Trib Total Media TV writer Rob Owen offers a viewing tip for the coming week.
Pre-pandemic, “This Is Us” co-creator/executive producer Dan Fogelman, who lived in Bethel Park as a child, suggested the possibility of shooting scenes for the partially Pittsburgh-set family drama at a Steelers game in the show’s final season. But it appears the NBC series, which begins its final season at
9 p.m. Tuesday on WPXI-TV, won’t get to fulfill Fogelman’s notion.
“Unless Dan is keeping it a secret from us, I don’t think so,” said series star Mandy Moore, who plays Pearson family matriarch, Rebecca. “Covid really threw a wrench into everything. Some of the grander plans that we had for location shooting and what-not, covid made it an impossibility to travel and do that sort of stuff, darn it. I think there really were plans to do that. It just wasn’t possible.”
But Moore said the show’s final season will have “little bits and pieces (of Pittsburgh), things that will be sprinkled in throughout the season, stuff from their childhood,” Moore said. “Pittsburgh is the unspoken character of the show, and so there’s always gonna be those little hints. In one of the episodes we’re filming now there’s a hint of a location in Pittsburgh.”
Moore said the episode she’s thinking of was written by Kay Oyegun, a 2010 University of Pittsburgh grad, who also wrote last year’s Jonny Gamage episode of “This Is Us.”
The new season kicks off with the adult Kevin (Justin Hartley), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) celebrating their 41st birthdays while flashbacks to 1986 show the trio watching the space shuttle Challenger explosion on TV in their school classroom.
The new season’s third episode features the return of Beaver County native Blake Stadnik, who plays the blind rock star adult son of Kate and Toby.
“This Is Us” is in the midst of filming another trio of Big Three episodes — episodes eight to 10 of the final season — with Moore and stars Milo Ventimiglia and Hartley serving as directors on one episode each.
Moore’s episode focuses on Kate. Viewers learned at the end of season five that Kate and Toby will divorce in the future and Kate seemed poised to get remarried to grumpy educator Phillip (Chris Geere, “You’re the Worst”).
“Considering what we know about Kate and Toby’s relationship, and what the inevitable conclusion is there, we’re really going to be getting into the nitty-gritty of the two of (them),” Moore said, noting she had to direct herself in a flashback scene where Rebecca and Jack (Ventimiglia) teach their children to swim. “We had some scenes that Milo and I were both in, in his episode, my episode and Justin’s episode. Justin was really helpful. It’s kind of hard to direct and act. There was a scene and a pool was involved and little kids and it was challenging, so Justin was kind of our eyes on the monitor because we didn’t have the time and the luxury of doing our take and then going back and watching playback. There just wasn’t time, so it was half being in the scene and half directing.”
“This Is Us” viewers have known for a while now through flash-forward scenes that Rebecca will not survive the series. She’s in decline and has an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
“For my character, she’s on this very particular trajectory with her health with a bit of finality to it,” Moore said. “And there are interesting parallels and echoes to what we’re all doing as a cast saying goodbye to these characters and this family.”
Moore said Rebecca is trying to be as present as possible and savor her time with her family, sharing with her children memories of their childhood while she still has the capacity to do that.
“Rebecca has always handled what life throws at her with grace and composure and presence of mind,” Moore said. “She’s handling this particular curveball with the same kind of reaction, She’s just trying to be a steady force for her family.
“It’s harder for me as an actor. I grieve for her and what she’s losing and what she’s slowly walking toward,” Moore continued. “I have to be careful not to let Mandy’s sadness and heartbreak inform how Rebecca feels. It is heartbreaking, but Rebecca just seems to really understand that this is unavoidable and she’s gonna take the bull by the horns and live her best life. It’s given her a freedom and almost a sense of being carefree and joyful in a way we haven’t seen as much since Jack passed away.”
Moore said “This Is Us” will finally tell the story of how Rebecca wound up married to Jack’s best friend, Miguel (Jon Huertas), including an event that drove them apart for a decade. Moore said the catalyst for the pair going their separate ways has been filmed, adding, “I know there’s a big episode coming up where people will get a whole Miguel and Rebecca backstory. That’s something I’ve been waiting the whole series for.”
As for her career post-“This Is Us,” Moore said she’s going to release a new record and, covid-permitting, go on tour. She’s open to another TV series as long as it’s not “any kind of time-traveling, ensemble family drama,” she said. “I feel like I’ve really checked the box on that. I think it will have to be something wildly different where I play a serial killer or a crazy period piece or a Western. It has to be something so totally different that there’s no way that comparison would even be possible.”
As for “This Is Us” not coming to Pittsburgh, Moore said she’s disappointed it won’t happen.
“That just means we need to do something in, like, five years when there’s some inevitable reunion and we’ll film it in Pittsburgh,” Moore said. “It’ll be perfect.”