When This Is Us became the first massive hit show for NBC since "prestige TV" took over, it's been hailed as a return to the classic family drama, a staple of broadcast networks back when they were the "Big Three." But this show, which focuses on its own "Big Three" (Kate, Kevin, and Randall), is revolutionary in how it presents the story of their family, with episodes that time hop up and down the continuum. But it can be a little frustrating to figure out what happened when. Like, how old were the "Big Three" when Jack died?
This is where it gets complicated because the show hasn't actually been all that forthcoming about this formative event in our characters' lives. We know all three of the kids were born on August 31, 1980. Kate and Kevin were born biologically to Jack and Rebecca, and Randall (who was also born the same day) was adopted quickly after the third triplet, Kyle was stillborn.
We know that also happens to be their father's birthday as well, born in 1944. But when it comes to hard and fast dates in Jack's life, that's where the details end.
Jack Pearson was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1944. At some point in the 1970s, when Jack was in his late 20s/early 30s, he met Rebecca, who is six years his junior. They married at some point between 1975-1980, though the show isn't clear exactly when.
It's Jack who wanted children, and he got his wish. Rebecca got pregnant after Superbowl XIV. We know she and Jack adopted Randall after the third baby of their triplets was stillborn, and we know that that adoption was really hard.
We also know Jack developed a drinking problem. We don't fully know when it started, but we know he first sobered up in 1989. This means the Big Three were nine years old when their father tried to right his life and marriage.
We know that Jack managed to maintain sobriety until February of 1996 when the kids were 15. By then, Randall had been going to a School for the Gifted separate from his adopted siblings for six years. Somewhere around, or just after, August 1995 (their 15th birthday), Kevin started sleeping with his high school sweetheart Sophie (who he would go on to marry). Right around that time was when the big fight between Jack and Rebecca happened.
This is where the timeline basically ends. The next date we can be pretty sure of is ten years later -- in 2006, when Kevin and Sophie break up. (In 2016, they have have been separated for "a decade.") But by then, Jack's been dead for some time. But when?
Kate's fat camp flashbacks give a clue, since they show the funeral, with all three characters clearly teenagers. That means that Jack dies somewhere before the year 2000. We might even say it's before they graduate in 1998, but we can't really be sure. Either way, a parent dying in those late teen years, 16-19, would be a heck of a traumatic event.
And now we know. The premiere revealed the age was 17. So, Jack has one more year to live. He dies in 1997.
The Season 2 premiere will pick up the day after Jack and Rebecca's fight, so perhaps we'll get some more clues to pin down these dates more securely. Creator Dan Fogelman has promised us “a big giant piece of the puzzle" as well. If it's not their dad's death, we're sure it will be important, nonetheless.