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‘This Is Us’: How the Underdog NBC Drama Can Win at the Emmys

The cast of "This Is Us" revealed who was returning in Season 2, the producers' favorite scenes, and an emotional Emmy strategy.

THIS IS US Sterling K. Brown NBC "Moonshadow" Randall

“This Is Us”

Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Scene No. 3: Randall and Beth Get a Pregnancy Test

Featured Actor: Sterling K. Brown

Watson was late to the panel because she was shooting a scene from Season 2 nearby, but that gave Brown the opportunity to discuss a funny scene that lightened the mood before things got serious in the following clips.

He talked about deciding to go after “This Is Us” while reading the script from the set of “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” and how he carried a lucky football to his first meeting with Fogelman. (“I did find that weird,” the creator said.)

But Brown made sure to emphasize the importance of characters like Randall on broadcast television; successful, attentive, African-American fathers.

“Image is important,” Brown said. “We grow through exposure, whether it’s in real-life or, God-willing, through TV. Sometimes it’s easy to dismiss people you don’t have regular interaction with. It’s a nice idea, that Randall can come into people’s houses who don’t regularly see a lot of black people. They can see that this guy is a man, and maybe next time it’s easier for them to meet someone who’s black.”

Season 2 News: If anything Fogelman revealed on the panel could be considered a spoiler, it’s this: “Randall and Beth will never separate on this show,” he said, noting how this couple is rock solid and their relationship is important because of that.

That doesn’t mean they won’t be tested, and the Pearsons will face a tough task in Season 2: adoption.

“The way they choose to do it is a complicated route,” Fogelman said, adding that Beth is back in the workplace to start the second season — “Beth is an urban planner,” Watson said — and Randall is at home with the kids.

Scene No. 4: Jack and Rebecca’s Finale Fight

Featured Actor: Milo Ventimiglia

There’s not much left to be said about the painful final fight between Jack and Rebecca (Moore). The scene features a few lengthy single shots stitched together in the middle, further emphasizing the unblinking, messy vibe of a brutal exchange between partners.

“It’s designed to capture the worst fight you’ve ever had with your significant other,” Fogelman said. “That is just tour de force stuff from these two.”

What’s worth noting in terms of the Emmy race is that NBC isn’t picking sides. Both Ventimiglia and Brown are up for Best Actor, and both men received equal treatment at the panel. Ventimiglia was prominently featured in two scenes, and so was Brown. Rather than backing the perceived favorite, the strategy seems to be “let the best man win.”

It’s a safe gamble given the bigger picture — NBC certainly doesn’t want to upset the cast dynamic of its highest-rated drama in years — but it could prove costly in a tight race here and in the Guest Actor race. All three of the “This Is Us” nominees received equal treatment there, too.

That could also help the series win in the most important race: Drama Series. Showcasing as many scenes as possible — this was a long event —  and leaning into the challenging material helps it compete against unrelenting dramas like “The Handmaid’s Tale” on their all-important common ground: drama.

Scene No. 5: Kate Dumps Toby

Featured Actor: Chrissy Metz

Metz, who was near tears or dabbing her eyes most of the evening, started crying while talking about the scene where her character decides to break up with Toby (Sullivan).

“A woman in so much pain and turmoil has courage,” Metz said about Kate’s decision to put her health over her heart. “I think we all have that, just sometimes we need to be inspired by a character on television.”

Her reaction seemed to resonate with the audience, and they got really excited when talk turned to Season 2.

Season 2 News: “Is there singing in the first episode?” Metz asked Fogelman, noting how her character is intent on pursuing her artistic dreams.

“Yes,” Fogelman said. “It’s a big part of our season.”

Scene No. 6: William Dies

Featured Actors: Sterling K. Brown and Ron Cephas Jones

The scene that prompted Fogelman’s joke about “The Handmaid’s Tale” (see above) also got Brown talking about his personal life. Brown’s father died when he was 10 years old, and he wasn’t able to see him before he passed.

“I didn’t get to say goodbye in real-life,” Brown said. “But I did here.”

If the scene didn’t already make viewers weep, the audience was damn near dehydrated by the time Brown finished speaking.

Scene No. 7: Kevin’s Speech About His Painting

Featured Actor: The Cast

Perhaps the first strategic error on the part of NBC, the seventh scene featured Hartley, who’s not nominated individually, and made an already lengthy event drag on a bit. That being said, the scene featured all of the cast via montage and emphasized the show overall.

Season 2 News: “I think Justin is going to blow people away this year,” Fogelman said, noting how Kevin’s story will be big in Season 2, including an episode with Sylvester Stallone (played by Stallone himself).

Stallone shot scenes just this past weekend and posted photos on his Instagram account with a lot of the actors.

“He gave some good words of inspiration when we wrapped,” Ventimiglia said. “He gave a speech […] about appreciation.”

Scene No. 8: Ricky’s Big Song

Featured Actor: Brian Tyree Henry

Henry, who was silent throughout most of the panel (because he was only in one episode of the series), was finally given the chance to speak at the very end. He talked about “swagger-jacking” Brown’s show — his long-time friend — during a passionate musical performance captured over many takes and cut together into one, moving song.

But his scene wasn’t shown and then discussed. Rather, it played as the cast left the stage and fans began to get up and head outside (for a 9 p.m. dinner at the after-party). Voters may have missed the number, or at least been eager to eat after a panel that ran late.

Whether this affects Henry’s odds in the Guest Actor category is unlikely, but for a carefully orchestrated event, it may have been the rare missed opportunity.

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