This Is Us is winding down. The TV drama that captured the hearts and imagination of millions is set to come to a close next year with its sixth and final season. Centering on the lives of the Pearson family in the present and past, the show has earned 38 Emmy nominations since its 2016 debut, adding six more to the tally this year for its most recent season.
Let’s delve into its four main nominations.
For starters, This Is Us returns to the Best Drama category after being shunned last year. It earned nominations for the top prize for each of its first three years, but it’s never won—the series lost twice to Game of Thrones and once to The Handmaid’s Tale.
To walk away with the gold hardware, they’ll have to beat some stiff competition, including The Handmaid’s Tale once again. Most notably, two of the other nominees, The Crown and The Mandalorian, are tied for most nominations with 24 each. Yet this past year, This is Us was the only contender to tackle our current moment, incorporating Black Lives Matter protests and Covid-19 into its characteristically complex storylines, setting it up for its best chance to take home the Best Drama trophy.
It is a debatable tactic to bring the most stressful events from our current lives into a weekly drama, and at a time when viewers are looking for escapism. But the show threaded a needle between scripted drama and real life. Really, isn’t that why we love the show anyway? We have gotten close to the family in the past five years, sharing their struggles and triumphs, so living in the pandemic just makes sense.
Beyond that, the strength of This Is Us didn’t fail—even with extended breaks to the filming schedule and a reduced season. At its core, the success of the show has always been about strong writing and equally powerful performances. There was no shortage of either in Season 5 and, of course, the “signature” tears were always a waiting in the wings.
If you haven’t watched This is Us yet, here’s a quick explainer to catch you up so you can jump in:
As we discover in the big opening episode reveal, a handful of stories about seemingly random people turn out to be an unlikely family. Flashbacks and fast forwards are integral to the characters’ backstory — and hugely popular with viewers. The 40-something “Big 3” siblings are Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley), and adopted Black son Randall (Sterling K. Brown). We see how they’ve navigated life since the loss of their father Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) as teenagers, and the history is filled in with past stories of young Jack and their mother, Rebecca (Mandy Moore).
One of the main plotlines this season involved Kevin, who had been known for, among other things, an inability to settle down. He agrees to marry Kate’s best friend Madison (Caitlin Thompson) after getting her pregnant during a one-nighter. (Thompson is married in real life to This is Us creator Dan Fogelman.) Hartley is one the breakout stars, but it’s taken a few seasons for his character to grow and mature. Season 5 was another of those opportunities, and he showed more depth and realism with the ebb and flow to his engagement to Madison. Alas, he has yet to earn an Emmy nomination.
Sterling K. Brown did, though. Again. Brown is arguably the most prominent and celebrated star of the ensemble cast. He’s already got an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, plus Golden Globe, People’s Choice, and Screen Actors Guild awards for his performance as Randall. Brown came into This Is Us with the glow of his first Emmy win, for playing Christopher Darden in the FX miniseries: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson. In fact, counting that previous series, Brown has been nominated for an Emmy every year since 2016. While The Crown will have a large showing in the drama categories, this could still be Brown’s year to dust off his acceptance speech.
Two episodes this season played to his strengths and were the epitome of his character. In Episode 13, titled “Brotherly Love,” Randall travels across the country to visit Kevin and they have a much-needed—and at times contentious—conversation about race and how, despite the love he felt as a child, Randall felt something missing and kept searching to fill that void while living in a white world.
Bookending that episode is “Birth Mother,” in which Randall chases the dream of knowing more about his deceased birth mother, Laurel. His quest takes him and his wife to New Orleans, where they meet a man who helps fill in the blanks in his head. In true This Is Us style, her story is told in flashbacks. Later in the episode, Randall has an epiphany in the hotel pool as he envisions his mother in her youth and in old age. She tells him it is time to move on. A visceral scream follows. It’s one of the memorable scenes of the season and I won’t be surprised if it lands Brown his second Emmy for the role.
Receiving his second nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama this year is Chris Sullivan, who plays Kate’s husband, Toby. Sullivan’s Toby is another character who has done a “180” since courting his future spouse in the early episodes. He typically provided comic relief to break up the show’s more serious storylines. But as their relationship grew, as in real life, the stressors came along for the ride. He’s a gifted actor, who, at times, has been under utilized. Yet, like any good supporting actor, he’s been able to make the most of his scenes and play multiple emotions, even with less humor.
One other person is nominated from the show, but it’s complicated. Phylicia Rashad received her third straight Guest Actress in a Drama nod for her appearance in This Is Us. She plays Randall’s mother-in-law, and her relationship with Beth is certainly Emmy worthy. However, the controversy over her recent tweets in support of her former co-star Bill Cosby after he was released from prison on a technicality may be an obstacle to winning her first Emmy (she’s been nominated before but has never taken one home).
Additional Emmy nominations for This Is Us include the categories of Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup and Outstanding Music Composition for a Series.
The sixth and final season is scheduled to start airing in January, 2022.
The 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards will be televised live on CBS on September 19, 2021.