Since its trailer debuted last May at upfronts, THIS IS US has been one of the biggest watercooler shows of the past year. Nowhere was that more apparent than at the PaleyFest screening and panel this weekend hosted by E! News’ Kristin Dos Santos. The panel was actually the biggest turnout for any PaleyFest event and caused the parking structure beneath the Dolby Theater to be completely sold out. Throughout the night, the audience and those on stage laughed and cried from start to finish.
After screening the pilot episode for the packed house, Dos Santos quickly brought out executive producers and directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, and cast members Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Sullivan, and Ron Cephas Jones. Dos Santos dove right in, using the panel to work out the therapy session that she and fans around the world have needed.
It began with Ventimiglia and Moore, discussing that brutal argument their character’s Jack and Rebecca had in the season finale. The only word the pair could use to describe it: painful. “We separated out chairs [on set],” said Ventimiglia. “Jack and Rebecca needed that separation,” he added before going on to note that the the heartbreaking, single-shot was a “team effort” that had everyone hugging and shaking hands on set after it was done. Dos Santos took things a step further as she said she needed to see Jack and Rebecca/Ventimiglia and Moore have a therapy session with some assistant from Eric and Tammy Taylor of Friday Night Lights. The Pearsons are often compared with the Taylors as the marriage-to-cry-over every week, so it was fitting for Ventimiglia and Moore to do a cold reading of the infamous scene where the Taylors talk about respecting and supporting one another. Moore was particularly entertaining, a clear fan of FNL, who remembered the original scene well.
Some of the biggest surprises of the night were the addition of two more cast members: Gerald McRaney (Dr. K) and Jon Huertas (Miguel). Fans were thrilled with the former but may have groaned a bit at earlier mentions of the latter. Miguel may be one of the most disliked characters on television, but the audience put that aside after the cast each stated what they loved about the character before bringing him on stage. A running theme in the compliments was Huertas “luscious hair” but the best answer came from Ficcara who said, “Without spoiling anything, I forgive him for killing Jack…” It wasn’t a compliment or even true, but it was the most entertaining.
Most television teams will refer to their work as being part of a “family” and This is Us takes that to another level. It turns out that each of the Pearson Big Three has a private message group with their two young counterparts, where they send each other encouraging words and notes on performances. Metz in fact used to rep her 15-year-old self, Hannah Zelle, when she was a commercial casting agent.
The biggest question of the night was naturally how Jack Pearson dies, but unfortunately the cast and creative team, who all know the answer, refused to give it up. Instead, Dos Santos provided a list of possible theories from the internet. Murder, physical illness, and suicide all were brought up with laughter being the main reaction from the cast. Dos Santos fought hard for the idea of a plane crash, citing the fact that Kate hates flying and Kevin destroyed all the model airplanes he made with his dad on the show. While many in the online community had suggested the September 11 crash as the cause (which would not work because of the time and location), Dos Santos pointed out that there was actually a plane crash in 1994 in Pittsburgh that would easily fit into the series. From the surprised reaction from the panel, this course of events is not likely.
The most intriguing theory was in fact that Jack was still alive. Brown, who flew in just for the day to attend the panel, was thrilled at this idea as he instantly began conjuring up images of how Jack could have been observing and laughing at his kids over the years. It turns out Brown is a TV superfan with is castmates calling him out as knowing everything there is to know about television. He proved this throughout the night with references to “jumping the shark,” My Two Dads, etc.
The panel went well over its scheduled time as it seemed like no one in the Dolby Theater wanted to leave, but Dos Santos found the perfect moment to end the night with some help from a fan question. An audience member asked Milo Ventimiglia who he uses for inspiration for his character, to which the actor made a tear-filled dedication to his father who watched, crying alongside Ventimiglia’s mother, in the crowd. With that, the night ended just like every episode of the hit series: everyone in tears.
Emily is a writer and television obsessor. If desired, Emily will talk to you at potentially-annoying-length about topics such as why soap operas are underrated, the current amazing state of underground comedy, and how she avoids TV/films about zombies because most of them do not chew with their mouths closed.
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Emily J | Staff Writer