We here in the U.S. think that touchy-feely series like This Is Us are purely an American phenomenon. But When You Least Expect It, produced in Spain, shows that notion isn’t true. In fact, the stories in the new series will make anyone who has sought therapy in a group setting — especially to manage grief — nod in recognition.
WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT IT: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: A car pulls up next to a soccer field in the shadow of some tall office buildings.
The Gist: Sara (Marta Hazas) and her son Fede (Pablo de Santos) are watching his father Jose (Ismael Martínez) play in a soccer league when he suddenly collapses. Sara, an ER doctor, runs to her husband. We cut to a few weeks later; Sara and Fede have returned to their apartment for the first time since Jose died. She’s trying to put on a happy face, but Fede is more or less shut down, washing his hands all the time.
She thinks she’s doing OK, but Fede’s therapist suggests that Sara seeks out a grief support group in order to be better able to get through to her son. She reluctantly goes, and is surprised when the therapist, Dr. Laforet (Blanca Portillo), immediately comes to her for her story.
It’s a unique group for Dr. Laforet, because it’s full of parents who recently lost their partners. But their circumstances are completely different. Pardo (Erick Elias), who tours with his band, barely knows his teenage kids Lali (Ana Jara) and Álvaro (Quique González). But when their mother dies in a car accident, he takes it upon himself to move in and take care of them. But Lali is especially resistant to his presence. Graci (Alba Planas) isn’t a parent yet, but wants to get inseminated with her boyfriend’s sperm, which he froze before his cancer made him too sick to do so. Luis (Francesc Orella), an insurance executive, is so disdainful of this process he sends an intern in his place.
After visiting him at his work, Dr. Laforet gets Luis to attend, but he’s still in denial about how he feels. His oldest, Ana (Daniela Brown), wants to leave business school, but he convinces her to go back; as she leaves for the airport, she tells him she knows a secret about how her mother died. Pardo tries to get the boyfriend of his kids’ mother to take them in and he refuses, so he has no choice but to fight through their resentment towards him. And, even though Graci is young, she knows she lost the love of her life and wants to have his baby as soon as possible.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? When You Least Expect It (Original title: Días Mejores) has the feel of shows like This Is Us or A Million Little Things, with a big cast dealing with their own stories, and the drama is based in relationships and strong emotions.
Our Take: Creator Cristóbal Garrido establishes a lot of characters in the first episode of When You Least Expect It, with the potential that the world the show occupies is bound to get bigger and more complicated as we get deeper into the lives of the people in the grief support group. What we appreciated, though, is that he still managed to let the stories of all of the members of the group breathe and slowly get into their stories.
What the first episode shows is promise, and lots of it. It’s the promise that we’ll see some twists and turns in all of the group’s stories — including Dr. Laforet — and that they’ll grow close and support each other through those twists and turns. There’s a bit of a dramatic glow-up, like when Graci comes with Sara when she’s called about Fede getting hurt. We know there are going to be more stories like that, when the group members’ lives intersect. And that promise is what made us enjoy the first episode so much.
The show also has a sense of humor about it, albeit a light one. Luis sending the intern to the first group session was our favorite, but almost every storyline had light moments, and it seems that Dr. Laforet is going to manage the group with grace and humor as well as tough love. But it shows that there are light moments even when you’re enveloped by grief, even if they’re fleeting.
From what we can discern, each member of the group will get an episode that dives deeper into their story, even as we follow everyone in the group. That method will help us see some of their past as well as the reality of their present, which just opens up more story possibilities.
Sex and Skin: Pardo is getting it on with a random woman when his kids return from school earlier than he expected.
Parting Shot: Having broken through with Fede for the first time since Jose’s death, Sara and her son embrace as we see Jose’s silly Christmas sweater on the bed.
Sleeper Star: We are always in awe of child actors that can communicate complicated emotions in a realistic way, so we’re giving this Pablo de Santos, who shows Fede’s grief is always just underneath the surface as Sara tries to get him to open up to her.
Most Pilot-y Line: When Carmen (Vicenta N’Dongo), whom Luis is sleeping with, tells him that he needs to go to therapy before he has a real heart attack instead of an anxiety attack, he tells her, “There are other ways of giving me a heart attack.” That’s one of the unsexiest lines we’ve ever heard in reference to sex.
Our Call: STREAM IT. When You Least Expect It is a series that might fill the This Is Us hole in your viewing habits, as it deals with similar emotions and sense of connection, and it does so in a way that envelops the viewer into its characters’ stories.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.