Wednesday, January 16, 2019

This Is Us 3.10: “The Last Seven Weeks”

“What a great life you’re gonna have. What a great man you’re gonna be.”
- Jack

It feels like it was a long time ago that we were with the Pearson clan. This episode picks up in media res on election night for Randall before jumping back to take a look at what happened for everyone over the last seven weeks. At the start of the episode, Randall has clearly stayed in the election and while he was down in the poll numbers before, at the time it was too close to call. Jumping back seven weeks, we find that Beth and Randall are not in a good place. He puts all of his focus on the campaign to the detriment of the family and Beth is clearly angry about it. From flashbacks to the trip he and Jack took the DC shortly before the fire, we see that he and Jack have a very interesting conversation about Randall’s future and that Jack knows his son is going to be a great man. Over the course of the episode, Randall struggles to live up to that belief. But, things start to look up for Randall as things get closer to the election. Sure, he and Beth right before Christmas because she did all the shopping for the girls and he’s been off being a man of the people and he accuses her of being angry that he’s got something he’s passionate about in his life while she is still struggling to find a new job. But, on New Year’s Eve, after having a conversation with the local reverend (who has historically been in his opponent’s corner), Randall goes home and apologizes to the family for not making them his priority. I have to admit, I am glad that Beth and Randall are back on good terms. It was uncomfortable to see them struggling because for most of the show we’ve known them to be this stable, supportive couple. Of course, even they can have issues and it makes it all the more real. But, yeah, I’m glad they are back to a united front.

Kate and Toby are having some issues of their own. The pregnancy is going along just fine and they are starting to put the nursery together. Kate tells Toby he has to sell all of his “toys” (girl, action figures are not toys). She accidentally sells a box of his Star Wars figures to some frat bro nerd named Gabe. He explains to Kate that he had been bringing them with him everywhere he moved in preparation to give to his child one day. Kate and Toby try to get the figures back but the frat bro isn’t having any of it. Not even when Kate breaks out the “I’m pregnant and have nothing to give my child because my house burned down and my father died” sob story. But, things aren’t that tense between her and Toby for long because she tries to replace them. He also makes a similar gesture by getting a guy who makes dollhouses to make a replica of the stadium Jack built her when she was younger. This storyline got me thinking a bit about legacies and what we give to our children. I know I have a ton of Power Rangers toys sitting in my parent’s basement that our little boy will get to play with!

Speaking of Jack, Kevin and Zoe are still on the hunt for more information about Nicky. They get back to town and after Zoe makes mention of being happy to be “home” Kevin suggests she move in and she accepts. She even gets all of her stuff shipped from Chicago to New York. But things aren’t all that rosy. Kevin’s search for information through the VA is stymied by the fact he needs proof of his relationship to Nick or a letter on his behalf from someone with clout. Like a Congressperson whom Zoe knows because she dated them for a little while. He takes the meeting but things are super tense between them and while he agrees to send a request on Kevin’s behalf, the Congressman sort of storms off. Kevin obviously probes into what went down and Zoe explained that she and the Congressman were going to move in together but she didn’t feel like it was right so she broke up with him after two years in a brief email. Ouch. I don’t blame the guy for still being hurt. But Kevin starts to see signs that maybe Zoe is going to do something similar. She hasn’t unpacked her stuff yet. Oh, and when he does get the file on Nicky from the VA it’s very thin on detail. We do learn that Nicky was med-evaced out of Vietnam in 1971 and sent to a hospital in the US for a psych eval before being discharged and signing himself out of treatment as “Clark Kent”. So, we know that Nicky definitely didn’t die in that explosion we heard. It does still make me wonder if Nicky was attempting suicide and that’s what led to him being discharged. Kevin and Zoe have quite the blow up after getting this information and they don’t speak again until election night. Zoe gives Kevin his key back but later on, she explains that because of what happened with her father, she’s never really felt safe living with another person. But she wants to live with Kevin because she loves him. They reconcile and then start unpacking. Zoe finds a box of Jack’s war mementos which includes some post cards including one with a Pennsylvania return address from someone named CK.

