After the breakout success of NBC’s juggernaut, generation-spanning family drama, This is Us, it is no surprise that the broadcast networks -- including NBC itself -- are trying to recreate that magic with other shows. Last fall, ABC introduced its “This is Us -- but with friends,” also known as A Million Little Things. During this same time period, NBC also introduced New Amsterdam, which is a medical procedural as opposed to a family drama, but it still attempts at tugging at our heartstrings. But more than the rest of these This Is Us-tinged projects, a new midseason entry from the peacock network seems to share the most similarities with the show about the Pearson clan.
The Village is a drama series set in an apartment building that is bolstered by a large, multigenerational ensemble cast that chronicles the ups and downs of the building's tenants and their interpersonal relationships. Like the family drama it mimics, The Village flashes backwards in time to tell the characters' stories in more depth. It was an early favorite at NBC last pilot season. Jerod Haynes, Lorraine Toussaint and Frankie Faison are among the series stars, along with Moran Atias, Dominic Chianese (the oldest series regular in television history at 87), Warren Christie, Daren Kagasoff, Michaela McManus and Grace Van Dien.
Despite being as formulaic as possible, The Village is a perfectly good drama, but it will have to take a little bit more than attempting to induce tears to be as impactful as the series that it is getting compared to. Yes, it is literally built in the same vein of This is Us and Parenthood but it still feels...off, which is hard to say as you'll want to like the show. In the series’ first episode, we dive directly into the tenants lives with no context, as if we already know them. In learning more about their story before we learn about them, there is a loss of connection toa the characters. Why should we care about what happens to them? Why should we care about what they're going through? As the first few episodes go on and their backstories are slowly peeled back, connections are able to be formed, but it would have been better to have this established straight from the beginning. Instead of feeling organic and earned, most of the scenes and dialogue seem to be expertly constructed to make viewers cry.
At the heart and center of The Village is the always-grinning building super, Ron Jones (Frankie Faison), and his wife, Patricia (Lorraine Toussaint), who is everyone’s surrogate mother. Faison and Toussaint lead this bloated cast with ease, and their characters are by far the easiest to connect with. It’s rare that we see Black Love on screen in general, but it’s truly few and far between that we see it in the 50-plus age group. With Toussaint’s Patricia headed toward a health crisis while trying to be that mother figure for everyone else, no matter how the show is received, the veteran actress (who has been slaying both the big and small screen for some time now) should be in Emmy conversations for her performance as the core of the show. Jerod Haynes, who will also appear in Rashid Johnson's Native Son alongside Ashton Sanders and Kiki Layne, stars as Ben, a cop who is trying to use his uniform for good. Haynes seems to be adept at taking on meaty material, so here’s hoping that the show will allow him to do so.
Aside from the Joneses and Ben, the next-best character and storyline comes from Daren Kagasoff, who you may remember from The Secret Life of an American Teenager fame. He plays Gabe, a law student who--in one of the first heartfelt moments that didn't feel forced--invites his elderly grandfather, Enzo (Chianese) to live with him. With Kagasoff's same quiet warmth that he brought to Teenager, this plotline will surely open up discussions about elder care in the United States. It’s also great seeing Michaela McManus back at NBC, starring as a doting, hard-working single mother--a far cry from her turn as eager and brittle prosecutor Kim Greylek on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
There are some rough moments that may drown out some of the good aspects of this drama. There’s a ripped-from-the-headlines ICE storyline and a teenage pregnancy storyline--both of which lack the necessary context needed to invoke sympathy towards these characters. There's also an ideological conflict between a paraplegic Iraq vet (who is greeted and thanked almost every 10 minutes during the pilot) and the anti-war young woman that he just met. Still, The Village has some time to sharpen up and become the heartfelt drama that it was contrived to be. But even if it doesn’t meet the emotional rollercoaster standards of This Is Us because people may relate to a diverse family more than a disparate group of neighbors, those viewers addicted to watching emotional highs and lows are sure to tune in.
The Village premieres March 19 at 10 p.m. on NBC, right after This is Us