Thankfully, the show is back next week with storylines inspired by what has dominated everyone’s lives for the past few months. But the decision to wade into heavy waters like the coronavirus pandemic and racial injustice was one not made lightly, creator Dan Fogelman told reporters on Friday.
“Our choice has always been to be apolitical. We don’t speak of, you know, Democrat or Republican or you know who on the show,” he said, presumably referring to President Donald Trump. “It’s more about just American life, and when I was sitting down and weighing the decision of what we were going to do and just considering where our show lives — with like this American family that has a lot of different pockets and spans time — it felt almost irresponsible not to kind of take on the moment.”
The episodes remain told through the lens of the characters who viewers know and love, Fogelman assured, with the focus always on “talking about the human experience and not the political experience.”
The scripts for the first two episodes left actress Susan Kelechi Watson proud of how the show handled the topics. On the series, Watson plays Beth Pearson, wife to Randall, one of the Pearson siblings at the center of the NBC drama.
“Actually, one of the things I said when we first got these episodes was ‘It’s like the eavesdropped in on people’s lives,'” she said. “So much of it was just things that I had lived or I know people had lived.”
The conversations had between Beth and Randall and their children will be frank and reflective of their individual experiences. In the series, Randall, a Black man who was raised in a White family, “has a really interesting sort of come-to-Jesus moment through these first two episodes that we’ll see on Tuesday that I think it’s fascinating,” actor Sterling K. Brown teased.
“They’re the type of parents who I think invite their kids into [the conversation]. It’s not something that they would necessarily shield them from, but try to guide them through, so I think that’s the way that we approach it,” Watson added.
The episodes airing Tuesday were produced under something of a time crunch after the show, like others, was delayed in its production start due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was important to Fogelman and producers, however, that the first two episodes air before the November election.
“Not because they’re political but because I think they’re difficult and then hopeful,” Fogelman said. “And it felt important to us to just put it on TV now with no agenda other than that. But it also created like an intense rush.”
“This Is Us” is currently in production in Los Angeles, where restrictions remain in place due to the pandemic. Though the cast now follows protocols and wears personal protective equipment to remain safe, little else has changed, Fogelman said.
“It’s a brave new world over on set, but we found our normalcy really quickly, and we haven’t lost our rhythm on set believe it or not,” he said.
Fogelman credits the work they’ve put in over the last five years for their efficiency as a production, as well as the cast.
“We keep saying on set, I would not envy a first year show or a pilot being made, who are all kind of finding their rhythm and their relationships and whatnot,” he said.
Headed into its fifth season, “This Is Us” remains the place where heartfelt stories collide with tearful drama. Fogelman said they move forward this season keeping all the ground it’s covered so far in mind as they touch on current events.
“We have not been afraid to touch on things like addiction or body image or race, or Alzheimer’s or any of the myriad of things we’ve taken on,” he said. “So I think we’ve attacked it in hopefully an elegant way that is very much of our show, but really speaks to what our show tries to do and tries to be.”
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