It’s usually pretty easy to guess what a show will be like from its initial trailers. Luckily, this fall season has kicked off with two premieres that shake off early expectations. Pitch and This is Us—two of the season’s top new shows—both managed to pull off pilot twists that should make both series even more effective.
Spoilers for Fox’s Pitch and NBC’s This is Us ahead.
9 ET/8 CT Thursdays on Fox.
Pitch was an easy sell from the beginning. Its premise of Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury) becoming Major League Baseball’s first female player is original, and the black female lead gives the series loads of diversity potential. In the premiere, Bunbury is no doubt the show’s breakout star; she excels as the lead actress. The other actors also do well, and the storytelling is top notch. The show isn’t afraid to explore current issues, and its variety of characters keeps each scene fresh.
Then, at the end, Pitch throws a curveball that doubles the premiere’s emotional resonance and gives the show a new depth. Ginny’s father Bill (Michael Beach) always wanted to bring one of his children into the world of baseball. In flashbacks throughout the episode, we learn that Ginny steps up to the plate at a young age. The two work closely together, building her into the player that eventually reaches the MLB as a pitcher for the San Diego Padres. Their bond is tight, though Bill pushes her very hard. He always says they are just getting started, that there’s always more for her to do. When Ginny reaches a low during the pilot, it is her father that gets her to move forward. But at the end, we find out it wasn’t her father at all. It was her memory of him.
The pilot concludes with the reveal that Ginny’s father died in a car accident just after the Padres recruit Ginny for the minor leagues — Bill’s peak in his baseball career was reaching the minors. Ginny’s father is about to finally acknowledge her success when the truck hits them, and she loses both her father and any hope that she’ll hear his approval. This heartbreaking point in the premiere adds a new depth to Ginny’s character. We know she isn’t just doing this for herself — more than anything, she’s doing this for the father that she lost.
Since Beach isn’t listed as part of the main cast, it is likely his character will remain in flashbacks from now on. Nonetheless, the premiere made his presence essential to Ginny’s character. Pitch couldn’t have found a better way to build up Ginny’s three-dimensional character and heighten the show’s potential.
This is Us
10 ET/9 CT Tuesdays on NBC.
NBC remained silent about its premiere twist until the show’s last few minutes, asking reviewers to leave out mention of it in preview material. The show explores four primary characters who share the same birthday, all of them turning 36 on the same day. Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) is expecting triplets with his wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore). Randall (Sterling K. Brown) is searching for the biological father who abandoned him at a fire station just after he was born. Kate (Chrissy Metz) is hoping to make a change in her life by losing her weight. And Kevin (Justin Hartley) is an actor tired of his sitcom role on the awful show “The Man-ny.”
We find out early in the pilot that Kate and Kevin are twins, but up until the end, Randall and Jack remain unrelated to them or each other. NBC teased a connection beyond their age and birthdays, so some sort of twist was expected, but This is Us still managed to make it poignant and powerful.
Jack and Rebecca lose one of the triplets. In one of the best moments in the premiere, Dr. Katowsky (Gerald McRaney) tells Jack about the loss of one his own children. The scene is heavy with emotion, and it allows viewers to truly understand Jack and Rebecca’s decision to adopt a third child — a child who was found left alone at a fire station that day. That’s right: Kate, Kevin, and Randall are actually all Jack and Rebecca’s children. This means the series is split in two time periods: There’s 1980, when Jack and Rebecca are just starting their family, and there’s 2016, where Kate, Kevin, and Randall have lives of their own. As this is revealed, This is Us finally shows details of the hospital Jack is in, where all the people and furniture are clearly from 1980. The show hid these timely details up until this point, careful to keep the twist from spilling on its own.
This is Us was already original compared to TV’s landscape of crime-and-law dramas, but this twist sets it apart even more. Having two time periods and exploring three characters in both their formative years and adulthood will add plenty of depth and interest to this already successful series.