Monday, December 2, 2019

Thanksgiving "Classic" Recap: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: "Kimmy Finds Her Mom!"

“I’ll bring you back a real Florida souvenir. Like a python. Or a gun!”
-Kimmy

I think Thanksgiving is the most difficult holiday to find TV episodes to recap, but this was a pretty good one. The second season finale of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” was all about avoiding, then confronting, hard truths. It also had some Thanksgiving trappings to frame everything out. This episode also really reminded me that the earlier seasons of “Kimmy Schmidt” were the product of a much simpler time, when there was room to deal with issues like the Washington football team’s offensive name or the pros and cons of gentrification. These days, there are daily embarrassments emanating from the federal government that don’t really leave room to get into much else.

Let’s start by talking a bit about the uncomfortable truths Titus must confront. He has gotten a job on a cruise ship, so he and Kimmy are on their way to Florida (more about Kimmy’s quest in the Sunshine State in a bit). He’s supposed to join the ship in Miami. After Titus and Kimmy go their separate ways, however, Titus gets cold feet. He asks for a sign that he’s supposed to go on the cruise ship, and instead, he sees a bus pull up that says “Titusville.” This takes him, of course, to the home of the Kennedy Space Center. Titus isn’t quite sure what to make of the place and its casual racism. When he has a chance to enter a drawing to have lunch with a real, live astronaut, though, he takes it. Since he and this town share a name, he is determined to make the best of it. He wins the raffle, though, and the astronaut he gets to meet changes his perspective. The astronaut explains that he never got to go to space because the manned spaceflight program ended (which is sort of true…a few American generally go to the International Space Station using Russian Soyuz rockets each year). Titus finds this rather pathetic and surprising, and he uses it as fuel to go back to chasing his real dreams, which are on that cruise ship in Miami.

Kimmy was in Florida hoping to find her mother. She knows her mother is a huge coasterhead, and there is a particular coaster at Universal that she and her friends were going to be riding. Kimmy has a lot of unresolved issues with her mother (namely, wondering why her mother wasn’t able to rescue her from the Reverend and why she hasn’t contacted her since she was found), and she’s ready to say it all out loud. When Kimmy does find her mother at the amusement park, however, her plans get thrown for a bit of a loop. Kimmy’s mom, played by the always funny Lisa Kudrow, immediately owns up to being a less than ideal mother, and she apologizes, which is not something Kimmy expected. Kimmy hadn’t really thought about how her kidnapping would be tough on her mom, too (she had to leave Indiana because everyone expected her to be sad all the time), so she goes along with her mom’s glossing everything over for a while.

There’s an especially poignant moment when Kimmy’s mom yells at her to get out of the ball pit because it’s almost time for them to ride the big roller coaster, and Kimmy gets held up because the Velcro on her shoe comes undone. Kimmy’s mom never taught her how to tie her shoes, and on another occasion when she had to stop walking to fix her Velcro, Kimmy got kidnapped. Anyway, Kimmy and her mom end up screaming out all their issues to each other while on the coaster, which is really kind of perfect. Kimmy doesn’t really end up seeing her mom’s side of things (Kimmy was genuinely hurt by her mom’s actions growing up), but she does decide not to let it define her. She tells her mom they’re cool, and Lori-Ann Schmidt leaves happy. Before she leaves, she does offer one interesting tidbit: she likes rollercoasters so much because you can scream your head off and nobody looks at you funny. I thought that was profound (and sad) in a way.

The story of Lillian’s fight against gentrification also comes to a climax in this episode. She is feeling very lonely with Kimmy and Titus off to Florida and Jaqueline spending time with Russ. She notices just how much the neighborhood has changed, with mom’s running along with their strollers down the sidewalk with abandon. She decides to put the house up for sale as “3 BR 0 LGL BA” because of course. I thought that was such a funny little detail. Instead of a buyer, though, a political operative knocks on the door wanting Lillian to run for office. I don’t remember where this plot thread goes in the next season, but part of me wants to rewatch season three to remember.

