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'This Is Us' Team Says Goodbye to Their 'Unicorn' of a Show

'I will not reconcile myself to doing something I'm not passionate about, but I just know that this is a once in a lifetime situation,' series star Mandy Moore tells Metacritic.

Lauren Piester
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Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia in 'This Is Us'

NBC

There's a certain magic to This Is Us, broadcast's biggest drama that comes to an end May 24 on NBC, that is hard to put into words. 

The show has the most generic, least descriptive title, and once upon a time it was introduced as a drama about four seemingly random people with the same birthday. Somehow, even with that vague description, the trailer for the pilot went on to break all kinds of records, with around 80 million views in 11 days. Its biggest stars were Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia, who were popular at the time, but not that popular. Deadline described it as putting a "low-key ensemble dramedy with no famous title, mega stars or special effects into blockbuster movie territory." Still, something about it just spoke to people before they really even knew what the show was saying — before they knew that the first three seasons would be about the before and after of a father (Ventimiglia) dying after a faulty slow cooker caused a house fire.

Now, six years later, with 4 Emmy wins from 38 Emmy nominations and a cast full of bona fide stars, it's still tough to describe the show. 

During a recent appearance on NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, Moore described it as an ensemble family drama that "tells the story of a family across time," which simply feels like an understatement. Moore has played the same character from a teenager in young love to a grandmother in her 80s battling advanced Alzheimer's, perhaps the most complete story of a character that any show has ever told. Mind blowing and heartbreaking twists have come in the form of flash fowards and flashbacks, mining tears along the way. This Is Us became known as the show that will make you cry, for better or worse. Some tears felt cheaper than others, and some episodes were designed to turn viewers into a blubbering mess, even with a simple story about a day in someone's life. 

That's what the series finale is designed to do, too. It's not an hour filled with twists and turns and surprises: it's just the sprawling Pearson family moving on after the loss of their matriarch. It's a prime example of the quieter moments that This Is Us became known for, and what television is losing as this show comes to a close. 

"This was a unicorn," Moore tells Metacritic of working on the show. "I acknowledged it and treated it as such from the very beginning, so I will make no bones about expecting every script to be fantastic. I will not reconcile myself to doing something I'm not passionate about, but I just know that this is a once in a lifetime situation." 

Moore, Ventimiglia, and creator Dan Fogelman separately agree that the secret ingredient to This Is Us — beyond Fogelman's writing — was the people involved. Moore points to out director Ken Olin and composer Siddhartha Khosla, whose music she says was the "secret sauce" of the show, as integral members of the staff, while Ventimiglia cites the commitment of this huge group of artists, collectively, in every department. 

"It's really a large thing to move hundreds of people with the common goal of entertaining, and then when that entertainment turns into real conversation among the audience, I think it's a wonderful thing," he says. "Everybody was aligned. You change one little element of the making of the show, it would have been a different experience." 

There was so much "love and care" on the set, Ventimiglia says, that he ended up hiring the entire This Is Us crew for his ABC pilot. "Everybody's so talented, everybody's so great, but it's also like, we all work well together, you guys want to come along?" he explains.

Fogelman has particularly fond things to say about the editors, looking back. This is a group of people who basically "built the show in the edit bay," he notes, because stories that often hinged on flashbacks shown in montages also had to move the present-day plot along. 

No matter their role on the show, Fogelman was serious about a "no assholes" policy from the get-go. "A lot of people say they have [that], but then you get a lot of assholes," he says. "On this show, we actually didn't have any assholes, so I think I'm gonna look for that in anything I do moving forward." 

Moore also got essentially six seasons of parenting practice for all ages before she became a new mom herself in 2021, and the show taught her "better boundaries" for what she wants to do with her life. 

"Being a part of a show like this, it's fulfilling creatively on every level. I'm like, 'All right, I gotta look for something that at least somewhat occupies that same space,'" she says of what comes next, now that she's hung up her Rebecca Pearson wigs.

Moore, Ventimiglia, and Fogelman now join the rest of the TV industry in their search for the next This Is Us, whatever that actually means. The truth may actually be that it's not replicable: it was something only these exact people at this exact time could achieve, but that's incredible on its own. 

"I'm just focusing on the idea that [guest star Ron Cephas Jones] instilled in us in the last episode," Moore says. "If it makes you sad, it's because you enjoyed it while it was unfolding. I'm trying to stay in that frame of mind." 


Where to watch This Is Us:

, Google Play, , iTunes,