Premiering on NBC in September of 2016– following what felt like six months of hype-building commercials– This Is Us was an immediate hit that resonating with millions of viewers looking for a TV show with heart. The show follows a family through three different eras as they navigate personal and social issues including adoption, divorce, racism, weight struggles, mental illness, and just about anything else a TV show can throw at viewers to make them happy, sad, and angry cry.
This Is Us has a dynamite cast that mixes existing superstars (Mandy Moore), established TV vets (Milo Ventimiglia, Sterling K. Brown, Justin Hartley), and actors in their breakout roles (Chrissy Metz, Susan Kelechi Watson). Creator Dan Fogelman adds This Is Us to an impressive resume that already included writing the screenplays for Cars, Tangled, and Crazy, Stupid, Love, as well as creating such varied TV shows as the fantasy comedy Galavant. All of that talent has come together to create a show that already feels like an institution only two seasons in.
Of course, even the most wholesome, family-focused of shows aren’t without their closeted skeletons. Here are 15 Dark Secrets You Didn’t Know About This Is Us.
15. Forced Cliffhangers before every Christmas hiatus
TV show seasons aren’t what they used to be. Once upon a time, basically every TV show started in the fall and ended in late spring, and those two times are when major cliffhangers were started and resolved.
These days, series start and stop at all different times of the year, and shows go on hiatus at different– and for longer– times than they used to. Mid-season breaks are extremely common now, and for most shows that break happens just before Christmas. In the case of This Is Us, the show’s writers are charged with having the last episode before each Christmas break be a cliffhanger that leaves fans eagerly awaiting the show to return the following year.
14. The cast banded together for a raise very early on
Typically, actors on TV shows don’t start angling for higher paychecks until their shows have been on the air for several seasons. Traditionally, actors are signed to six-season contracts, and that’s why so many TV show casts get massive pay raises after six years on the air – because it’s finally contract renewal time. In the case of the This Is Us cast, they didn’t wait six seasons. In fact, they barely waited two.
Following huge ratings of the show’s second season premiere, the cast got together and demanded “huge” pay increases to reflect the success of the show. Considering those raises only amounted to the top-paid cast members getting $80K per episode, it definitely feels as though they were being underpaid for their parts on a massively successful show.
13. It almost had a different– and really awful– title
This Is Us seems like the perfect name for the show, even if it’s a bit generic and can also apply to countless other shows, movies, books, etc. Whatever your personal feelings on the title, there’s little doubt that you’ll agree it is way better than what the show was originally going to be called.
Perhaps taking a cue from pop star Adele, who has thus far named all of her albums after the age she was when she recorded them, This Is Us‘s original title was going to be 36, the age all of the characters are turning at the start of the show.
12. Chris Sullivan wears a fat suit
As previously explained, so much of what is compelling about This Is Us is the authenticity, particularly from Chrissy Metz’s performance as Kate. So it’s a bit ironic that Kate’s fiancé, Toby, is portrayed in a way that is the exact opposite of authentic.
When it was revealed that actor Chris Sullivan wears prosthetics to make him appear larger than he really is, many fans felt betrayed. “Why not just find an actor of that size?” many viewers asked. It’s difficult to hear of an actor wearing a “fat suit” and not have it conjure offensive caricatures of overweight people from silly movies like Austin Powers and Shallow Hal.
11. Some fans defended a character’s use of a racial slur
“The Most Disappointed Man” episodefeatured one of the few instances of the uncensored use of the n-word on network television.
While the utterance of the word– spoken by guest star Delroy Lindo, playing the judge presiding over the adoption proceedings– sparked controversy in and of itself, it was some of the fan reactions that were even more surprising. While reactions to use of the word were mixed, more people praised the show’s bravery in using the word than condemned it. In the end, it was the people who particularly defended the character who used the difficult word, saying that he was speaking a truth that the Pearsons needed to hear, that gave us the biggest surprise to come from the word being used.
10. Chrissie Metz had less than a dollar to her name when she was cast
There’s no denying that This Is Us has been a breakout role for Chrissy Metz, launching her into mainstream success and recognition. It wasn’t her first role, but her acting resume– which goes back to 2005, had largely consisted of one-off appearances in TV shows– had been rather lackluster and includes less-than-glamorous credits like “Chunk” and “Heavy girl.”
Even though Metz previously flirted with success via her five-episode stint on the “Freak Show” season of American Horror Story, it wasn’t a long-term, bill-paying role. The actress has recently admitted that her acting gigs were so few and far between that her bank account balance was literally 81 cents the day she was told she got the part on This Is Us.
9. Mandy Moore’s co-stars revealed her secret engagement to the press
Fans had been waiting for Mandy Moore’s longtime relationship with musician Taylor Goldsmith to go to the next level, and when Moore was seen out and about with a rock on her finger, the rumor mill began to churn that Goldsmith had finally popped the question. Eventually, that rumor was confirmed– only, it was Moore’s This Is Us co-stars that spilled the tea.
At the release party for the This Is Us soundtrack, a reporter for Entertainment Tonight asked Moore’s co-stars Chris Sullivan and Jon Huertas about that ring, and Sullivan came right out with it: “I was just in the studio with her boyfriend, well, now fiancé.” Heurtas followed up with, “I’m really happy that they’re going to be joining the club.”
