As “This Is Us” heads into its season finale, the team behind the show find they still have so much to say.
Series creator Dan Fogelman looked back on the inception of the series and the legacy of the show going forward for Entertainment Weekly‘s “This Is Us” cover story.
Speaking on the final episode of the show, Fogelman said he was inspired by classic family novels.
“It’s a real epilogue of a family,” he shared. “I’ve always loved when I read these sprawling family novels and there’s that final chapter that gives you that feeling of closing the book and feeling warm, and feeling like you got a sense of closure for this family that you’ve just spent hundreds of years with. I think we’ve checked the boxes. I think you’re going to feel a lot of resolution. I don’t think you’re going to get to the end of it and feel that you have missed anything.”
Series star Sterling K. Brown added to that, saying, “It will be a sweet swan song of remembrance of why this family resonated with people as long as they did. It’s an exhale that says, ‘Okay. Now I can say goodbye.'”
The idea for the show initially came to the showrunner years ago while browsing through his Facebook feed. He thought of a multi-generational show that jumped back and forth in time. It would be ultimately be about how parents’ decisions can have long-lasting effects.
“[It] would all come together in a hospital with an adoption, one child being lost and the other being found,” said Fogelman. “Honestly, I just wrote a story and I wasn’t really thinking about anything until I wrote it.”
While he may not have been thinking of anything while writing it, he said he discovered later on that he was subconsciously drawing from his own life experiences.
“This show, in a weird way, has become a psychological study of my inner workings,” the 46-year-old said. “And by proxy, all of my writers who have poured themselves into it. We weren’t all saying, ‘I’m going to try to capture something I’m feeling inside or grasping at about my childhood.’ It was more of us just telling a story and then after the fact we’re going, ‘Whoa! I put a lot of that on television, didn’t I?'”
The most amazing part of the show for the cast were how much people could relate to the characters and see themselves in it.
Milo Ventimiglia found that a lot of people were looking for their own version of his character Jack.
“What I would hear a lot was people looking for their Jack,” he shared. “Looking for the father figure in Jack, looking for the husband in Jack; later on, it was looking for the son in Jack. They were fascinated with this guy who seemed a bit of a mirage. In every step of the way of playing a man of a different era, I was very aware to make him attainable, make him accessible. He’s a guy that anybody could be if they really put in the effort.”
Mandy Moore found herself falling in love with the relationship that played out between her character Rebecca and Jack.
“Even though they’re held on this pedestal as this standard-bearer of what it means to be in this seemingly perfect marriage, I never felt that way about them,” she said. “I loved that they weren’t perfect. They had a real mutual respect for one another — as individuals and parents — and they saw something in each other that they didn’t necessarily see in themselves, and really celebrated so much of what was in their partner.”
The show was also never afraid to tackle serious real-life issues and in fact, may have been the perfect avenue for exploring these ideas. The premiere of season 5 saw the cast talking about the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Dan said, ‘I think our show is unique in that it can actually take these things on and synthesize them into the story line that we’ve already established,'” explained Brown. “And it was amazing to see the response that [the episode] got. It really struck a nerve, positive and negative. People who were like, ‘If I wanted to watch the news, I’d go to the news. I’d come to this show to escape!’ We’ve dealt with cancer, we’ve dealt with adoption, we’ve dealt with abandonment, and now all of a sudden, when you talk about race, it becomes too close to home? [But] the overwhelming majority of people were like, ‘Thank you for illustrating either a perspective that was different than the one that I had so I could learn something, or for allowing myself to be seen.'”
The beloved show is ending with its sixth season, which was always the plan, but the series creator says NBC was more than willing to see the series go on.
“The conversations were flattering, and they were never forceful,” said Fogelman. “They were always delivered with the right tone, which was like, ‘We know what you said, but we’re checking in.’ And there have been moments where I was like, ‘Oh God, I love these people I’m working with.’ But you have to stick to the plan. The only thing that’s kept us afloat all these years was knowing where we were going. As much as I’m going to miss these people, I do believe it was the right decision for the show with every part of my being.”
While the cast is mixed on whether they would return for a reunion or spin-off, with some on board and some on the fence, the showrunner says he’s done with family dramas – at least for now.
“My well may be drained of family stories,” he said. “So I don’t think a spin-off is happening anytime soon. I don’t really understand what a movie would be, but you never know.”
The series finale of “This Is Us” airs Tuesday, May 24 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.