As their shared 37th birthday approaches, the state of the Pearson Big Three is better than it was a year ago.
The siblings — biological twins Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley) and adopted brother Randall (Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown) — who are at the core of NBC's This Is Us (returning Tuesday, 9 ET/PT) will try to build on improved relationships with each other as they take on new challenges in Season 2 of the wildly popular drama.
After years of frosty relations, “Kevin and Randall have cleared the air. There’s mutual respect and less resentment,” Hartley says. “Kevin and Kate are as close as ever, but understand they can live independently and still be successful, happy and healthy..”
Deeper understanding of each other — and themselves — may help the trio tackle new goals as life picks up a few months after events in the Season 1 finale:
• Kate, now living with fiancé Toby (Chris Sullivan) in Los Angeles, is pursuing a singing career, following in her mother’s footsteps.
• Kevin is in Los Angeles, too, acting with Sylvester Stallone in a Ron Howard film, while trying to maintain a rekindled relationship with his ex-wife, who lives in New York.
• Randall, who quit his high-powered, time-consuming job, remains on the East Coast, spending more time with family and trying to persuade his wife, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), to adopt a child.
“The first episode is their birthday, coming full circle” from the pilot, Metz says. “They’re having their own individual issues and it all comes to light on their birthday. They’re supportive of one another, but it’s not the birthday they expect.”
The Big Three — as their father, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), dubbed them — offer a great opportunity to explore the bond of shared family experiences, and how they lead to different outcomes, executive producer Dan Fogelman says.
“They were born at the exact same time and grew up in the same home, yet they've taken different things from that upbringing … and their lives are monumentally different," executive producer Dan Fogelman says. But "there's a deep internal connection that comes from having spent 18 years together in the same home."
This Is Us was last season's breakout hit, ranking fourth among all primetime entertainment series and averaging 15.4 million viewers. Its trademark flashbacks, of parents Jack and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) raising younger versions of the trio, provide a unique view of how life has shaped them.
“Kate was very much a daddy’s girl, and that bond was very special. Randall was mama’s boy. That left Kevin betwixt and between,” Brown says.
That helps explain how each responds to life’s challenges, such as Jack’s death during their teens, between the show's multipletime periods.Kate blames herself, which has led to eating issues and other problems, although she made progress last season.
“Kate had to come to terms with how (to) not stay stuck in the past and feel guilty, where she could move forward and say, ‘I’m deserving of following my dreams,’ which is singing,” Metz says.
The siblings' relationships may be improved, but they're still complicated. Kevin and Kate are less co-dependent, but now Kevin must adjust to Kate being in a satisfying romantic relationship.
“He finds he’s kind of the third wheel with Toby and Kate, which is unfamiliar territory,” Hartley says.
And Randall's dream of giving another child the chance he had, however noble, may be easier wished for than done.
"Beth is right by his side, but she doesn't feel quite the same way about adoption," Brown says. "They're both going to take a little time to try to get on the same page."