8. Emmy nomination revoked
To say that This Is Us is award bait would be an understatement– it’s exactly the type of show that critics love to shower with praise via little golden statuettes. The series has been nominated for over 50 mainstream awards already during its short run, including five Emmy awards (of which Sterling K. Brown won the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 2017).
However, not all of the show’s award nominations have gone so smoothly. In addition to acting and writing awards, This Is Us has also garnered nominations in technical categories, including Outstanding Contemporary Costumes for a Series. But that nomination ended up being revoked by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences after it was determined that too much of the episode in question took place in the past, and thus wasn’t eligible for that particular award.
7. Kate is based on creator Dan Fogleman’s sister
One of the primary arcs on This Is Us focuses on Kate, played by Chrissy Metz, and her struggle with being plus-sized. With so few truly full-figured women on television or in pop culture in general, it’s refreshing to see a show feature a character who struggles with her weight and isn’t just “Hollywood overweight”– meaning, basically, anything above a size 2.
The reason that Kate is such a believable character that many fans can identify with isn’t just due to the talent of Metz– creator Dan Fogelman based Kate and her issues on his real-life sister, Deborah. In fact, Deborah is a consultant on the show in order to help ensure that Kate continues to be a believable and identifiable character.
6. A Kevin Spacey reference had to be removed
The fallout from the sexual misconduct allegations that have been levied against multiple Hollywood figures in recent months hasn’t only affected projects that the accused are directly involved in. Even casual mentions of one of those disgraced actors can lead to problems.
In the episode title “The 20s”, Kevin’s actor roommate casually mentions that he’s going to be appearing in a movie with Kevin Spacey. It wasn’t a controversial name to bring up when the scene was written or even when it was filmed, but as the troubling allegations against Spacey came to light before the episode actually aired, producers decided to edit out the reference and change it to something else.
5. The show predicted Kardashian pregnancies
A TV show taking a shot at the Kardashian/Jenner clan isn’t unusual, as when This Is Us compared the famous family to gremlins in the season two premiere. What is especially interesting about that dig, though, is its context.
When Justin’s girlfriend, Sophie, was sad that her missed L.A. trip meant she wouldn’t get to see any Kardashians, Justin reassured her, “[They] aren’t going anywhere. They’re like gremlins. By next week, there’ll be, like, a bazillion more of them.” Funny, yes, but also surprisingly prescient: the very day that episode aired, sources were reporting that Khloe Kardashain was pregnant. Moreover, just days prior, buzz began to circle around sister Kylie Jenner also being pregnant.
4. Mandy Moore is younger than her TV daughter
Given This Is Us‘ time-hopping setup, characters are seen at different ages. In the case of the characters who are children in one era and adults in another, different actors obviously need to be brought in to play the characters at their vastly different ages. In the case of adults, who just go from young to old, the actors pull double duty as their characters at different ages with the help of makeup.
For Mandy Moore to be younger than Chrissy Metz, who plays her adult daughter, isn’t that weird when they are being shown in storylines that take place decades apart. But where things get strange is when Moore plays the elderly version of Rachel Pearson, interacting with daughter Metz who is obviously many fictional years younger than her– even though Metz is actually four years older than Moore in real life.
3. Code words are used on set to protect plot secrets
No matter how good a show’s cast and crew might be at keeping plot secrets hidden before they are officially revealed, it can still be tough to keep spoilers from leaking out early. Hundreds of people pass through while shows are being written, planned, and filmed, and that’s a lot of prying eyes and ears that could potentially hear something juicy and go running to the press or social media with it.
How This Is Us helps to keep its secrets under wraps is by using code words to describe crucial upcoming events. Mandy Moore revealed a particular example of this, saying that the burnt-down house that was the cause of Jack Pearson’s death was referred to as “The Marble” in order to add an extra layer of secrecy and keep people from even knowing that there was any kind of major fire in the first place.
2. The story behind “The Most Disappointed Man”
One of the most controversial and emotionally-charged episodes of This Is Us so far is “The Most Disappointed Man”, in which white parents Rachel and Jack Pearson set out to adopt a black child. Trans-racial adoptions continue to be divisive to this day, but it was an even bigger hot-button issue 40 years ago, in the less-progressive era when the episode takes place.
One of the things about the episode that shocked people was that it wasn’t just the white people who objected to a white couple adopting a black child, but black characters as well– maybe even more so. As it turns out, the episode was based on real feelings among some segments of the black community at the time, in particular the National Association of Black Social Workers, who issued a statement in the ’70s that formally condemned black children being placed with white families.
1. Critics accuse the show of being emotionally manipulative
When shows tug as firmly on the heartstrings as This Is Us— and proudly brag about their ability during commercials– they walk a fine line between being authentically emotional and just being manipulative. And a lot of critics feel that This Is Us falls squarely in the latter camp.
Not mincing words, a headline about the show from The Guardian harshly stated: “manipulative drama desperate in pursuit of your tears.” The Daily Beast snarked, “its writers might as well be literally crawling out of your television and squirting a lime into your eyes” and called the show “Kleenex-approved.” Refinery29 says the show is “audience-baiting” in its mission to create “contrived emotion,” and sums it all up by saying that “the acting is…from the school of cry-face emoji.”
Cry-face emoji, indeed!
What do you think of This Is Us? Authentic drama or emotionally manipulative? Sound off in the comments!
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