So, we clearly know that Jack both knew Nicky wasn’t dead and was still corresponding with him up to a certain point. Very interesting. It presents a ton of new questions. What has Nicky been up to this whole time? Does he know that Jack died and more importantly, why would Jack lie to literally everyone about his brother being dead? It definitely seems very unlike Jack to hide. I get that war was tough on him and everything and he didn’t want to talk about that experience. But, something else must have happened to keep him from telling the truth to his family. Based on the promo for the next episode, it looks like Jack was still visiting Nicky well into the Big Three being around (based on the facial hair). Can it be next week yet?

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Holiday "Classic" Recap: Black Mirror: "White Christmas"

“Buddy, look, at this point, being bored by anything other than snow would be a relief. So, come on. Chit chat. Conversate. Something.”
-Matt

Up until now, the only episode of “Black Mirror” I’ve ever watched was “USS Callister.” Like that episode, “Winter Wonderland,” from the fourth season, serves as a warning against technology run amok. It weaves together three related stories into one narrative with some great twists to make everything come together at the end. If you want a shiny, fuzzy, happy holiday episode of television, this isn’t it. It’s not even a dark but meant to be heartwarming tale like “It’s a Wonderful Life” (which I don’t especially like, by the way…I know, I’m not human). It’s fully, unapologetically dark. There are no happy endings for anyone in this story. In these trying times, maybe this is the holiday story we deserve.

The episode is framed around two men, Matt and Joe, who have found themselves working in an isolated, snowy cabin for the past five years, for reasons that (intentionally) aren’t entirely clear. It’s Christmas, and Matt wants to be festive. Joe, however, just wants to wallow. Apparently he’s hardly said anything to Matt in the past five years. Matt convinces Joe to sit down and share a drink, and they start talking. It becomes apparent that people end up in this cabin for doing something horrible, and Matt starts probing Joe about what that might have been. Instead, Joe first wants to hear Matt’s story.

The first of the three stories of this longer than usual episode (it clocks in at about 73 minutes) explains the horrible thing Matt did to wind up at the cabin. He used to run an online, sort of Twitch stream type group where he would give nerdy guys advice on getting laid. Around the holidays, his go-to move was having his clients crash office parties, since in his opinion, women seem to be especially uninhibited at office holiday parties. His client, Harry, quickly zeroes in on two women, Amy and Greta. Amy is blonde and bubbly, Greta has dark hair and is withdrawn. Naturally, Harry is drawn to Greta. Matt has Harry interact with Amy to make him seem more desirable to Greta. He does eventually get to talk to Greta, though, and they develop a rapport. Greta sees him talking to Matt and the peanut gallery, though, and that makes him think he hears voices like she does. She takes him back to her apartment. Matt thinks he’s about to get lucky, but Greta thinks she’s basically found a suicide partner. She decides to free Matt from the voices by force feeding him some awful concoction that makes his mouth bleed. Greta, by the way, is played by the great Natalia Tena, aka Tonks from the Harry Potter movies. Matt is about to burn all evidence of his little peep show ring, but he steps on one of his kid’s toys and his wife hears the commotion.

As Matt and Joe continue to converse, Joe wants to know what Matt actually did for a living. That leads into the second story. In this universe, there is a technology where you can have a “cookie” temporarily implanted in your head that takes on your personality. Once the imprinting is done, the cookie is removed, and the digital version of yourself basically becomes your slave, running all the devices in your house and keeping your calendar. It’s like the concept of a smart home taken to the nth degree. The fact that it’s imprinted with your personality is supposed to make it so it knows things like what temperature to keep your house and how you like your toast without being told. Matt’s job is to basically break the imprinted cookie so that it will do the bidding of its original. He first starts by being nice and conversating (sound familiar?), but if he gets resistance, he uses a process to make time seem to pass exponentially for the imprinted cookie, until sitting there with nothing to do breaks them. This brings up all sorts of ethical dilemmas, since the imprinted cookies are basically sentient. It’s also worth noting here that everybody in this society seems to use a technology called “Eye-Link” that is basically an implanted computer with social media and everything included. You can even “block” people so they just become an outline and can’t talk to you (and vice versa).