Finally, Jaqueline is spending Thanksgiving with Russ and his family. She is all set to impress him with her apartment that she can’t really afford. At first, she really gets along with Russ’s brother, Duke, played by the always snobbishly charming Josh Charles. She also gets to see first hand how horribly Russ is treated by his family – he is constantly the subject of their crude jokes. Everything changes, though, when Jaqueline realizes that Russ’ family are the owners of Washington’s football team. Being Native American herself, Jaqueline is quite offended by this. The Snyders won’t hear of changing the name, though, even when Jaqueline explains exactly why she finds it offensive. She’s about to tell Russ she needs to break up with him, but he explains that he actually agrees with her and fully supports her quest to take down Washington’s football team.

The episode ends with a little Friendsgiving scene between Kimmy, Jaqueline, Lillian, and Titus (who appears via video chat), which ties a nice little bow on everything. Then Kimmy gets a call from none other than the Reverend himself. He says he’s getting married, so he needs to get a divorce from Kimmy first. This is quite the twist and makes for some interesting storytelling in the next season. Until next time, I hope you all ate too much on Thursday and enjoyed time with family. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

This Is Us 4.09: “So Long, Marianne”

“Hey, you might not have gotten the fireplace but don’t’ forget about all the times she was absolutely perfect.” –
Beth

What a way to end the mid-season finale of “This Is Us”. We always know the show is going to do something moving when it comes to episodes before the break and this was no exception. It was also our yearly Thanksgiving episode. Everyone in the family is converging on Beth and Randall’s new place to celebrate the holiday. Rebecca is still mad at Randall for thinking she needs to see a doctor and after telling Randall not to share it with his siblings, she goes for a walk to clear her head. We see Rebecca out and about, looking very lost. She sees a man she thinks is William but it’s not (obviously). The guy she stops points her in the direction of a grocery store because she needs a baked good. But once she stops to look at some flowers in the store, she seems to forget what she was doing. She buys the flowers but leaves her phone at the cashier line and then after she’s had a nice meal at a Chinese restaurant, she realizes she doesn’t have her phone and panics. Next we see her, she’s in the back of the police cruiser being driven home.

While Rebecca is dealing with her symptoms, we have some other family drama unfolding. Tess tells Kevin that there’s a mem going around school on Instagram to post a picture of your celebrity crush. After Kevin takes her to a drive through where she comes out to the speaker (which I thought was a pretty cool idea), she posts a picture of Zendaya. Girl has good taste! Kevin is also dealing with bringing Nicky along for the ride. Nicky was nervous that everyone was going to not be happy to see him but that’s the opposite of what happens. Everyone welcomes him in, even though the kids don’t know who he is. He looks at all the photos of Jack and Rebecca and the kids and you can tell he feels left out. He even tells Annie that Jack erased him which is why they’d never met. But really, Jack found other ways to share his brother with his family.

In the past, we find Jack and Nicky right before Nicky heads to basic training. Their dad and grandfather are both drunk and yelling at each other so the guys take off to a bar to watch a football game. Nicky bet $200 on the Cowboys and because the bet was based on the point difference at the end of the game, he ends up winning the bet and he and Jack go to a fancy restaurant and eat five pounds of shrimp cocktail. That’s a lot of shrimp, guys! We see that Nicky thought it was the best Thanksgiving ever and I’m glad Jack found a way to keep Nicky in their lives, even if no one realized it. WE also see that one of Jack’s favorite songs was actually a song that Nicky really liked. Nicky gets rather emotional listening to it in the car with Randall and Annie (they had to make an impromptu trip to New Jersey because they left the box of thanksgiving stuff (including the Pilgrim Rick hat) in the attic. But, by the end of the episode we see that Nicky introduces the family to the tradition he and Jack were supposed to have had the war not ruined everything. And in a flash to the future, we see that baby Jack (now all grown up) continues not only the hot dog tradition but also the five pounds of shrimp.

