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When we learned that This Is Us (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET, CTV) was introducing a love interest for Deja (Lyric Ross) and that he would have a baby, we were right there with those who thought the writers might be pulling another fast one on us and in time that baby would be revealed as Deja’s.

As it turns out the theory was wrong, but the story we’re getting instead is much, much better. At least that’s how we’re feeling about it all following the latest episode of the show, in which Deja and Malik (Asante Blackk) skipped school to go on an actual date, and Randall and Beth met Malik’s parents for the first time in the most awkward dinner party of the year.

Breaking bread

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the most awkward dinner party ever—the episode did also give us the flashback dinner party when Jack and Rebecca invited Randall’s black teacher over for dinner—but it was definitely up there. Open-toed shoes or not it didn’t take long for Beth to lose her cool when Malik’s mom accused Deja of being trouble (thank goodness for hidden pantry wine, huh?) or for Malik’s dad to actually unbutton his shirt in defence of his son (so much ink).

It was heated, messy, full of emotions and honestly an amazing conversation between two families of colour who are dealing with all kinds of stigmas and misconceptions, but who also love one another very much. And, like so many other stories that This Is Us gives us, it’s a conversation that we just don’t see a lot of on TV.

Not only did the episode explore different sides of the black experience and how you’re perceived when you have money versus when you “work hard” for what you have, the show is also really getting into what it means to be a teen dad. Unlike so many other portrayals, This Is Us ditched the reductive absentee black father stereotype and is giving us a loving teen dad whose parents support him and have his back. Of course they were going to bring the baby to the dinner, we don’t know why Randall and Beth would have thought otherwise. But having that baby there made them completely uncomfortable, which was the whole point. After all, how do you grow if you can’t challenge yourself?

Image issues

We all know that one mistake can change your life, and in Malik’s case one mistake gave him an amazing opportunity to be a father to a little girl that he loves more than anything. (How can you regret that?!) But it also completely changed the way people see him. Beth and Randall don’t trust him despite all of his other good qualities. Other kids at school make fun of him for watching his kid on his cell phone monitor. And Deja has a hard time getting to know him, because she’s 14 and there is living, breathing proof that this older boy has had sex at least once in his life. It’s a lot for a teen dad, no? And that’s not even including wacky sleep schedules, losing out on doing fun things with your friends and having to balance school with parenthood. We’re tired just thinking about it.

But at the end of the day Malik isn’t a bad kid. Something in his straight-A-self recognized that Deja needed to connect with her new surroundings, which is why he offered to skip school and give her the real tour of Philly. (Teens need mental health days too, you know. Why don’t we talk about that more?)

Naturally Beth and Randall were clearly PO’d about the whole situation, as were Malik’s parents, but at least they finally realized how to talk to Deja about it in the end. They also realized that banning Deja from seeing a boy who takes responsibility for his actions, who works hard, and who isn’t afraid to look Randall in the eye isn’t such a bright idea, and that they weren’t being totally fair to him.

However let’s also not forget that Malik does want better for himself and his daughter than what he sees his parents as achieving. We still don’t know if his dad’s pep talk in the premiere episode got through to him, or if he’ll answer when that shady drug guy potentially comes calling. All we can hope is that with so much on the line—including his new romance with Deja—he stays in the right lane.

Because let’s face it: being a teen is hard, and adolesecents aren’t exactly known for making stellar life decisions. Let’s just hope that Malik having to grow up so fast will stop him from making a really, really bad one in the future.

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV.

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