There are a lot of characters to relate to, love or throw shade at on This Is Us (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV), but it seems like Toby Damon has really gotten the short end of the stick so far in terms of fans hating on him.
And for the life of us we can’t really understand why.
First of all, in real life Toby portrayer Chris Sullivan is aces. He’s got a strong theatre background, impeccable comedic timing, and he really knows how to bring a dramatic flair to a scene. Second of all, Toby as a character has been nothing but supportive of Kate—someone who naturally requires a lot out of a dude, given how close she was to her own dad growing up. Yes, Toby has acted impulsively at times. And yes, he’s been jealous at certain junctures. But please point us in the direction of any relationship that hasn’t had those two components, because as far as we’re concerned they’re about as likely to exist as a unicorn. (A real one, not one of those fad-like cake cut-outs taking up retail space these days.)
The only explanation we can think of as to why people are so lukewarm to such a heartfelt character is because they haven’t had a chance to get to know him. Think about it: any TV character that comes across as one-dimensional can be a hard sell, especially when they’re always being funny in serious situations. Toby certainly fits that bill.
Or at least he did until Tuesday night’s “Toby” episode, which completely blew open the character’s history and gave us a better understanding of why he is the way he is.
We knew Toby’s depression was going to be a story thread at some point, thanks to the second-season flash-forward. We also knew things were going to get bad when he stopped taking his medication five weeks back. But we didn’t realize that Toby’s depression is actually so deeply rooted that it goes beyond his divorce to Josie and all the way back to his childhood, when his father was stepping out on his mother.
That’s the brilliant thing about This Is Us and the way the writers weave these stories together. In any given period it can be hard to see how one set of circumstances or a particular moment can affect a person for years to come (or where it stems from), but thanks to the flashbacks on this show we can trace a story in a few simple scenes and feel like we’ve spent an entire lifetime with that person.
On Tuesday’s episode this particular device was applied to Toby’s depression and his own mother’s depression, while also showing us how Toby has spent his entire life trying to make other people around him happy with his shticks and impressions. That was the only way he was able to get his mother out of bed when she was at her worst, post-partem with his brother, and now it’s something he leans on heavily with Kate.
He actually sacrificed everything for her when he went off his meds so that they could get pregnant, and when the in-vitro worked (Kate is preggers, y’all!) he collapsed. He couldn’t tell Kate he was losing it before given his history with Josie and his mother, but the moment he learned he was about to be a father it all came crashing down. So now it’s Kate’s turn to be there for him, and hopefully get him back on track.
It was a brilliant way for the writers to answer all the Toby haters out there, by giving the guy depth and even more likeability. As far as we’re concerned the entire backstory made us love Toby even more, so we’re seriously hoping he gets the help he needs and bounces back soon.
Because let’s be real: the last thing we need is Toby circa Unabomber beard days. Let’s get back to present-day Tobes—the one who might want to do another random dance in a coffee shop to announce that he’s going to be a father.
That Toby is aces.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV.