The veteran actor delivered the strongest moment of the show's pilot when he told a bereft Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) to find a way to make lemonade out of the sourest lemons life has to offer. That speech becomes even more tender and heartbreaking after Tuesday night's episode, which revealed how close Dr. K was chucking in his own lemons before getting the page to deliver the Pearson babies.
"It's one of the better characters that I've ever done," McRaney told TVGuide.com after a screening event of the episode of why he continues to return to the show. "The writing is so good and the whole concept is so rich. It's just a joy for me to come in and do it. I told Milo [Ventimiglia] on the way in that I am so successfully avoiding real work. As long as you do something like this, it's not a job."
The episode visited Dr. K on the morning of the Big 3's birth to show him still in the thralls of depression after losing his wife a little more than a year before. Her clothes still hang in their closet. He still talks to her at the breakfast table and informs her of what he's preparing to do that day. Even though Dr. K's eldest son implores him to try and move on with his life, it's clear that the doctor isn't ready to leave the memory of his wife behind.
In another tear-jerking scene, Dr. K goes to visit his wife's grave and confesses that he doesn't know how to live without her. There's more than a subtle hint that the older man is ready join his wife in the afterlife, but before he can complete the thought, he gets a page that he's needed at the hospital.
It's the call to deliver the Pearson triplets. Now, fans can see that Dr. K's dry humor was a facade to hide the pain he was feeling earlier in the day, but they can also see how Jack's determination and optimism help to bring Dr. K from the brink as well. Of course, Jack and Rebecca lose their third child in delivery. The genius of Tuesday's episode was to show that Dr. K's heartfelt speech to Jack in the hospital hallway not only gave the Pearson patriarch the strength he needed to keep his family from falling apart, but also showed how Jack's pure love for his family was also enough to save Dr. K.
"The thing that I love about this show is that it's all good people," McRaney said. "There are conflicts between people, but they are all coming from such a good place. I just want to see more of them. As to what direction the show takes, they can take any direction the producers choose to take it in but it will always be populated by good people, and it's nice to see that on TV."
At the end of the episode, Dr. K put away his wife's clothes and went to dinner with a woman friend. As he attempts to move on with his life, we get another example of how the Pearsons have brought joy to someone's life.
This Is Us continues Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.
Additional reporting by Malcolm Venable.