Ever since This Is Us debuted last fall—and Milo Ventimiglia’s patriarch Jack was revealed to have died in the drama’s present-day time line—a growing number of fans have been eagerly awaiting the details of his death.
Those answers are coming in Season 2 of the hit series, which debuts on Sept. 26, but creator Dan Fogelman told reporters at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour in L.A. that his show is about much more than when or how a character dies.
“If that is a question that is haunting people, they will get all the answers about that that they need and want” this season, said Fogelman. The Season 2 premiere contains “a giant piece of the puzzle.”
Fogelman called Jack’s demise the “hinge” on which the entire show pivots, noting that he divides the events of his show, which features many different time periods in the lives of its characters, into “before” and “after” the character’s death. This season is ““very much about that hinge,” he said.
The creator and cast said they weren’t expecting the audience to become so infatuated with exactly when and how Jack would die. “The attention it gets catches you off guard” said Fogelman, noting that the plan for his demise will roll out exactly as he initially conceived it when he started the show. “We have a plan. We have not strayed from the plan.”
While he appreciates the audience’s enthusiasm, Fogelman said he tries to tune out some of the online chatter about the show, which keeps him from unintentionally moving the storyline toward the soapier elements that feed much of the social conversation. “You have to be cognizant that it doesn’t become a soap opera. … It’s all a balancing act,” Fogelman said. “Our first episode will feed the beast enough. … Our plan we’ve had all along with fulfill people.”
In addition to answering the questions about his death, this season is going to show Jack in a different light. “We’ve painted the picture of the world’s perfect dad” in Season 1, and Season 2 will “show the struggle of that [character],” said Fogelman.
When the show returns, “a little bit of time has passed” in the present day, which shows the three siblings—Sterling K. Brown’s Randall, Chrissy Metz’s Kate and Justin Hartley’s Kevin—celebrating their 37th birthday, making it a full year since the events of the pilot. Randall is continuing his plan to adopt a child, Kate is pursuing a singing career and Kevin is making a movie with Sylvester Stallone (who also will be a “father figure” to him, said Fogelman) and continuing to date his ex-wife.
Meanwhile, the flashback portion of the premiere episode will pick up the morning after a big fight between Mandy Moore and Ventimiglia’s characters from the finale, which led to at least a temporary separation.
Ron Cephas Jones, who plays Brown’s biological father and whose character William died last year, will still be a part of the cast. “The premise of the show is you’re watching how the past informs the present,” said Fogelman. He is “very much opening our season in his own way.”
After all, “someone dying on our show really doesn’t affect things,” said Fogelman, who noted that Ventimiglia’s Jack has been dead the whole time, and the actor was nominated for an Emmy.
Fogelman said he wasn’t surprised that there weren’t any This Is Us clones slated to debut on other networks this year, noting that being able to make audiences laugh in one scene and get emotional in the next is “something I’ve been chasing my entire career.” Even so, “the cast is what makes this work,” and they’re all under contract to his show.