‘This Is Us’ – Dan Fogelman Interview on Season 3, Flash Forwards, and Managing Storylines

This Is Us Season 3 Dan Fogelman

‘This Is Us’ season 3 (Photo by: NBCUniversal)

Season three of This Is Us has added new members to the Pearson family. We’ve learned that Uncle Nick (Michael Angarano/Griffin Dunne) didn’t die in Vietnam, but is still alive in the present day. We’ve seen flash forwards where things don’t look great for Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown).

So midway through the third season of NBC’s hit drama, the Television Critics Association visited the set of This Is Us and previewed next week’s episode (episode 13 airing February 19th). Series creator Dan Fogelman was there to answer some of our questions about where This Is Us is going. This Is Us airs Tuesday nights at 9pm ET/PT on NBC.

Will we see more of both incarnations of Uncle Nick?

Dan Fogelman: “Nicky has a gigantic part in the episode coming up. It’s basically the second half of the episode that we left on. It’s left open ended in this season a little bit. We’ve kind of fallen in love with both actors and the characters. Not only are we in love with the character and the actors, we also love what it does for Kevin’s storyline and for all the family’s storylines. Hopefully we make our way back. It’s a little bit about his recovery and what happens there.”

As far as Beth and Randall’s marriage, are you throwing more in their way?

Dan Fogelman: “Yes, in a way it starts with Beth’s episode. Not that it’s about Beth and Randall and their marriage, but it starts a series of events. I think the Vietnam story and Jack’s story and Jack and Rebecca story were such a big part of the front half of our season, and the back half of the season has a huge Randall and Beth component where we kind of put them in a washing machine a little bit and see which way they come out.

It’s very exciting. We have two tremendous actors who are also tremendously likable and now that people know how Jack died, I’d say the probably number one question I get in my regular life is are Randall and Beth going to make it? Are they okay? That means people are invested in their marriage and their story and that’s a good thing. They get a lot of screen time in the back half of this season and it’s very good.”

Will the flash forwards get more prominent?

Dan Fogelman: “There’s a big component of them in the back half of this season but it’s a little bit deeper into the season. There are reasons for them and things that go on that by the time we’re here hopefully a couple of years from now, everyone will go, ‘Okay, I get all of it now.'”

Will there be a cliffhanger?

Dan Fogelman: “There’s a lot of answers given this season. We’re finding a lot of pleasure in building out storylines and then answering them, and then creating new storylines. This season I think we’ll give a lot of the stuff that people have been waiting for, if not almost all.”

Are we still getting flashbacks to Rebecca and Miguel’s courtship?

Dan Fogelman: “Yes, not this season but it’s a place we want to go. That’s a slightly different time period for us and so when we enter new time periods, we do so gently so that the audience doesn’t get time period whiplash. We’re mindful of it so when Rebecca and Miguel got together was not immediately after Jack’s death, so you’re talking about a couple of years after that, some time after that. We’ve seen in 2006 him reach out for the first time and send an e-mail. So that’s a whole different time period and we just like to be careful when we go there, but we will get there. Miguel has a big part to play in the rest of the season.”

What’s your birds eye view for the series?

Dan Fogelman: “We have an unusual process in our writers room. Most shows when they finish production, right now we’re shooting our finale right now. Most shows go on break for about four or five months on hiatus. We don’t really take a hiatus. We take a month or two but we stay. And that allows us to not just get a head start on breaking the next season, but really get a head start on making sure we have the right plans for the next multiple set of seasons.

We have an endgame for this show in mind. So, what we do is we plan towards that all the time. What we’ve learned in the show is sometimes you can make one little decision that you don’t think is that important or that meaningful. It’s just a moment you like in the show. Then when you get to 14 episodes from then and you realize, ‘Oh no, I’ve pinned us in by making that decision,’ in a way that forces me to make a decision I don’t want to make. So very early on I learned that lesson of let’s not put ourselves in that position because of the way we play in time. So we map out everything.

If we’re talking about a storyline for our character in season four, we force ourselves to take it through all the way through multiple seasons to make sure we’re not painting ourselves [into a corner]. That’s why we work lots of hours and we kind of work year round to make sure we have time to do that.”

Does the aging of your child actors factor into the stories you tell?

Dan Fogelman: “We keep them all on severe hormones. No, we tried to be mindful when we cast the kids, we cast two sets of kids, right? We cast 16/17-year-olds and 10/11-year-olds. I knew that we weren’t going to make 11 seasons of this television show because that’s never been how it’s built. So by the time we get to the end of our series, our little kids should butt up against where our teenagers started. As long as we’re mindful of that, which shouldn’t be a problem for a while, we’re okay.

What’s really interesting, now our teenage kids are college kids. So we get to enter a period in their lives where they’re transitioning and those are interesting stories to tell. How they went to college and kind of reinvented themselves after their father died. Our little kids who have always been such cute little muppets as adorable kids are entering puberty and adolescence which brings with them a whole string of different stories to tell. So all that is really interesting for us. It’s not problematic yet.”

Is that by default or design?

Dan Fogelman: “Design and not staying past our welcome, because if we did we’d be screwed.”


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