This Is Us is treating us to a lovely trip down memory lane. It is a love story between a father and his son. William (Ron Cephas Jones) and Randall (Sterling K Brown) head to Memphis, Tennessee, where William grew up. If you haven't seen 1x15 "Jack Pearson's Son" yet, tread gingerly as I don't want you to be spoiled... This Is Us airs on NBC on Tuesday nights at 9pm EST. You can later see it on the NBC app, Hulu and OnDemand.
This Is Us 1x16 "Memphis" Promo - "Randall and William take a road trip to Memphis, where Randall learns about his biological father's past."
This Is Us 1x16 "Memphis" Advanced Review -
Before I delve into my review, I want to share a portion of a letter from the showrunner Dan Fogelman. "This was an episode we’ve planned since the pilot, but in my wildest dreams I never imagined it would turn out this well. Pilot directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra poured themselves into this one, and it shows. Sterling K. Brown and Ron Cephas Jones turn in two of the more memorable performances I’ve seen in some time. I’m obviously incredibly proud of this episode … and, obviously, incredibly biased. But I hope this one moves you as it moved me. I suspect it will."
I must say that this episode has to be one of the most lovely I have seen. Last week's 1x15 "Jack Pearson's Son" left us in tears. It was incredibly beautiful how Kevin (Justin Hartely) left his play on opening night to help his brother Randall. Through this episode we found out that Randall has been suffering with crippling anxiety since he was young. Randall has been going through a lot between set-backs at work and the deteriorating health of his father. It was all becoming too much and he was suffering a panic attack when Kevin found him.
Where this episode starts is about a week from where we left off last week. Kevin brought home a broken Randall and helped to get him to the hospital. Randall was in bad condition, losing his eyesight and suffering from an almost complete breakdown. He only spent about 5 days in the hospital and is feeling much better and wants to go on a road trip with his Dad, William, to Memphis, TN. His wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) of course is worried. Her husband has just suffered a physical set-back and her father in law is rapidly failing in his health. They want to drive over 18 hours from New Jersey to Tennessee? This seems like a recipe for disaster.
What this ends up being is a lovely trip down memory lane! We get to meet William's parents. His Dad is a young soldier and his Mom is a young, lovely devoted wife. Baby William has got to be the cutest baby I have ever seen! Intermixed between flash back memory moments, we see the road trip hi-jinx between father and son. We are dealing with 2 very different personalities. Randall is very straitlaced, he need to get from point A to point B in the most economical way possible. William is an easy going free spirit, who would rather have the windows down and take the trip as it comes. He wants to enjoy every moment of it.
They do some neat things, from eating certain food that is special to that area, to going to the barbershop and drinking from a water fountain that history would not let them do in the past. They visit his family home and is surprised by the changes over the years, and how it still feels the same. As they are driving, William is pointing out the different places he used to frequent when he was younger, the history and his wish to go to see the ducks. All these experiences are very special and Randall is truly relishing them.
The next set of flashbacks are really cool. It shows William as a shy young man (Jermel Nakia) as he is up and coming in the music clubs in Memphis. His cousin Ricky (Brian Tyree Henry from Atlanta) started a cover band and has William play piano and keyboard. They soon switch from a mediocre success from singing someone else's songs to playing and singing songs that William wrote. One song in particular, "Alone, With You" (not sure if this is the official title) is absolutely beautiful! They way they film this is fabulous as well! As they sing the song, they show the passage of time and the growing success of the group from a few faithfuls to sold out venues.
They also show how William walked away from success to help his mother in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and how he met Randall's mother and his, sad, decent into a life of drugs, leading us to what we know of him now. Randall, coming back to Memphis after so many years is like the Biblical return of 'The Prodigal Son'. He feels the need to make amends to his cousin Ricky (Brian Tyree Henry now in aged make-up), but he is not initially welcomed with open arms.
The resentment quickly passes and the best scene in the whole show is when they have a family reunion in the club. William is all smiles, playing the keyboards as if no time has passed at all. Randall is delighted to see how many cousins he has. It is so cute and funny to see Randall get up on stage and try to scat and do the robot dance. It is such a lovely and happy time. The poetry and music that William has brought to this world is absolutely lovely and I absolutely loved it!
This whole episode isn't just about the love of dad, William, for his son, Randall, but it is also a tribute in part to Jack (Milo Ventimiglia). Jack was there with Randall in his growing up years and has been his rock through his times of trial. The constant message is to breathe. We get lessons in life from both of the fathers of Randall that are important to remember. It is important that when life is tough, to remember to breathe and to enjoy the ride!