Celebrating the continued Emmys success of his acclaimed NBC drama This is Us — which took eight nominations this morning, including a repeat in the drama series category — creator Dan Fogelman was happy to see that the show’s first season recognition was no “fluke.”
While discussing today’s nominations with Deadline, Fogelman also touched candidly on what’s to come in the intergenerational family series’ anticipated third season, which is currently in production. “We have a lot going on. I think what’s cool about this season and what potentially makes it our biggest in scope thus far is that everybody is kind of getting a new ‘plotline,’” Fogelman said. “The goal of the end of Season 2 was to wrap some things up and start some new chapters. [Season 3] is continuous from where we left them, but they’re starting new chapters.”
Moving forward in its examination of the Pearson family, the series will be “diving heavy” into patriarch Jack (Milo Ventimiglia)’s experience in Vietnam. “One of my writing heroes, Tim O’Brien, who wrote The Things They Carried and many other novels, I just finished actually writing an episode with him that’s an entire Vietnam Jack backstory episode, early in our season,” the This is Us creator shared. “That’s going to be really incredibly exciting and unusual.”
As suggested by Season 2’s final episodes, the couples of Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) will be getting their own forward narrative movement, though Fogelman couldn’t disclose any details here.
With Jack’s death powerfully captured in Season 2, Rebecca (Mandy Moore)’s developing relationship with Miguel (Jon Huertas) will also become a primary focus.
“When we’re picking up that particular storyline, [with] the teenage kids, we’re picking it up pretty immediately a couple of months after their father’s death. You’re seeing the beginning of a storyline where Miguel starts trying to help this family along, this character who has always been polarizing,” the creator said. “I think last season, people actually started to love him, and then started to hate themselves for loving him. But then, they gradually figured out that this guy really has done nothing untoward and is a guy trying to do the right thing.”
“We’re going to dive deeper into that this season and begin this long play of making people actually start rooting for Miguel in a serious way,” Fogelman added, “which I think will be really exciting when we pull it off.”
With the introduction of flashforwards as a new storytelling device in Season 2—acting in juxtaposition to the series’ flashbacks—This is Us fans can expect more jumps to various future timelines down the road. The series’ structure “is complicated, and one of our main goals is making sure that it’s always easily digestible for the audience,” Fogelman said. “Part of that responsibility is continuing to stretch the limits, hopefully, of network television, while still remaining true to what we set out to do.”
Addressing the major challenges with the series of late—including the handling of Jack’s death scene, the aforementioned timelines and the pressures that come with a massive fan base—Fogelman also touched on his forthcoming Amazon feature Life Itself, slated for September, and the through lines in his works to date. For Fogelman, what remains compelling is examining the complicated, beautiful lives of ordinary people, looking at the best of humanity. “It’s not always the sexiest thing and I tend to look at things through a slightly more optimistic lens, which isn’t always in vogue these days. But I think the world could use a little of that right now,” he said. “Despite all the vitriol that’s going on in our country and in the world, when you sit down with people and get past all that bullsh*t, people are remarkably kind and optimistic and emotional. Ask anybody about their parents, or their upbringing, or their children, or their wives or husbands, and you’ll see beauty in that.”
With Life Itself, Fogelman was excited to finally get behind the camera with a passion project he’s been wanting to make his entire life, which he sees as a tribute to his wife and mother. Recalling remarkably strong early reactions to This is Us, Fogelman says he’s seeing the same response in early screenings of his new film.
Looking to the film’s release, Fogelman hopes to bring the adult drama back to cinemas, rejuvenating a genre of filmmaking that has been in limited supply of late in theaters. When Amazon revealed their plans for the film’s distribution, the director saw a strong possibility of doing so. “When Amazon saw it and bought it, they felt they wanted to release it massively wide, like a major blockbuster-type film that normally has superheroes and explosions and that kind of stuff,” Fogelman said. “This is an intimate film with a cast of beloved, exceptional actors, but there’s no concept, and it’s very unusual. That’s really exciting. The film, in a way, can hopefully bring people back to the movie theaters to see that [kind of] thing.”