Fall's newest TV trend? Pilot twists. And time travel, but that's another story.
Both NBC's This Is Us and Fox's Pitch, two of the best pilots out of the crop for the 2016 fall TV premieres, feature twists that sort of change the game for each respective series. Yes, a family drama and a sports drama have twists that took viewers by surprise in the M. Night Shyamalan sort of way.
It's not a coincidence—both shows hail from Crazy, Stupid, Love's Dan Fogelman. Warning, spoilers for the series premieres of This Is Us and Pitch.
NBC's This Is Us, which is easily the next Parenthood in terms of cries and feelings it'll bring out in you, tells the story of several people with the same birthday. It just so happens that three of those people are siblings. The pilot episode, set on the birthdays of Randall (Sterling K. Brown), Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) also tells the story of the birth of Jack's triplets with wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore).
And the twist? Jack and Rebecca's biological kids are Kate and Kevin—with one baby not making it. So what do they do? Adopt baby who was left at a firehouse…that baby was Randall. Jack and Rebecca's story is set in the past, the 1970s, and Randall, Kevin and Kate's in the present.
Meanwhile, Fox's Pitch tells the story of Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury), the first female called up to play in Major League Baseball. The young woman is now the pitcher for the San Diego Padres and predictably all eyes are on her—will she mess it up or be the hero everybody is hoping for? In the pilot, she chokes and viewers see her get counseled by her father (Michael Beach) as well as flashbacks to her childhood playing ball and training with her intense dad.
And the twist? That intense dad is dead. D-E-A-D. He died in a car accident before he could see his daughter make it to the MLB. So all that practicing she was doing after her first time up at the pitching mound? She was doing it alone.
Two different twists, two different shows, one writer. Did they work?
The This Is Us twist means we'll see the siblings growing up, viewers will see how their upbringing and parents directly influences their story and how they react to certain situations. Viewers get to follow the journey of their parents as well as the adult kids. Plus, maybe viewers will be treated to Moore and/or Ventimiglia in old people make-up. It's an interesting take on the beloved family drama format.
Regarding the twist, Moore assured E! News the parental reveal was it. "The show moving forward is not some crazy, convoluted twisty—it's not Lost, which I loved," she said.
Fogelman told reporters at TCA that he has a plan for the show.
"When we sold the show, we had a whole plan for the series before. When it was written, it wasn't like we are just going to make the pilot and then kind of figure it out if we get lucky enough to get on TV. John Glenn and I describe it as, like, a dramedy version of Lost where you have to understand how everyone's connected and then kind of explore these people as they move forward," he said.
He continued, "So they're interconnected, Milo and Mandy's storyline jumps around in time. You can see that. There's going to be different looks we play with. And the only way I can describe it is I sometimes think about the fact that I have a great-great-grandfather out there somewhere who I never met nor do I know his name. But in his own way, he's kind of affected my life because he raised my grandparents who raised my parents who have raised me."
As for Pitch's dead ghost dad twist will likely provide insight into Ginny's mindset and tell you more about her past…but that could have been done with just straight flashbacks. Do we viewers need to see her talking to her dead dad all the time? This is now the second Fox show doing a ghost in somebody's head story. One more and it's officially a trend.
"We're dealing in sports, and we're dealing in drama and human drama. I think surprises are good when they're not just there to be a surprise, but they also kind of change the lens through which you're watching the show. I think in the case of this show, what happens at the end of the pilot isn't just a kind of twist or surprise," Fogelman told reporters at TCA about Pitch. "I think then you can go back and think, ‘Oh, I get this girl in a different way right now. I get what Kylie's character is going through in our journey. If I was to rewatch the pilot again, I would now understand the intensity of the pressure was different than I even knew at the beginning."
Did they really work? Sure, they surprised the viewer, but time will tell which truly pays off.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays, 10 p.m. on NBC. Pitch airs Thursdays, 9 p.m. on Fox.
(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)