Speaking of baby Jack, on the flight from California to Pennsylvania, Kate comes clean to Toby about how Gregory was the first to feed Jack avocado. Toby is upset by this revelation mostly because Kate lied to him. He also was rather obsessed with the video going crazy on Instagram. Kate and Beth end up having quite the conversation through a little later in the episode. They are both feeling bad about what they’re feeling. Kate hates CrossFit Toby because they had said they were going to lose the weight together and he went and did it without her. Beth explains that she hates that Shauna is doing so well with a new apartment, new job and new friends. Beth is glad that she’s doing it but she feels like after watching Shauna and Deja interact and share little moments that only the two of them get, Beth worries that she’s being replaced. But it seems Deja isn’t that happy either. She is feeling like “why couldn’t she be all these things with me?” That’s such a hard place for a child to be in. Beth implores Deja to focus on the times her mom was perfect with her and it seems that potential crisis is averted. Unfortunately, Kate doesn’t tell Toby how she feels and then when she grabs his phone to take a picture, she sees a text from a woman telling Toby not to let Kate bring him down. Yeah, the more I see, the more I’m thinking Toby and Kate don’t make it as a couple.

It wouldn’t be “This Is Us” without some sort of twist in the episode. We see Kevin tell Randall that by his fortieth birthday, he wants to have a wife and kids. That’s only nine months out Randall reminds him. And then we see that the police have dropped Rebecca off not at Randall’s place but at the cabin where Kate and Kevin and Miguel are waiting to celebrate their 40th birthday. Randall isn’t there because they aren’t on speaking terms. Kevin also has a pregnant fiancée at this point, too. Given that it’s so soon from where we are timeline wise, I really am wondering if Cassidy is the mother/fiancée. And in the present, we see Rebecca return home with a pie and she confides in Randall that she was halfway through one of the previews at the movies when she couldn’t remember what movie she’d gone to see. So, this is definitely the start of her decline and it’s not going to be pretty.

Friday, November 15, 2019

This Is Us 4.08: “Sorry”

“I’m sorry is like this magic word when you’re a kid. You do something wrong, say I’m sorry and it’s all better. But when you grow up, it doesn’t work anymore, does it?”
– Kevin

Oh man is this a big episode for a lot of reasons (and members of the Pearson clan). Let’s dive right in with Kevin, Cassidy and Nicky. Kevin is feeling super guilty about sleeping with Cassidy and worrying that he ruined her chance at saving her marriage. But, she’s already signed the divorce papers she just has to give them to her ex. Nicky even knows what happened and calls Kevin a human wrecking ball. That sends Kev on something like a spiral. He’s’ moping in his trailer and then he ends up in a bar fight at a bar (although good on him for not drinking). I did find it interesting that Nicky got Cassidy involved, especially noting that he’s never called her for help before. I do think that as time moves on, the pair of them is going to be a good fit to help each other stay sober and work through their drama from the war. We actually got a little bit of an insight into Cassidy as she’s cleaning up Kevin’s face with make-up before Nicky’s court date. She says that her dad was in the military and she enlisted and went overseas so many times trying to find what he loved so much about the military and serving. She claims she never found it, but she did eventually find friendship and comradery with her fellow soldiers. I was a little concerned about Nicky’s hearing but it goes really well. The judge agrees to send him to a diversion program so long as he continues treatment and stays out of trouble for two years. I was touched by his speech to the judge about how he doesn’t regret his actions with throwing the chair through the window because his made his life better. He got sober, stayed in therapy and reconnected with family. I could see pieces of Jack in his this episode (and so could Kevin because when Nicky was dishing hard truths to him, Kevin saw Jack instead.

Out in LA, Kate and Toby are trying to get baby Jack to eat solid food (a concept I’m all too familiar with….O like bananas and applesauce). I had to laugh about how baby Jack didn’t’ like bananas given how fast my son consumes them. Toby heads off to work with the promise that they will try solid food again when he gets home. Kate ends up spending the afternoon with Gregory and he gets Jack to eat avocado. Kate is elated but also freaking out because she was going to wait for Toby. She manages to keep it from Toby by taking some of the avocados from Gregory’s tree and leaves them for Toby to find. He gets excited and feeds Jack—who we know likes it already—and Toby is thrilled (complete with phone video and everything).

The bigger, heartbreaking story is set in Philly with Randall, Beth and Rebecca. She and Miguel are coming for Thanksgiving (it seems the whole family will be gathering for the holiday in next week’s episode…including Nicky) and Rebecca can’t wait to have Randall show her around the city. She is acting a little off though. She’s taking pictures of absolutely everyone and everything and she freaks out when she misplaces her phone. She also calls Randall a congressman rather than a councilman. Randall is understandably worried, especially as we see in the past storyline he helps her get a job (albeit an entry-level one in her forties). He’s worried about her back then, too. I wasn’t expecting his ploy of telling the sob story about his adoption and Jack’s death to actually work to get Rebecca a job but I guess some people fall for it. I really want to know if Randall was able to teach Rebecca the software she needed to learn over the weekend. We also got a little glimpse at Marc and Kate. It’s very clear that he’s controlling. When Kate expresses excitement about Practical Magic, he mocks her. Both Rebecca and Randall aren’t impressed.

Back in the present, Randall calls Rebecca out on what’s going on with her health. He asks her to let him get her in to see a doctor but she refuses. She says Miguel calls them senior moments but I suspect we are starting to see the decline of her mental state. I think it was really starting when baby Jack was born. Knowing that we are heading down that round is heartbreaking. But at least we get answers. I also hope if we do make a jump back to that part of the future, we get a little more information on some of the other questions (like where Kate is and who is the mother of Kevin’s son).

Oh and we can’t forget about Deja and Malik. Under the new rules of their dating, Beth is in the kitchen while they watch a moving in the living (lucky Beth and Randall have such an open floorplan space). But the date isn’t going well. Deja tells Malik to stop pushing her on something and that he needs to take no for an answer. We are supposed to believe he’s trying to push her into something she’s not ready for romance wise but Beth gets Malik to explain that Deja wants contact with her mother and she didn’t want to bother Beth and Randall. When Beth says they were busy, Malik points out they weren’t too busy to uproot the whole family to Philly. Beth tells Deja they will find time to see Shawna but Deja wants to invite her to dinner for Thanksgiving. Beth agrees and boy is it going to be a crazy dinner with everything going on. I still think the season 1 Thanksgiving episode is my favorite but I’m excited to see what happens with this episode, too.

This Is Us 4.07: “The Dinner and the Date”

“You’re lucky. You have all these connections. You walked up in here and everyone said hello. That’s so dope.”
– Deja

This week is all about awkward dinners. In the past, Jack has invited Randall’s black teacher, Mr. Lawrence, to dinner. In the present, after a school skipping incident, Randall and Beth invite Malik and his parents over for dinner. The motives behind the meals are different but I think in the end they both ended up working out like they were supposed to.

In the past, Jack is feeling really threatened by Randall’s relationship with his teacher. I don’t think it’s a malicious thing but he feels like he’s been the person his son turned to with questions his whole life and now Jack doesn’t know how to answer the more complex questions Randall is raising. But Mr. Lawrence seems to have a real connection with Randall. But Jack isn’t the only one who is a little nervous and off their game. Mr. Lawrence is trying to impress Jack, too and he ends up just running off on tangents that only he and Randall understand. Kevin is his decidedly annoying self for most of the dinner. First he complains about how hungry he is and how boring the dinner is and then when Jack tries to sort of “compete” with Mr. Lawrence by saying he wants to take the whole family to a cultural festival that celebrates black artists, Kevin gets really into the awkwardness. But Rebecca reminds Jack that Randall will always choose him but if Jack makes him pick, he’ll resent Jack. I have to admit this reminded me of a plot line in One Upon a Time. In the end, Jack and Mr. Lawrence come to an understanding that they can both offer Randall different things to enrich his life and help him find his identity as a person of color in the world.

Before the dinner with the present-day Pearson clan, Malik convinces Deja to skip school so he can show her “his” Philadelphia. You can tell Deja isn’t totally comfortable ditching class but she goes with him anyway. He takes her to his favorite cheese steak place where one of the sandwiches is named after his grandfather. He’s greeted by everyone in the place and Deja can’t believe how many connections he has. She’s never been in one place long enough to become a regular somewhere. So, Malik takes her back outside and introduces her again to everyone. He then takes her to see some cool street art and a garden. But, when they end up at a park, she starts to get nervous. Especially when Malik holds her hand and it looks like he wants to kiss her. She’s understandably concerned that he’s trying to put the moves on her and she is not about that. She has plans for her life that don’t include any big derailments like an unplanned pregnancy. She also doesn’t trust that when Malik shows interest in her or calls her beautiful that he’s being truthful and not working an angle because that’s all she’s known her whole life. She watched her mother be lied to by men all the time. I’m really glad they addressed her concerns about the relationship rather than her just accepting it without comment. Malik understands and he tells her that he’s being truthful and that he’s only had one girlfriend (his baby mama). That clearly didn’t go as he expected either. Deja says she wants to go back to school but Malik convinces her to let him take her to one more place. During their city wandering, she mentioned that she’d gone to Philly as a young child with her mom and grandmother and all she remembered was Christmas lights reflecting on water when it was warm out. Malik understands the reference and brings her to the spot. They share a kiss and it seems like they are going to fight for their relationship.

That fight is made decidedly more difficult by both sets of parents who aren’t happy about them cutting school or lying or sneaking around. Randall wants to get Malik’s parents into his and Beth’s boat of keeping the kids apart. Beth initially says they should be open to them as people and see what they’re like. But, that’s going to be hard to do when Malik’s parents aren’t trusting of Beth and Randall either. His dad seems a little chiller but his mother isn’t impressed with Randall’s success and wealth and that his family is white. Beth has lots of wine ready but Malik’s parents don’t drink. I will say that Annie calling it like it is (saying it’s weird that Malik has a baby and that they’ve not been to church in ages) was refreshing. I like that they just give her no filter and she says what everyone else is thinking. I do hope as the show continues we get to see her grow and develop more. But she is pretty cute. All of her adorableness isn’t enough to make the dinner less awkward. I did find it interesting how this dinner was all about class while the dinner in the past was all about race. Beth gives Malik’s mom a tour of the house while Randall and his father chat and Beth is really rubbed the wrong way when Malik’s mom comments on Deja’s past and what Malik has told them about Shawna.

Things come to blows when the baby starts crying and Malik goes to take her for a walk. Beth banishes the girls upstairs (though you knew that it wasn’t going to keep Deja from listening in) and the families come to blows. Beth and Randall don’t want Malik to drag Deja down into her old life. While I can understand their concern, especially knowing that Malik made choices that led to him being a teenage father, his parents also had a good point about them not seeing the straight A student and kind boy that he is. They point out that Malik’s dad was in a gang but he got out of the life and he’d never let his son end up involved in that type of situation. I think they need to take a little of their own advice and see Deja for the bright, mature you woman she is and not the daughter of a drug addict. Beth and Randall have fought to give Deja a more stable life and maybe they are a little threatened by that. Deja ends up interrupting and says that she’s sorry she’s disappointed everyone but that she’s not sorry for liking Malik. In the end, the parents agree (if a bit quickly) to supervised visits. Beth and Randall then ask Deja to tell them about Malik, since they didn’t really get to know him during the dinner. The way she talks about him, you can tell she really likes him. She says that he makes her feel like herself. I do hope they make it. I’m sure there will be lots of ups and downs along the way but that’s what This Is Us does best. They give us real people living real lives. They don’t’ shy away from hard topics.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Halloween "Classic" Recap: Stranger Things: "Trick or Treat, Freak"

“What's wrong with Winston? He joined the team super-late, he's not funny, and he's not even a scientist!”
-Lucas

It’s a little hard to write about an isolated episode of “Stranger Things” because it’s pretty serialized, but I thought that watching this would be a fun way to spend Halloween evening in addition to making lotus root and jammy tomatoes from Priya Krishna’s “Indian-ish” and handing out candy to the occasional group of Trick or Treaters. It was interesting to drop in and see how much of the various plot threads I remembered from back when I first watched season two. With this being the second episode of the season, there are a lot of longer term plots being set up, but there is also some fun Halloween content, too. The Halloween content also digs a little deeper and provides some commentary on the transition from childhood to adolescence. I think this is the perfect theme to explore with Halloween.

Let’s start by expanding on the idea of the dividing line between childhood and adolescence. Halloween in the perfect holiday on which to think about this, because it’s all about playing pretend, which is something we usually associate with childhood. You’ve probably seen recent news stories about that town that banned Trick-or-Treating over a certain age. These days, though, I think it has become more socially acceptable to use your imagination and be whimsical as an adult. While I don’t dress up nearly as much as I would like, I have been known to don a Halloween costume or go to a convention in cosplay as an adult. Even when you’ve got real, adult things to think about (maybe even moreso because of those real adult things), it’s fun to let go once in a while and pretend to be someone/something else. Anyway, “Stranger Things” delves into all this when the boys go to school in their Halloween costumes, and everyone else is in street clothes. Wearing your costume was cool just a year ago, and now suddenly it’s not.

Speaking of costumes, the boys decide to dress as the gang from “Ghostbusters.” “Ghostbusters” is one of my favorite movies, so I really enjoyed this. It’s that movie where my mom and I can just quote lines to each other on demand. I’m not sure why – I’m sure there are plenty of other movies that are just as funny – but there’s just something about the mix of humor and macabre that I love. The boys on their bikes in their “Ghostbusters” gear is just iconic 1980’s nostalgia. They have a bit of an argument over who is going to be which Ghostbuster and debate the merits of each, but really the cool aspect is just the fact that they’re dressed as the Ghostbusters.

There’s also some good material in this episode that establishes the relationship between Hopper and Eleven that will continue to develop throughout the season. When Eleven returned from the Other Side after her big battle in season one, she took refuge with Hopper, who presumably is still really missing his daughter, and he hides her in a remote cabin where the feds can’t find her. Eleven really doesn’t like being cooped up, but Hopper doesn’t want to take any risks, so he keeps her hidden. She really wants to go Trick or Treating, but even wearing a ghost costume that hides her is risky, so Hopper makes a deal. He’ll try to be home on time with a bag of candy, and they can watch movies and get fat together. Of course he gets caught up with work (investigating a mass crop blight that turns out to be Upside Down-related) and gets home late to a pretty pissed off Eleven.

Speaking of the Upside Down, Will is still experiencing some after-effects of his time there. He keeps basically disappearing and returning saying he had visions of the Upside Down. He’s been drawing pictures of it and everything. Hopper thinks he may just have PTSD like some of the guys he knew in the war, but Joyce seems a bit skeptical. Will and Mike have a nice little heart to heart about what he has been going through after Will has one of his episodes while Trick or Treating. Trick or Treating also provides an entry point into the fight between Lucas and Dustin over new girl Max. Max is from California, and she’s under the thumb of her abusive older brother (he almost runs the boys over with his car at one point just to scare Max). She’s the cool, badass new girl, though, and Lucas and Dustin are smitten. They are only too happy for her to join them for a bit of Trick or Treating.

We also see that Nancy has been very negatively affected by the events of the previous season. She’s still (understandably) really upset over what happened to Barb, and she feels incredibly guilty that Barb’s parents still don’t know what actually happened. This guilt really manifests itself at a Halloween party she and Steve attend. Nancy gets extremely drunk and ends up telling Steve she doesn’t love him anymore. He leaves, and Jonathan is left to take her home. It was surprising to see Nancy so out-of-control, as she generally seemed to have a good head on her shoulders. She has been through the wringer, though, so it makes sense that she would be struggling. This development also fuels her relationship with Jonathan, so it’s not all bad.

