'Even the uplifting, sweet, lighter stuff feels powerful,' says Dan Fogelman of the episode
“It’s very heavy.”
Those are the first words that This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman chooses to describe the season 2 premiere of his NBC family drama — which has already had more than its share of gut-punching, bittersweet moments.
Heaviness was perhaps to be expected, especially considered where our story left off all the way back in March. The season 1 finale ended with Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) exchanging verbal blows in a brutal fight over, well, everything, and after a bad night’s sleep, America’s couple painfully decided to separate, at least temporarily.
The saga resumes in the immediate aftermath of that ugly clash, which exposed a deep lack of communication between the pair, and brought Jack’s drinking problem to scary light. Now they’ll have to pick up the pieces while trying to explain to their three kids why mom and dad are taking time apart. “It’s scarring,” Fogelman tells EW. “I mean, they’ve said stuff they’ve never said. They’ve said stuff in the heat of the moment that clearly, they felt for a while. I think it takes a while to buy it back. The first episode is all about the ramifications of those things that have been said, and the regret.”
Titled “A Father’s Advice,” the premiere feels “big” in other ways, too, according to Fogelman. We check in with the grown-up Big Three — Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley), and Randall (newly minted Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown) — on their 37th birthdays. The trio is chasing those dreams that were revealed in the season 1 finale: Randall is hoping to adopt a third child, Kate is pursuing a singing career, Kevin is shooting that Ron Howard movie in L.A.
“Even the uplifting, sweet, lighter stuff feels powerful,” Fogelman says. “The Rebecca-Jack story at the ending of the episode is very intense. And in a different way, Randall and Beth’s [Susan Kelechi Watson] story has got a giant, exciting scope to it as they’re figuring out what they’re going to do with this quest he is on to adopt. It moves really quickly. It’s because now you know these characters and you feel like you’ve been away from them for a while, so you want to just suck in all this time with them. But we’ve only got 40 minutes and we’ve got eight characters you want to catch up to, so it flies — in a good way.”
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The first few minutes of the premiere (Sept. 26, 9 p.m. ET/PT) will get fans up to speed on all of the characters, with a recently departed soul, William (Ron Cephas Jones), serving as narrator. And viewers will get their first peek at how William will remain part of the Pearsons elsewhere in the episode. “We open the season with young William [Jermel Nakia] but you’re hearing older William’s voice,” says Fogelman. “One of my favorite scenes in the first episode involves an unseen scene from between William and Beth before he took the Memphis road trip. That’s a way we’re utilizing him in the first episode, and every episode will be a little different.”
There are some powerhouse speeches throughout the episode involving many characters, according to Fogelman. “Sterling does one that, on paper, I should be arrested by the writing police for writing such an overwritten speech,” says Fogelman. “There’s no way to put an actor in a position where he’s going to say all this to his wife and it’s going to feel natural — and he pulls it off. It’s so good. And in this episode, every single actor does it. … Mandy is in 60-year-old age makeup, giving a two-page monologue to her adopted son — who’s her age in real life — and she’s just crushing it.” (Preview that scene right here.)
And for those fans fixated on the how-did-Jack-die? mystery, although the complete story won’t be revealed until later this season, Fogelman promises that a “huge piece of the puzzle” is contained within the return episode. (Fogelman was so concerned with keeping it a secret when he circulated the season premiere script to the actors and crew, he omitted that scene.) One thing he’s not afraid to share: the closing minutes of the episodes should not be missed. “The ending has such a wallop to it,” says Fogelman. “I can’t say much about it, but it’s really, really powerful. … There’s a bunch of those kinds of moments that are filled with uplift and you get the tear in your eye in a good way and then the end packs just a huge, romantic, sad, beautiful, melancholy wallop.”
For a rundown of everything to expect this season on This Is Us, click here.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays on NBC.