The Television Critics Association got to visit the set of This Is Us last week. We also got a special preview of next week’s episode, which focuses on Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson)’s backstory.
Standing in the lawn of the Pearson house, This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman answered our questions about what’s coming up on the show. This Is Us airs Tuesday nights at 9PM on NBC.
WLE: You’ve always said you have a whole biography of the Pearson family. Was uncle Nick always part of that?
DF: Yeah, we always had a really strong history of what Jack’s family was going to be on the biggest level. We figured that it would be really interesting to spend the first two seasons getting to know this man as a father all the way up to how he died. And then it would be interesting in the third and/or fourth seasons to go backwards and learn about his life before we had actually gotten to know him the first two seasons of the show. That’s a really interesting thing to introduce a character one way and then learn about everything that had come before for him. But in order to do that, you have to kind of know a lot about where you’re going because otherwise you’ve built the character incorrectly in the second time period which aired first.
WLE: Is Griffin Dunne going to become a regular whom the big three as adults interact with?
DF: It’s possible but I think our next episode leaves things a little open ended, and then there’s more to come.
WLE: Does Nick want to be a presence in their life or do they want him to be a presence in theirs?
DF: It’s a big part of the next episode that’s coming up.
WLE: Do you have as detailed a biography of Toby and his family?
DF: I do. We’ve shown a lot about Toby and his family but we kind of know a lot about the basics of all of the families. We’ve always kind of had a real plan for them. What’s interesting in the Beth episode that airs in two weeks is Beth, probably more than all the other characters, we don’t know a lot about her family’s background. We’ve met Toby’s parents. We know a little bit about his backstory. Beth has been very much one of our most beloved characters but outside of having a cousin who had come to live with her for a little bit in Melanie’s character, we don’t know a ton. Her episode really fills in a lot of those gaps and I think people will be surprised what they learn about her.
WLE: Do you think eventually we’ll see Beth flashbacks?
DF: Yeah, the episode that’s coming up with Beth is a lot of that kind of stuff. You’re really telling Beth’s adolescent story in full.
WLE: Did your biography of the Pearsons extend all the way to the flash forwards?
DF: Yeah, the initial plan for the series always had the plan of how we were going to play in time and when, and when we would go to that stuff and what we would show. Details obviously always evolve. I would like to pretend that I had multiple, multiple, multiple seasons mapped out to the nth degree from the start, but in terms of the big picture stuff, I have when we would go to that deep future, when we would show Sterling in the future during the Super Bowl episode, when we would show that future a little bit more. Those things were always mapped into the big picture map of the show.
WLE: If we’re thinking this leads to divorce for Randall and Beth, is it safe to say This Is Us is not going exactly where we might expect?
DF: It’s very safe to say this back half of the season is pretty intense. I’m very, very proud of it. I’m way ahead of you guys right now. I’m almost kind of done right now. So yeah, these last seven episodes are as proud a string of episodes as I’ve ever been in our 54 episodes of the show, but some really surprising things happen. I think sometimes people think oh, they had some surprises or they had some big moments, but it’s hard to sustain that in the back half of a 54th episode.
Q: Are there any other new characters coming in?
DF: There are. I’m not allowed to yet. It’s more than guest stars in the back half of this season. Next season is a big one. It’s a role and not an actor yet but there’s going to be some big new stuff happening in the show that directly affect characters in a very exciting way. We don’t have the actors yet but there’s big stuff ahead in that way.
WLE: Was Nick’s traumatic incident in Vietnam always what we saw?
DF: It was always what we saw because we never had anything else. That was a detail when you ask how much did you know going in and how much evolves? We knew something traumatic had happened to fracture Jack and Nicky and you would think that Nicky had died but in fact he hadn’t. That was always part of the history of the family. I didn’t quite know exactly what I wanted the incident to be. Then Tim O’Brien, who wrote The Things They Carried and is one of our great American authors on Vietnam came in, that was a detail that he brought to the table for us. He had had experiences being with people and hearing stories of people who went fishing during Vietnam in those little boats with grenades and he knew of an incident I believe where something tragic had happened accidentally.
WLE: Is Kate’s baby coming by the end of this season?
DF: It’s possible.
Q: How did you figure out how to keep integrating Jack into the story after you answered the big question of his death?
DF: Well, it’s always been part of the big question of the show or the big plan for the show which is both Jack and Rebecca, in terms of one of the main storylines is them as teenagers and the kids are all going out of the house and he’s dead so where are we going and how are we keeping them involved? What we keep finding is we always thought about it and we have plans and we were going to Vietnam this season into their courtship period quite a bit. We know where we’re going in a period next season that allows us to stay there. We love living with those 11-12 year-old versions of the kids which we call the Milo with a mustache period. That always gives us him and that’s never problematic. What we’re also starting to do is now that people know the show, we can do things like we did last week where we can do this episode with just two storylines where Milo is going to track down his brother and the kids are going to track down their uncle, just two storylines in the same episode and our audience has showed a willingness to go with those type of stories and we can be more selective in what we tell and how we tell it.