The flash-forward scene that wrapped up season 3 of This Is Us left viewers with a few questions about the future of the Pearsons — or rather, the Pearsons in the future — but here’s another question to ask: What drama(s) will soon entangle the family in the present day?
Flash-forward mysteries aside, the season 3 finale left two of the Big Three on promising notes, with Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) working through their marital distress with a move to a Philadelphia, and Kate (Chrissy Metz) bringing home her premature baby from the NICU. Meanwhile, Kevin (Justin Hartley) broke up with girlfriend Zoe (Melanie Liburd) over their incompatible views on children (he = yes, she = no), though he seemed ready to embrace change as he moved back to L.A. And don’t forget, the Big Three’s matriarch, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and stepdad Miguel (Jon Huertas) are also headed West to help with babysitting duties. So, what is the first thing that comes to the mind of creator Dan Fogelman when he thinks about the start of season 4?
“Restarts for everybody,” he tells EW. “And midpoints. I think it’s going to be very ambitious and sprawling in terms of how it plays with time. Many of our characters are in the middle of their stories, and that’s a point where characters are opening up to new things and new things are starting. That becomes a very exciting period for almost all of the characters, and for some of them, maybe a very scary period in terms of how fraught their storylines are.”
He notes that the scope of the territory covered by the time-hopping family drama in season 3 — “everything from a very intensive Vietnam story line with an estranged uncle, through a premature childbirth and a relapse into addiction, all the way through an exploration of a marriage in full” — set the tone for what he hopes will be an enterprising season 4. “I think we’re going to try to be equally ambitious in the amount of stuff we cover,” says Fogelman. “In some ways because characters are restarting — and Randall and Beth’s family is moving, and Toby and Kate are bringing a baby home, and we’re going to continue the Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca origin story — it’s going to feel in some ways almost like a version of season 1 in the middle of our series, in that we’re starting these new stories after we’ve told a lot of the stories in full for the past three seasons.”
Randall and Beth are certainly in throes of a new beginning, as they transplant their three daughters to Philadelphia at a time when Randall was concerned about stability for them, especially adopted daughter Deja (Lyric Ross). “I was a kid who’d moved four times before fifth grade, so moving to a new area, especially when you’re in that stage of adolescence, that 9-to-14-type range, is really exciting, but it can also be a really traumatizing type of thing,” Fogelman recently told EW. “I think we know that Beth and Randall are the type of parents who will be on top of it in all the best ways. But that nuclear family has a journey ahead of them, literally and figuratively.”
Fogelman has already penned the script for the season 4 premiere, and he can confirm one thing: It does not return viewers to the distant future, where those mysteries abound. “In order to start returning to that period, you first have to fill in some of the middle, and that’s what’s going to start happening in these next few years,” he says. “They’re going to inform what you’ve already seen.”
And those next few years are now written in ink. Earlier this month, NBC renewed This Is Us for three more seasons.