There’s one final observation I want to make. I completely forgot Sean Astin was in this! He plays Joyce’s dorky, Radio Shack salesman boyfriend Bob. Bob seems like he wants the best for Joyce and the kids, and he really does try to be supportive. He dresses up as a vampire on Halloween and enjoys hamming it up. There’s a sweet little scene of him and Joyce dancing to “Islands in the Stream.” He may feel like the annoying interloper now, but his character will become more important as the season progresses. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen him in anything other than the “Lord of the Rings” films, so it was fun to see him in a different role. And with that, I hope everyone had a great Halloween. Don’t cross the streams!

This Is Us 4.06: “The Club”

“You’ve seen things 99% of the rest of us couldn’t even dream of. And yeah, you’ve made some mistakes along the way but that doesn’t make you unlovable. It makes you human.” Br>- Kevin

This episode of “This Is Us” moved a couple of storylines forward and gave us some interesting insight into some of the family relationships, especially Jack and Randall. Like last week, we have two past storylines that help inform the present. And it’s all about golf. I tried to learn golf with my dad at one time. Turns out, all ball sports aren’t really the best fit for the blind kid. But, hey, it was a bonding experience. It wasn’t quite that type of experience for Jack and Randall. At least not entirely. See, in the time when Jack and Rebecca were still dating, Jack gets goaded into going to club with Rebecca’s dad. It seems like yet another way to have her dad show Jack up but he almost seems to be trying to get Jack a job other than being a mechanic and working part time at a gas station. Until Jack turns the guy down—while quite drunk—and Rebecca’s dad pointedly says he’s still not good enough for his daughter. This doesn’t deter Jack at all. He says he’s going to marry Rebecca and have kids and be happy. His temper does start to flare though until Rebecca shows up and unknowingly diffuses the situation.

But that golf outing informs how Jack interacts with Randall when he’s 12. Randall is going on and on about his English teacher (who he clearly looks up to as Black male role model) and about Tiger Woods. So Jack goes and teaches him golf. In an attempt to bond, Jack explains that he never felt comfortable on the course and that he regrets letting other people hold him back and define him. But, Randall isn’t appreciative of his dad’s attempts to share experiences. He thinks Jack will never understand what it means to be a black kid (or man) and he’s right but that doesn’t’ mean Jack and Rebecca aren’t trying. Jack also wonders if maybe he feels threatened by having Black male role models in Randall’s life. In the end, he seems to warm up to Randall’s teacher—even inviting him for dinner—and he also shows Randall how to game other people on the course. He explains that a lot of important business gets done on golf courses and he has to know whether to be a show off or terrible to help get what he wants.

And that’s exactly what Randall is doing in the present. He wants one councilman to back his affordable grocery store bill but he’s been told if he keeps asking for support, he won’t get it. So, Randall floats that he’s got an in at a local golf club and then lets himself get roped into going with them. He presents as being pretty terrible but with some coaching from the councilman he’s trying to win over, he gets better. This was a strategic move on Randall’s part to butter up the other councilman. In the end, they come to an agreement to talk about supporting each other’s bills. And that’s really all Randall wanted. He’s learning how to be a politician but still put some Randall Pearson flare on it. I liked how the story had multiple layers to it and we got to see the through-line across multiple eras.

The rest of the episode was all about couples and romance. Kate and Toby are worried their sex life is dead after Jack’s birth and Toby suggests they get away for a night. Kate agrees but things don’t go well. Toby can’t perform and ultimately it’s because Kate told him not to throw away a pair of pants he clearly can’t fit in anymore. She says they are his favorite and he thinks she doesn’t support him and his new body or that she thinks (or even wants) him to put the weight back on. Kate eventually explains that she loves him just as she is and things seem to be moving in a better direction with them. But, they need to be quick because Rebecca and Miguel were about to come back to the house with Jack. Oh boy.

