Next Tuesday, October 27, NBC’s This Is Us launches its fifth season with a two-hour premiere. That is a big deal — This Is Us is the first NBC scripted series and the first returning broadcast drama to debut new episodes this fall as the coronavirus pandemic delayed start of production on all shows and continues to impact filming on a daily basis.
That was not the original plan — NBC initially announced that the This Is Us two-hour Season 5 opener would air November 10, the Tuesday after the November 3 presidential election. Days later, the cast of the show announced on social media that the premiere was moving up two weeks, to the Tuesday before the election.
During a This Is Us press call on Friday, series creator Dan Fogelman explained why.
“It was really important to me — and to us — to get these episodes on before the election, not because they are political but because I think they are difficult and they are hopeful, and we felt it was important to us to put them on TV now with no agenda other than that,” he said. “But it also created intense rush.”
To have not one but two hourlong episodes ready so quickly, the cast and crew had to shoot on weekends and the editors have been working night and day to finish the cuts, Fogelman said, adding that he only “locked” the episodes late Thursday (last night), and they are still being mixed and are missing visual effects.
Fogelman said that he has been working continuously on those two episodes since late February as scripts were changed to incorporate the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests in the present-day storyline. While This Is Us has always been about American life and not about politics, “it felt almost irresponsible not to take on the moment,” he said.
We saw a glimpse of pandemic’s presence on the show in the first Season 5 trailer, which features Kevin wearing a mask.
“We’re spending a lot of time in the family cabin this year, by design,” Fogelman said. While the cabin already was revealed as the location of The Big Three 40th birthday celebration, other use of the dwelling is believed to be tied to COVID-impacted storylines.
The pandemic is impacting This Is Us production too, with everyone wearing face shields and masks.
“Actors are literally in plastic bubbles between sets,” Fogelman said. “It’s a brave new world on set but we found our normalcy pretty quickly; we haven’t lost our rhythm on set.”
Sterling K. Brown, who plays Randall, spoke of the way This Is Us will reflect the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It’s such a unique perspective for someone like Randall, who’s always sort of questioning his identity as it is, but never wavering from the fact that he knows that he is Black,” he said. “But the way in which he was raised and the conversations that happened in his house are not necessarily representative of the conversations that he wants to have with his children, by virtue of what didn’t happen.”
Brown also teased “a really interesting come-to-Jesus moment” for Randall, which will be featured in the Tuesday episodes. “I think it’s fascinating.”
The Season 4 finale featured the gut-wrenching Kevin-Randall fight. While the flash-forward at the end of the final hinted that the brothers reconcile eventually as they are seen together by their mother’s bedside, that won’t happen for a while. The brothers’ rift “is in the front and center of our premiere, and it will be in front and center of our show for for quite a bit,” Fogelman said.
Added Justin Hartley, who plays Kevin, “When you have fights like that, sometimes it takes an event even to bring people back together because I don’t know how motivated these men are to reconcile so quickly.”
Season 5’s planned trajectory has not been adjusted following the news of star Mandy Moore’s pregnancy. “There may be a brief period, a window when we don’t see a lot of old Rebecca on the show, because she would have some really complicated explaining to do, but other than that, we are sticking with the plan,” Fogelman quipped.
Also not changing is the overall course of the series, said Fogelman, who plans to wrap the series in six seasons.
Here is a clip from the premiere followed by a trailer:
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