Anyway, Matt eventually gets Joe to tell the story of how he came to find himself at the mysterious cabin in the woods. He was dating a woman named Beth, and things seemed to be going reasonably well, even if her father didn’t especially like him and he (Joe) tended to get a bit angry when drunk. There’s a scene where Joe and Beth go to karaoke with friends where Beth seems especially pensive and gets completely sloshed. Joe later finds a positive pregnancy test in their trash can and confronts Beth. Beth says she doesn’t want to be pregnant and Joe has no say in the matter. Joe obviously thinks he should have some say in the matter, and this leads to a huge row where Beth blocks him. She never unblocks him either. And she keeps the kid. Beth eventually turns the original block into a “legal” block, so Joe can’t even see the kid. He/she is just an outline. He stalks Beth’s father’s house every Christmas so he can at least see their outlines, and sometimes he leaves a gift.

Everything changes when Beth dies in a horrible train accident. Joe goes back to Beth’s father’s house, hoping he can finally see his daughter. He’s got a present for her that says “From daddy” and everything. When he finally sees his “daughter” (the block died with Beth), he is in for a huge shock. She is clearly Asian, meaning one of Joe and Beth’s mutual friends was actually the father. Beth’s father finds Joe, and the two have an argument. Joe is just devastated by this revelation, and without realizing what he’s doing, shoves Beth’s father and kills him. He then flees the scene. Beth’s daughter goes out into the blizzard to find help and appears to not survive either. At this point, we realize that Matt and Joe weren’t in a cabin after all. Matt has been talking to Joe’s cookie, trying to get a confession out of him. He has been told by the police that if he’s successful, he’ll get some leniency for his own involvement in the peeping tom ring and related murder. Joe is sentenced, with his cookie punished by being advanced years over the course of Christmas. Matt is released, but he’s put on the “registry” where he will be permanently blocked (with a conspicuous red outline and everything) by everyone else in society forever. It’s quite the merry Christmas!

Friday, December 7, 2018

Food TV Friday: Top Chef Kentucky Season Premiere

I’m a big fan of “Top Chef.” A roommate (who just got engaged recently – congrats Brianne!) in law school introduced me to the show more than ten years ago, and I’ve been a fan ever since. In fact, now that I think about it, I think “Top Chef” was my entry point to becoming the foodie and avid home cook that I am now. In fact, “Top Chef” is even connected to the way I love to travel. Several years ago, I had to go to Atlanta for a work conference, and I decided that I was going to have a little fun the night before the conference was supposed to start. I was going to take a bus from the hotel and go to Flip Burger Boutique, a restaurant developed by Richard Blais, one of my all-time favorite cheftestants, who had a presence in Atlanta at the time (he’s now based out of San Diego). I’ve also been to Marjorie Meek-Bradley’s sandwich shop Smoked and Stacked in DC. I’m going to be in New Orleans in about a week and a half, and restaurants by Isaac Toups and Nina Compton are on my itinerary. All that being said, I’m excited that the new season of “Top Chef” started last night, so I decided I would write about it.

Top Chef tends to feature a different location each year, and this year is Kentucky. This is exciting to me, because for the past few years, watching Damaris Phillips’ show “Southern at Heart” has been a Saturday or Sunday morning staple for me. Phillips was a winner of “Next Food Network Star” and is based out of Kentucky. Watching her show has been a great entry point into learning about Southern food (I’m a Philly girl who has lived in Maryland for twelve years, so I know soft pretzels and Old Bay, not biscuits and bourbon) and Kentucky ingredients in particular. Thanks to learning about the ingredient from “Southern at Heart,” I make a mean batch of sorghum cookies. I’ve even been requested to make them for Christmas this year. Anyway, I’m excited to see the Kentucky ingredients I’ve learned about showcased on this season.

There were a few cheftestants who stood out to me right from the get-go. Even before the season premiere, being a Marylander and a devoted reader of the Washington Post food section, I had heard of Eric Adjepong. He is a first generation Ghanian-American who works in Washington DC. He even cooked at Top Chef veteran Kwame Onwuachi’s restaurant Kith and Kin for a while. He runs a dinner party company with his wife (who is a designer), and he’s kinda hot. He’s very into showcasing West African food, which I think is cool. I look forward to the potential of him opening a West African restaurant in DC someday so I can try it for myself! While watching the episode, Natalie Maronski also stood out to me. She’s a Philadelphia-based consultant who took a bit of a break from the restaurant world while her mother was battling Parkinson’s Disease. Now she’s ready to get back into the kitchen, and she has a heck of a first episode. My grandfather had Parkinsons, and it was hell for our family for over a year, so I have immense sympathy for her. Plus, she can cook.

