NBC’s cross-generational, multi-decade family drama “This Is Us” is known for bringing its audience to tears, but in its upcoming third season, it is also out to bring them hope.
“We felt like at the end of Season 2 our family had grieved and processed the loss of Jack at a deeper level than they ever had before, so I think this is a hopeful season, and it’s a season about new beginnings for everybody,” co-showrunner Elizabeth Berger said at the Television Critics Assn. press tour panel for the show Wednesday.
When the 18-episode third season picks up, co-showrunner Isaac Aptaker added, it will be on the Big Three’s 38th birthday. Although he admits the “audience will go with us” as they “break all of the rules,” starting every season on a new birthday “grounds everyone.”
A lot of where the third season will go was “teased” in the second season finale, Aptaker pointed out. Kevin (Justin Hartley), last seen on an airplane to Vietnam, will be exploring more about his father’s earlier life.
In fact, Aptaker said, “we are going to be spending a lot of time in Vietnam” this season.
“This Is Us” brought real-life veteran and author Tim O’Brien in as a consultant to “really get the story right.” Aptaker shared O’Brien not only spent a week in the writers’ room sharing his experiences, but he’s “actually co-writing with Dan Fogelman an early episode that really dives into Jack’s life” at war.
Berger added that it’s “freeing” to move beyond Jack’s death and “get to tell a whole different type of story.”
“To all of a sudden be immersed in the Vietnam war, we think is really significant,” she said.
Other storylines set up in the second season finale that the third season will flesh out include Toby’s (Chris Sullivan) depression and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Tess (Iantha Richardson)’s future. The latter is a “bigger plan for the series,” Aptaker noted, and therefore won’t fully get answered in the next year. But it allows them to “jump to decades we’ve never gone to before” and “play with the storytelling format.”
“What’s so cool about the style of our show is we can keep growing and expanding out in time,” he said. “We’ve really only spent 36 hours with [the characters] and there’s so much more” to explore.
Aptaker also noted that at a time when “movies are so dominated by superheroes and aliens, it’s great” to see stories that “reflect our lives back to us.”
“That’s what TV is for,” he said.