This Is Us has always been the story of its viewers. Its timeline-jumping ways make it one that tells 100 years of the United States, from 1948, when Jack is born, to 2048, when Hope arrives. But at its heart, it's about how the world may change, but families don't. In keeping with that spirit, series creator Dan Fogelman revealed This Is Us Season 5 will have a coronavirus storyline. It's a bold and risky choice, but Fogelman believes it will make the series stronger.
The entertainment world has choices to make when it comes to dealing with the current coronavirus crisis. For some, providing an alternate reality where viewers can escape pandemic stress is the right move. For others, like Grey's Anatomy, which already prided itself with ripped-from-the-headlines medical stories, avoiding the crisis would be pointless.
This Is Us could have gone either way. The series' trajectory has been long planned out. Even before NBC greenlit all six seasons, Fogelman filmed scenes for the series finale with the child actors before they aged up. Even smaller stuff, like scenes from Season 5's premiere, were filmed early on, shown in a flash-forward that aired last fall. Continuing as if 2020 turned out as assumed instead of what it is would be understandable.
But This Is Us is titled as such for a reason. The Pearsons are us. They watch HBO's Watchmen, vote for Obama in 2008, and struggle with coming out on social media. On Twitter, Fogelman confirmed the series was making the hard choice to chronicle the way we live now.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, the series' creator explained the process behind the shows' decision.
I keep saying, 'As if juggling this show with 18,000 timelines and characters isn’t hard enough.' It really is a complicated question. It's been complicated for all shows. I can't tell you the amount of debate that has gone into everything from our show existing in a world that corona has not happened, like many shows are going to choose to do, to making the entire first nine episodes all happening during a quarantine period in our off-season. We've been all over the map. I think we have a plan that splits the balance... But you know, we're fluid writers. We have the ability to adjust as needed.
There are many moving parts to a pandemic story. For example, Kate and Toby are a high-risk family, and Kevin works in a profession (showbiz) that's all but disappeared.
Then there's Randall. As a local politician, he would likely be at the heart of dealing with testing, mask mandates, emergency rent moratoriums, and schools. This Is Us has thus far threaded the needle on politics by focusing on hyper-local issues. But it seems hard to imagine how the writers could avoid addressing the national failure to flatten the curve.
But Fogelman believes the choice to keep things real will ultimately make his show's already-planned ending better. He told Entertainment Weekly:
We have a carefully crafted plan through six seasons of the television show that hundreds of people have now devoted for four-plus years of their lives executing... What's happening in the world may shift the details of how things happen, but the big moves continue to happen — and actually potentially heighten and make better the television show then maybe some of our initial plans, because that's our job.
This Is Us Season 5 does not yet have a premiere date.
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