‘This Is Us’ Cast & Creator on Family Tensions & Real-World Problems in Season 5
“I’ve been working on the first two episodes of the season… since late February,” This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman muses during a conference call with the show’s cast ahead of Season 5’s debut. “It’s the longest I think I’ve ever worked on anything in my life,” he adds.
Debuting in back-to-back installments, “Forty: Part 1″ and Forty: Part 2,” will see the Pearson siblings — known by fans as The Big 3 — ring in a big birthday but with remaining tension in the air. In the show’s Season 4 finale, brothers Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) really go into it, flinging hurtful comments left and right towards each other after disagreeing about their mother Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) Alzheimer’s treatment.
The series chronicling the family’s history over the years will pick up where things left off, as viewers see how the current events are adding pressure to the ongoing storylines. “We were making the decision to kind of have COVID as well as Black Lives Matter woven into the show,” Fogelman says. “When I was sitting down and weighing the decision of what we were going to do, considering where our show lives with this American family that has a lot of different pockets and it spans time, it felt almost irresponsible not to kind of take on the moment.”
The show will grapple with both COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement, with the latter being prominent in Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and Randall’s Philadelphia household.
“As Black as Randall and Beth are, they’re not experts on how to metabolize all that tragedy,” Kelechi Watson says of the tone in the Pearsons’ household. “So I think there’s a way that they deal with it with their kids that is sort of honest and they get to see their parents kind of grapple with it as they’re grappling with it,” she adds.
“They’re the type of parents who invite their kids into that,” continues Kelechi Watson. “It’s not something that they would necessarily shield them from, but try to guide them through.” And the situation is particularly difficult for Randall.
“It’s such a unique perspective for someone like Randall who’s always sort of questioning his identity as it is, but never waving from the fact that he knows that he is black,” Brown shares. “But the way in which he was raised and the conversations that happened in his house are not necessarily representative of the conversations that he wants to have with his children by virtue of what didn’t happen.”
Despite the social issues this family will endure, there’s the question of Kevin and Randall’s brotherhood which remains in tatters after last season. “When we took the fight to that place, it was never intended to be they make up the next week or the next episode,” Fogelman says, hinting at the longevity of the boys’ ongoing beef. “I think that’s a fight that’s been building for 40 years between these two boys and now men who grew up in the same house.”
“Sometimes it takes an event to bring people back together,” Hartley adds, “because I don’t know how motivated both men are to reconcile so quickly.” Brown echoes Hartley sentiment, adding, “I don’t know if we could just sum it up too quickly because it wouldn’t be authentic to what we introduced, but I’m hopeful.”
“One of the things I think people forget sometimes when we talk about the two brothers,” Fogelman says, “in the second episode of the show, when you meet adult Kevin and Randall together, they feel pretty estranged from one another. Like they have not been super close. It’s only been in the course of our [show], this has been the best patch in their adult brotherhood, probably of their adult lives.”
As with most This Is Us conflicts, resolution is somewhere on the horizon but it won’t be easy or nearby. But as star Milo Ventimiglia says, “there’s such humanity to the Pearson men.” And so viewers must have faith that it will work out for the best. Until then, look forward to more tear-inducing drama in the weeks to come as you delve back into the Pearsons’ lives.
This Is Us, Season 5 Premiere, Tuesdays, October 27, 9/8c, NBC