place; or Mike telling Ginny that she might not trust her fastball but she needs to trust him on Pitch. All of those moments took me beyond the initial introduction of characters and stories and revealed something genuine and compelling about the relationships that will serve as the heart and soul of these shows. All of these were moments of sincere connection, and it was lovely to see such strong dynamics developing so early in the game for these shows.
One of the dynamics that was fleshed out in a nuanced way this week was the one between the “Big Three” on This Is Us—namely, the relationship between Randall and Kevin. The flashbacks showed that their relationship has always been a rocky one, which made Kevin’s late-night phone call to his brother even more important. Both Justin Hartley and Sterling K. Brown were powerfully vulnerable their performances in that scene, but it was Brown who absolutely took my breath away. Ever since I first discovered him in The People vs. O.J. Simpson, he’s been able to break my heart with one facial expression, and that’s exactly what he did in this scene. The moment right after he led his siblings in the “Big Three” chant was filled with such a realistic depth of feeling from a character who we now know has always felt like something of an outsider with his siblings—especially his brother. Randall is a truly good person—sometimes too good, as his wife stated. And in order for us to believe that, the actor playing him had to be someone who radiates integrity and goodness, which is exactly what Brown does every time I see him on my television screen.
What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?