My least favorite cheftestant thus far is Brandon Rosen, a Bay Area private chef. He was mansplaining all over the place throughout the episode. He was super bossy to his team during the Quick Fire. Then he spent a good portion of the main challenge warning another chef that she wouldn’t possibly be able to finish her tortellini in time (more on that in a bit). As I’ve said before on this blog, I am fed up with mansplainers. I actually know things even though I have a vagina, people! Overall, though, the cast was really likeable. There were plenty of other chefs to root for even beyond the ones I mentioned above. For instance, there was also a fun little segment with two Southern chefs, Kelsey Barnard Clark of Alabama and Sara Bradley of Kentucky (the one Kentucky chef of the season, who used to be coworkers at a restaurant in New York. They’re psyched to be together on the show.

The two competitions of this episode were appropriately Kentucky Derby themed. The Quick Fire was based on the Kentucky Derby’s reputation for being the most exciting two minutes in sports. The cheftestants were divided into teams of three, with each team producing a dish. They would only have two minutes to do their mise en place, after which they could not use a knife for the rest of the challenge. They would then have twenty minutes to cook. One team, once into the second phase of the challenge, was well into searing a big steak before they realized they wouldn’t be able to slice the steak to serve. They 86’d the steak except for a bit of the fat and used poached eggs as the protein instead. And they won the Quick Fire for it! It was the first of what seemed like many mishaps in this episode, despite having what seems like a strong group of cheftestants. The other most notable mishap happened in the main challenge where one chef was convinced she would be able to make tortellini, but she ran out of time so she just made fettuccini instead and almost got sent home for it.

In the main challenge, the cheftestants had to cook individual dishes for a big Kentucky Derby party. They were all judged against their teammates from the first round. Each group would have a “Win,” “Place,” and “Show.” The “Win” judges would have a chance at winning the challenge, and the “Show” judges would be considered for elimination. It definitely got competitive, although the cheftestants mostly seemed good natured about it. They did all their prep the first day, then they got to see where they will be living for the duration, and it’s a huge mansion. It reminds me of the kind of place they would put people up back on “The Real World” (I am so excited that show is coming back – I loved it as a teenager!). Day two was cooking and serving at the party. Natalie won with some ceviche, which was a little surprising only because I remember a past season where it felt like everyone made ceviche and it got played out. Caitlin Steininger was sent home for serving soggy biscuits over tomatoes. She did make me want to try salt and pepper biscuits, though!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Food TV Friday: "The Final Table"

It’s no secret that I haven’t been blogging that much this past year. I started a new demanding job and was commuting 60 miles round trip until I bought a house (!) this past August. It’s been a crazy year, to say the least. Add to that the awful state of the world in general these days and the parade of horrors that is the news, and my head just hasn’t been in the right place to watch much scripted TV. I’ve taken to mostly just watching cooking competition or other food related shows because I find them comforting. I’m still going to (probably still too slowly) chip away at the shows Sarah and I have been co-blogging and maybe keep trying to work on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” but I’m probably not going to blog any other series this year. As a way to get back into the habit of blogging more, though, I figured I’d turn some of my favorite TV comforts into blog posts! We’ll start with Netflix’s recently released, possibly too serious, cooking competition, “The Final Table.”

“The Final Table” actually has a pretty cool concept. Twelve teams of two chefs from around the world compete in country-themed challenges, with one team being eliminated each week. Each episode features two challenges, all themed around one particular country. The first challenge involves three “cultural ambassadors” from the country in question (one generally a food critic or writer) judging the teams’ take on their country’s signature dish. The lowest three teams from the first round then have to compete in a second round, where a superstar chef from the country of the episode sets an ingredient-related challenge. This whittles down the contestants to two teams. At that point, the four remaining chefs compete in an individual challenge, basically to cook the dish of their life, to earn a seat at the titular table with all the superstar chefs who have judged the second round in the previous episodes. There is no monetary reward – the winner literally just got to sit at a table with the other chefs (and get some publicity too, of course).

