When “This Is Us” returns for its second season this Sept. on NBC the adult Pearson siblings are going to be pulled in very different directions, despite celebrating their shared 37th birthday. “I like that we have all of these intersections and shared stories, but I also like that we can go off and have our own storylines [too],” series star Justin Hartley tells Variety. “The ability to be able to play together but still be individuals, that’s what makes this such a strong show.”
So when the second season starts, Hartley’s Kevin is working on a new movie, his twin sister Kate (Chrissy Metz) is trying to kick-start her own new career in entertainment, and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) is focusing on being a stay-at-home dad while his wife goes back to work (as an urban planner, by the way).
“Randall’s finding himself in a place that he hasn’t been able to for nine years and really relishing being the primary in the home,” Brown says.
The three months between the events of the first season finale and the second season premiere is not that long of a time in the grieving process, and even though Randall may be happy to be in a new role in his family, it doesn’t mean he is going to have an easier time of things this season from last. “As someone who suffered the loss of a dad, there are moments where you’re good, and there are moments where you’re not so good, and so there will always be triggers for Randall,” Brown says. “But when this season starts, he’s really focused on the adoption process and fulfilling that legacy that Jack and Rebecca started when they brought him home.”
Randall and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) will be exploring a few different paths to adoption, and through them, the show will shine a light on a number of options as well. The routes Randall and Beth consider will come with various levels of excitement for each of them, and series creator Dan Fogelman warns that means they won’t always be on the same page, and therefore their relationship will be tested this season. “Randall and Beth will never separate in this show, but they are going to experience trials and tribulations, and this season will see a big part of that,” Fogelman says.
Relationships are key on “This Is Us,” and though the adult Pearsons live in different parts of the country, Brown promises “The Big Three will always find ways of connecting” through trips back and forth from Los Angeles to New York. Still, for some characters, their romantic relationships are going to take a backseat to the burgeoning careers they are instead prioritizing.
Kevin is working to rekindle a relationship with his ex-wife Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge), but his time and energy may be monopolized by a new film project. Kevin has finally booked something that can legitimize him in the eyes of the industry: a period piece from Ron Howard, co-starring Sylvester Stallone. “This Is Us” is poised to portray the movie-within-the-show, having Stallone play himself in scenes with Hartley, as well as exploring the characters they play within their project.
“It’s a really big deal for him. It’s sort of like a game-changer for him,” Hartley says. “Things are definitely changing, and in a Kevin way you see there are follies along the way to get you to laugh because he’s just sort of dumped into it. He’s been working this whole time, but now people are starting to take him seriously. Here’s what he wanted, and it’s sort of ‘be careful what you wish for because now you’ve got it.'”
Similarly, Kate has finally put herself “front and center” in her own life and is going full force into the world of auditioning to become a professional singer (and yes, that means she will have a musical number in the season premiere). “She’s really making a point to make this her own and show up for herself in ways she never has before. It’s Kate’s thing. She’s definitely pulling from the inspiration of her mom, but it’s Kate’s time,” Metz says.
But being that Kate is over 30 without any track record or real connections in the business, her road won’t be an easy one. “It’s going to be a journey of fits and starts,” Fogelman says. “She’ll have a journey of confidence.”
Cheering Kate on, as always, will be her “ever-supportive” fiance Toby (Chris Sullivan), but their wedding will truly be on the back burner as she focuses on launching her singing career. Fogelman notes that a wedding is “in the works” but is still just in the “gestation period.”
“I think these guys have a ways to go,” he says. “The Big Three kids grew up with a really nice perception of marriage. Randall has taken it and turned it into a really glorious marriage, and [Kevin and Kate] are in various stages of trying. One is on the road to that and the other is farther down the road.”
And Fogelman notes that while the Pearson kids look to their parents’ marriage as one of love and which should be emulated, the show itself left that relationship on a dark note at the end of the first season, which cannot be ignored when it resumes. “There are repercussions,” Fogelman says of Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) post-performance fight. “You don’t come back instantly from that, but I’d like to believe that doesn’t end a very healthy long standing relationship.”
In exploring the intricacies of Jack and Rebecca’s relationship in season two, “This Is Us” will also dig deeper into Jack himself. As the show has explored in the past, a less-than-stellar home life and relationship with his own father set him down a path of trying to do everything possible to be the opposite of the example he felt he had. However, making that choice is not always easy and is not something Jack can do only once.
“We have things we keep to ourselves because we worry about how people re going to view us or take us down a peg, but we’re only human, and we have to go through life. We’re seeing things the man’s experiences that pushed him to the other end of the spectrum to be very good and very hopeful and very inspirational to his family,” Ventimiglia says. “Jack’s biggest challenge is himself. We are all our own worst enemies. We are the ones that second guess ourselves and that stand in our own ways, and Jack needs to get past his past.”
Jack isn’t the only one holding onto the past, though. As explore in the first season, Jack’s seemingly untimely death looms large over his kids, especially Kate. The first season put adult Randall face-to-face with his dead father during a bad trip (on the episode aptly titled “The Trip”), but now that all three Pearson siblings are embarking on major life changes that are bound to result in moments where they could use parental guidance or simple support, the door may be open further to see Jack interact with his grown kids. “The things you want to see are those connections — how dad related to the kids as adults,” Ventimiglia admits. “I know Fogelman is trying to come up with more ways for that. It’s definitely in the works.”
“This is Us” returns to NBC Sept. 26 at 9pm.