Much like the rest of America, I too have fallen in love with the flawed-but-loving Pearson family on This Is Us.
Sure, the show has so far relied on twist after twist instead of human drama to keep momentum going. And sure, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around how we’re supposed to forgive matriarch Rebecca (Mandy Moore) for her decades-long betrayal of her son, Randall, by lying to him about the existence of his birth father.
But overall, it’s a heartwarming and well-written show with some great acting (hi, Sterling K. Brown), and it’s been great to see the cast and crew soak up their success on social media.
However, This Is Us and I are about to have a major problem if they continue to act like Toby, Chris Sullivan’s manic pixie fat boy, is Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) be-all-end-all.
Because he’s not — in fact, he’s actually really, really bad for her.
A (brief) argument on Toby’s behalf.
Now, before I dive into why Toby and Kate together is a mess, know that Toby existing on the show overall is a good thing. It’s rare that we see the stories of anyone with a BMI over 22 told on television, let alone two of them.
(ASIDE: It was recently discovered that Sullivan wears a fat suit to play Toby, and is quite trim in real life — he played the burger joint owner on Stranger Things. This is undoubtedly disappointing for size representation, but Sullivan is very good in the role, so that’s an argument for a different day.)
So even though This Is Us has been fairly criticized for making weight loss the one and only thing on Kate’s mind — fat people have full, enriching lives outside of what they put inside their bodies, after all, and making the fat lead fall while weighing herself on her bathroom scale in the pilot is not great — it’s gotten better at fleshing out Kate’s story in recent weeks, and I think it’s great that we’re getting to see two overweight characters navigate this crappy world in bodies deemed less-than-perfect on the small screen.
Toby continuously pushing Kate out of her comfort zone in her current, emotionally vulnerable state isn’t romantic — it shows a lack of respect for what she really wants.
All of the above being said, Toby’s grandiose romantic gestures — which have so far been the crux of his relationship with Kate — are worrisome. At best, they’ve been misguided but sort of sweet (like making her sing in front of a crowd of old people, for example), while at worst (taking her on romantic outings and expecting sex as reward) they’re downright manipulative — especially when Toby gets upset with Kate when she doesn’t respond to his pushy gestures the way he wants her to.
From the first time Toby met Kate in Weight Watchers, she — rather abruptly — made it clear that she had been struggling with her weight for years, and wanted to spend her time and energy getting healthy after a lifetime of caring about her twin brother, Kevin, more than herself. Toby wouldn’t take no for an answer, and since then, everything he has done “for Kate” has gone against Kate’s wishes…and sometimes, her own wellbeing.
Kate has lifelong issues with putting men’s needs before her own? Doesn’t matter, she clearly needs to have a needy boyfriend while she figures her stuff out, and when Kevin calls, Toby is going to demand she hang up the phone and focus on him instead. Kate doesn’t want to go to a Hollywood party, sing in front of a crowd, watch football with a dude who knows nothing about the game, or have sex? Well, Toby thinks she should do all of these things, so she’s going to, because Toby showed up in a silly costume and said so.
Kate wants very, very badly to focus on her own health above all else, but also has a lifelong issue with binge eating that keeps getting in her way and making her depressed? This doesn’t matter in the slightest! Toby is going to order dessert right in front of her and cut their workouts short, because what else are supportive boyfriends for but parading your addictions right in front of you?
Toby, in essence, reminds me of the guy that, when I told him I was dying to see 12 Years a Slave by myself in theaters because going to see movies alone is my favorite form of self care, bought a ticket behind my back, showed up, sat next to me, and tried to make out throughout its entire two-hour, 14-minute run time.
I never talked to that guy again, because he was being awful. And seriously, so is Toby.
Toby’s lack of regard for Kate’s needs has already had a negative impact on her health.
The very fact that Kate is still with Toby despite the fact that he continuously treats weight loss and exercise as stupid is actually insane, and something the series would probably never think to do if both characters were struggling with, say, alcohol or heroin addiction instead of binge-eating. It’s become clear as a viewer that Toby has some serious issues of his own, and is probably clinging to Kate so intensely because of his own colossal insecurities — something that is fine in theory, but in practice, This Is Us continues to present Toby as a romantic hero and solution to Kate’s problems instead of as someone who is bad for her.
Like, remember when Toby suddenly stopped talking to Kate so he could go on a binge, ignoring all of her frantic calls, then when she found him he told her he needed to eat dessert to be happy — and Kate obliged to keep him around? And then she had a binge-fest, too?
Yeah, not great, Bob.
If you want a good example from this show of what a supportive relationship actually looks like, look to Randall and his wife Beth, who actually listen to each other when they speak and respect each others’ boundaries. His well-intentioned desire to always be “perfect” and his very giving nature compliment her intuition, her bluntness, and her ability to make tough decisions very well, and they’re a joy and an inspiration to watch every week.
Even Jack and Rebecca can be #goals when he’s not talking over her doctor in the delivery room, and when she’s not lying to the entire family about their adopted son’s father.
But Kate and Toby, from what we’ve seen so far, are simply too similar — relying too heavily on each other for their own individual success — to make it work.
How “This Is Us” can turn Toby around.
I keep hoping that This Is Us is going to pull the rug out from under us, with an episode that makes it clear they’ve fully understood Toby this whole time. An episode that shows that consistently pushing a person — especially a person with an addiction, who is trying her damnedest to get better — into doing things they are uncomfortable with to and with their own body is counterintuitive to their own wellbeing; that Kate going from trying to please Kevin to trying to please Toby is bad for her, and that she needs some time to work on herself before entering into a mutually beneficial romantic relationship.
But so far, things like Toby’s proposal and his post-breakup cross-country trip have all been treated like John Cusack holding up that boom box in Say Anything, and I’m worried. Sullivan is a good actor, so he can totally stay on This Is Us and not earn my ire if the writers change course and, say, make his plot line about fixing his insecurities and manipulative nature as Kate’s friend.
Until then, Toby is about as worthy of the Pearson family as Kevin’s awful British lady actor crush, and it’s high time This Is Us started treating him with the same respect they’ve given her.