The thing I liked most about “The Final Table” was the international twist. I liked that the episodes were country themed, and I got to learn a little something about each country in its episode. I had never heard of feijoada, a Brazilian bean and pork dish, before, for instance. Some judging panels expected more adherence to the classic form of their national dish than others. The Spanish judges stood out to me as especially expecting all the teams to hit certain key aspects of the paella. There was a bit more variety in judging style from the second round judges. Several of the chefs have made their own careers reinventing classics, so they tended to appreciate it when the teams veered from the expected. The challenge that stood out to me as the most unfair was the kaiseki challenge in the Japan episode, since kaiseki is more a food philosophy that a specific dish.

My favorite team was Esdras Ochoa and Rafa Gill, Mexican and Brazilian chefs respectively who now both have restaurants in Hong Kong. Ochoa wasn’t classically trained, but he built up his reputation as a self-made “taco King.” He and Gill met when they both started their restaurants in Hong Kong. I think I was drawn to them because the first two episodes of the season highlighted each of their respective countries. They both took that distinction seriously and didn’t want to disappoint their countrymen. Ochoa especially took the taco challenge seriously, given that he makes his living with tacos. Both were rated favorably for their national dishes.

Other teams that I liked were Shane Osbourn and Mark Best, two Australians who, while I wouldn’t say they are old, were the oldest “experienced” chefs in the competition It was just nice to see two professionals do their thing excellently without drama. I also liked the only all-female team on the show, Monique Fiso (from New Zealand) and Amninder Sandhu (from India). It was necessary to have some girl power on the show (frankly, there could have been more). They had their ups and downs, keeping it real. Amninder especially put a lot of pressure on herself in the India episode, and I respected that. There was one team that I actively disliked it, and what the heck, I’m going to spoil a streaming cooking competition. They make it to the damn finale and one of them wins it all. Darren MacLean and Timothy Hollingsworth are the epitome of hipster chef bros. Hollingsworth worked for years at the French Laundry and is now super serious about telling a particular story with food at his Bay Area restaurant. MacLean, a white dude from prairie province Canada, is obsessed with Japanese food. He white mansplains Japanese food throughout the series, constantly invoking “memories of Tokyo.” He’s especially insufferable in the Japan episode (where he succeeds mightily, of course).

The other thing that I found as a negative with the show overall was that it was a big overdramatic. I did appreciate that, unlike with shows like “Chopped” or “Guy’s Grocery Games,” these contestants just got to cook their hearts out. On the other hand, the production felt like “Iron Chef: America” without the camp and ability to poke fun at itself. I mean, the whole thing ends with the winner descending down to the table with all the judge chefs and a bright light shining on him. Self-serious, much?

Overall, “The Final Table” was an entertaining binge-watch over Thanksgiving week. I enjoyed getting some exposure to cuisines I don’t know much about (especially in the Brazil episode), and I enjoyed learning about a variety of chefs with whom I wasn’t already familiar. I appreciated that the overall focus was on cooking good food with an international flair. Future seasons, however, should be more aware of cultural appropriation, make a better effort at representing women, and be just a touch less serious.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

This Is Us 3.09: “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning”

“No, Nicky, the mission is to get home.”
- Jack

We have reached the mid-point of season 3 and that means our fall finale. Fear not, Pearson clan, we will resume with new episodes in mi-January and that gives you plenty of time to ponder the little tidbits of information we got throughout this episode. Before we dive into the biggest of the storylines, let’s check in with Kate and Toby. She’s now through the first trimester and their tests have come back normal for chromosome disorders (fun fact, that’s where I’m at in my own pregnancy). The doctor asks if they want to know the sex of the baby but Toby says no. Kate may also have to give up her job as a singing Adele telegram because of how much time she spends sitting (driving around). She almost lands a job as a chorus teacher but her lack of a college degree puts the kibosh on that. At home, after Toby puts his foot in his mouth about thinking Kate should just stay home while pregnant, Kate forces him to admit they are both terrified something could still go wrong with the pregnancy. So, in a bid to face their fears, Toby brings Kate to a local community college so she can get those last 8 credits to earn her degree and they end up finding out they are having a boy. The first Pearson grandson!

Across the country, Randall is getting ready for his big debate against Councilman Brown. Beth has left the campaign but she still wants to help him prepare. The Pearson girls each have their own thing going on, too. Annie is trying to ace her spelling bee; Tess is still struggling with coming out to her parents and Deja wants to reconnect with her mom. Rebecca brings Tess to the debate and admits Kate told her about what Tess said, so that Tess would have someone close by to talk to if she needs. She’s not happy that grandma knows the truth but after the debate, Rebecca confides that she kept secrets from her family and it physically manifested into pain she still carries. She doesn’t want that be her granddaughter’s fate.

Speaking of the debate, Randall is clearly struggling at first trying to hold his own in the usual debate format but once he steps off the stage and starts talking to the people on their level, he wins them over. Unfortunately, he’s too far behind in the polls that he can’t possibly win. That night, while Beth and Randall grapple with what to do about the campaign, Deja asks to go see her mom and then Tess comes out to her parents. It was a sweet moment and I’m glad she told them. They had the reaction you would expect from them to show their love and support. But, things take a turn when Beth flat out tells Randall she wants him to drop out of the campaign, citing a promise he made earlier to her that he would back out if she asked. Randall refuses and ends up sleeping on the couch. This may be the harbinger of horrible things to come because we make a surprise visit to the future and learn that the “her” they are going to see is Rebecca. And it appears Beth isn’t on speaking terms with Randall because Tess has to call her. Beth appears to have a new job overseeing a dance troupe or something. This now makes me wonder if Beth and Randall eventually split up. And I also have a theory that perhaps Rebecca has dementia or something.

We also get some answers (and some shocking surprises) over in Vietnam in both the past and the present. In the past, Jack’s time to get Nicky straightened out is coming to a close and Nicky is still isolating himself from everyone. Eventually, Jack convinces his brother to go with him to a quiet spot away from the village (it involves Nicky getting to take a swing at Jack) to try and give him perspective. Jack says their mission is to survive the war and go home but Nicky isn’t convinced he’s going to make it. That night, he gets high and Jack finds him the next morning sitting on the dock pretending to shoot the villagers. Nicky explains that he doesn’t want to be clean because he remembers all the horrible things he witnessed while in country. He storms off and a little later, Jack can’t find Nicky and then there’s an explosion by the dock. We see Jack jump into the water and that’s where we’re left.

In the present in Vietnam, Kevin and Zoe finally get to the village where Jack served. He talks to a man who was a boy during the war and for a minute I thought he would be the little boy that Jack helped treat. But, it turns out he wasn’t. He was just another child whose father was part of the Viet Cong. The man doesn’t know the woman in the photo and Kevin thinks he’s gotten nothing out of his trip. Sure, he and the man get to share a moment realizing both of their fathers pretended everything was okay after the war for the sake of their children but it’s clear that Kevin needed more closure. He may not have gotten that but we do get some interesting news about Nicky. Their guide who brought them to the village had wanted to give Kevin a memento to put on his uncle’s grave but when he looked at the rolls from the war, there was no record of Nicky dying during the war. The man posits that Nicky may have died but not during the war. As it turns out, we catch a blurry glimpse of a man whom I believe is Nicky at the very end and he’s got a stack of unanswered letters sitting on a counter. You can’t see who they are from but we now have more mystery to unravel.

Friday, November 23, 2018

This Is Us 3.08: “Six Thanksgivings”

“You need to take that fight and show your kids that you are still their father.”
- Jack

We have reached our Thanksgiving episode of season three. Based on the previews it looks like it’s going to be quite the emotional one! This year we got see Thanksgiving throughout the years with different members of the Pearson family (and some extended family), In Vietnam, Jack is still trying to sort out what has got Nicky in such a funk. Nick refuses to sit down with everyone for turkey and then he refuses a direct order from Jack when he goes to bandage the foot of the little boy whose mom currently has Kevin’s necklace. Jack ends up helping the little boy and the woman gives him the necklace as a thank you. When Jack confronts his brother, we get a little insight into Nicky’s time at war. His first commanding officer was too nice to the villagers and they betrayed him, ultimately getting the officer killed. Nicky also related a weird story of how the officer got the rest of the guys to stop giving Nicky crap. It involved a decapitated chicken. But at least Jack has some idea of what his baby brother has seen.

Not long before Jack dies, the Pearsons celebrate their last thanksgiving as a family. The Big Three have been at each other’s throats so Jack hopes this will help mellow them out a little. It turns out, Kevin and Kate or busy teasing Randall about his college essay topic. He has to write about the person who influenced his life the most. Everyone keeps telling him to use the easy answer of the fireman who found him. Miguel is joining them for dinner but he’s not having the best of times. He’s recently split from his wife and his kids don’t want to talk to him. As eh watches the Pearson clan enjoy each other’s company he kind of freaks out and needs a Jack pep talk to get his head on straight. Jack tells him that Miguel sacrificed a lot to provide for his family and he can still be in his kids’ lives. He just has to fight for them. By the end of dinner, Randall reads the essay he’s written that notes he’s met too many people to pick just one but if he absolutely had to, it would be the firefighter.

We then find William and Jesse as they are starting their romance. I am still always surprised when William pops up. I don’t know why and I know I shouldn’t be. There is still so much of his story left to tell and I’m always glad to see him. He finds Jesse at the liquor store on Thanksgiving and invites him over. Jesse admits that he loved cocaine and it did ruin his life and he’s not super happy about being clean. But, when William invites him to a jazz night, he does show up. At first William thinks Jesse isn’t interested or his misread signals but Jesse assures him the woman he shows up with is his cousin. I definitely want to see more of their story unfold!

In the present, we have several threads going on simultaneously. Randall, Beth, Annie and Deja are heading out to serve dinner to the homeless while Tess stays home not feeling well with Kate and Toby who are in charge of making dinner. Rebecca and Miguel are going to his daughter’s for dinner and then to Randall’s for dessert. Miguel thinks he is a pity invite since his ex-wife is spending the holiday with her new husband’s family. It’s very easy to see why we haven’t seen his kids until now. They are downright awful to their dad. I wasn’t thrilled when Miguel and Rebecca got married but he’s slowly grown on me, especially since we now know he and Rebecca reconnected a decade after Jack’s passing. I suspect they’ve only been married a few years. It makes me feel a lot better about their relationship. But when Miguel’s son accuses Rebecca of stealing their dad away from their mom, Miguel’s had enough. He sets his kids straight that he tried to stay in contact and in their lives but they never responded so he gave up. And then his ex-wife got remarried and then he and Rebecca reconnected. He tells them to respect his wife. You go man!

Back at Randall’s, dinner isn’t going so well. Toby is trying so hard to make thing go right because he’s taking the small victories as he continues to adjust to his new medication. Kate tells him not to stress because they are going to be great. She also gets to have a motherly moment with Tess when Toby runs into Tess in the bathroom trying to figure out pads and tampons. She’s gotten her first period. So, Kate gets to share her embarrassing first time with Tess and then we learn some interesting news about the oldest Pearson grandkid: she might be gay or bisexual. She begs Kate not to say anything to Randall and Beth. This also makes me curious about the “her” in the future since it’s Tess who is going to with Randall and Toby.

Lastly, we see Randall and the rest of the family at the shelter. Randall’s campaign manager is happy that Beth moved locations and then she shoots down the idea of doing a photo op for Randall. She doesn’t think the people who showed up want to be seen getting handouts. Then it becomes clear that Randall has been siding with Beth because she’s his wife and he thinks she needs the wins. She’s not happy about that and he ends up sort of alienating his campaign manager, too. Oh Randall. We also see Deja flash back to get handouts when she was with her mom and she’s giving out more food than she was told to. She also ends up exchanging holiday messages with her mom. I like how she fits in with the other girls in the family. I would have loved to see Tess be able to go to her about period stuff. That would have been a fun sisterly bonding moment, too. I really did like this episode and was pleasantly surprised by the stories we got. It gets me in a good place for the fall finale next week.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving "Classic" Recap: "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving"

“Those early Pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them, and we should be thankful, too. We should just be thankful for being together.”
-Marcie

I’ve probably mentioned this before on MTVP, but growing up, I was a massive Peanuts fan. My mom always says that as a little kid, “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown” was the first thing that would get me to sit still and pay attention for any length of time. In the mid and late 80’s, my parents dutifully recorded every Peanuts special that broadcast on TV on our VCR, and I would watch them all whenever I was sick. At one point, my parents special ordered “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown” because I kept renting it so much from the corner video store (called Video Tyme…how 80’s is that!). So I couldn’t let another Thanksgiving pass by without talking about one of my favorite Peanuts specials, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. I still appreciate Peanuts as an adult, and now I wonder if my rather misanthropic world view is partially due to being raised on Peanuts, or if I liked it so much because I could identify with Charlie Brown. A chicken or the egg situation, I suppose.

This particular special has plenty of the elements you would expect from any Peanuts special. It even opens with a classic Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown sequence. He’s convinced she wouldn’t pull the football away from him during such a festive time of year, but of course she does. Meanwhile, Sally is irritated that she hasn’t even finished her Halloween candy and it’s already time for another holiday. She’s especially not a fan of the fact that her teacher is making her write an essay on one of the Pilgrims, Miles Standish. In the middle of all this, Peppermint Patty calls Charlie Brown. Her parents are going out of town and said she could go to Charlie Brown’s for Thanksgiving. The only problem is that Charlie Brown and his family are supposed to go to his grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving later in the afternoon. Charlie Brown being Charlie Brown, though, he can’t say “no,” and so Peppermint Patty invites herself over.

Linus suggest to Charlie Brown that he could have a “dinner” (of things the kids can cook like toast and popcorn) earlier in the day for friends, then he could have the real holiday dinner with his family in the evening. Charlie Brown agrees to this, but Peppermint Patty soon makes it even more difficult. She invites over Marcie and Franklin, too. As somebody who has not always been great at saying “no,” I can really empathize with Charlie Brown in this situation. Peppermint Patty just runs right over him and won’t let him explain that he actually already had Thanksgiving plans that didn’t include a bunch of extra guests. Luckily for Charlie Brown, Snoopy (with some assists from Woodstock) is prepared to do most of the prep for Friendsgiving.

There’s a kind of weird musical sequence (set to the classic “Little Birdie” performed by Vince Guaraldi) where Snoopy and Woodstock try to set up the Friendsgiving (before it was cool) table and chairs using a ping pong table and lawn chairs, and Snoopy gets into a legit fight with a suddenly anthropomorphic lawn chair. There’s also a musical sequence (set to the even more classic “Linus and Lucy”) where Snoopy and Woodstock are cooking all the food and Snoopy accidentally burns his ear in a toaster. Snoopy really goes above and beyond the call of duty for the family dog in this one, which is something I didn’t realize when I watched it as a kid. Linus also gives a nice speech about the meaning of Thanksgiving, similar to his Bible reading in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

What I also didn’t realize when watching this as a kid is what a shitty person Peppermint Patty is. After inviting herself and two friends over to a Thanksgiving dinner that wasn’t even supposed to happen in the first place and causing Charlie Brown and Snoopy a lot of stress, she has the audacity to complain about the meal and how she expected a full Thanksgiving dinner with Turkey and all the trimmings. I just couldn’t believe she’d have the audacity to complain that strongly about a meal that she invited herself to. Marcie tries to explain that to her after Charlie Brown storms off, and eventually she gets it. But even after she gets it, she wants Marcie to be the one to deliver the apology. Marcie reluctantly agrees to, and Peppermint Patty does chime in herself at the end of the apology, but I feel like the damage has already been done. Charlie Brown also ends up talking to his grandmother because he and Sally are running late due to all of Peppermint Patty’s shenanigans, and Saint that she is, she says all the kids can come over to her condo.

Everybody loads up into the station wagon, but Snoopy and Woodstock are left behind. I thought that was pretty crappy considering all the work Snoopy did to prepare the meal and his fight with the lawn chair and everything. Snoopy gets the last word, though. As the kids are all singing “Over the River and Through the Woods” while traveling in the station wagon, Snoopy has cooked a full turkey dinner for himself and Woodstock. Apparently Woodstock eating the turkey and committing bird cannibalism was considered controversial at one point. Did the fact that my brain never even went there until I read about the controversy make me a bad person? And on that note, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!