And then there’s Kevin. Oh, Kevin. He’s getting bored out of his mind in Pennsylvania in the small town where Nicky lives. He can’t just bail because he told the VA counselor that he’d be there for Nicky’s court appearance for throwing the chair through the window. So, Kevin goes to work out and ends up running into Cassidy. Things still aren’t going well with her husband but Kevin urges her to keep trying. He also ends up on a rather boring date with a girl who works at the gym. She says that it’s a nice place to raise kids (so hey, at least someone he’s interested in at least minimally wants kids). He’s also been creeping on Zoe. At least he’s moved on from Sophie? But, when he gets back to his trailer with his date, Cassidy is there. Kevin sends his date away because clearly Cassidy needs someone to talk to. She explains that she went to see her husband but things devolved quickly and she lost her temper. She thinks she is unlovable given everything she’s’ been through but Kevin disagrees. And then, of course, they end up sleeping together. I still think she’s going to end up being the mother of his kid that we saw at the end of season 3. I get that we needed to check in on everyone in the family but the Kate and Kevin storylines didn’t feel as cohesive with the rest of the plot and I was kind of annoyed. I wanted to see more of Jack and Randall and those storylines. It felt like Kevin and Kate’s relationship drama could have waited a week.

This Is Us 4.05: “Storybook Love”

“You have strange relationships with people.”
- Nicky

This week’s episode was all centered on food. At least in the two past storylines. It’s not often we see stories in the distant past, the somewhat distant past and the present all at the same time. But they all informed each other and I thought it was pretty cool. In the past set in the year after Jack died, we find Rebecca and Kate have moved into a house and are having Sophie and Kevin over for dinner to celebrate their wedding. Kate thinks it’s weird that Kevin got married without them and she makes her feelings perfectly clear. Beth and Randall come for the visit, as does Miguel. Kate’s boyfriend, Mark, ends up showing up, too. There’s totally more to this story and I can’t wait to find out more. But as we see the night unravel as the kids snipe at each other, we also see a flashback to Jack and Rebecca moving into their new home after she found out she’s pregnant. She wanted to make the perfect lasagna but it got burned and the table didn’t’ have all the legs. And then a bird got into the house and Jack lost his mind because he’s terrified of birds. Ultimately, though, the night turned out pretty perfect. In the not-so-distant past storyline, however, it seems the kids are forcing smiles for Rebecca’s sake as she sings a song from the Princess Bride. I’ve seen that movie countless times and I don’t remember this song at all.

In Philly, Randall and Beth end up having to deal with an expected situation with Tess. Randall has been focusing a lot on exercise which makes Beth nervous (when he’s ramping up for an anxiety episode he tends to get hyper=focused) and he’s trying to recover from bailing on the councilmen for drinks (when he was meeting with constituents and firing his aid). But then he gets a call from Tess’s school that she had a panic attack. Randall tries to sympathize with Tess but she doesn’t want to hear it. She insists she doesn’t want to be anything like her dad. As Randall worries that he’s passed on the one bad thing about himself to his child, Beth flashes back to a very similar conversation with William not long after Randall’s breakdown in season 1. William admits that he, too, suffers from anxiety. While they didn’t have a name for it when he was growing up, his mother would pour him a glass of seltzer water and they’d watch the bubbles settle (the bubbles were analogous to his thoughts). So, Beth drags Randall and Tess into the kitchen and gives them seltzer. It calms Tess enough to admit that she is anxious about the fact that she’d planning to just come out to people but when another girl asked if she thought a boy was hot, Tess answered “yes” instead of saying “I like girls”. Both Beth and Randall promise to help her through the stress. Beth even finds Tess a therapist. She’s found one for Randall, too, but he refuses, saying he’s fine. That’s not going to end well.

Out in LA, Kate is waiting at home for some big present from Randall and Kevin. It’s a delivery so she’s got to be home for it. The doorbell rings and Rebeca shows up, claiming she wants to see the baby. But then, the delivery people arrive with the old piano from their house and it is really a sweet gesture so that Kate can share music with baby Jack. Other than being worried about Kevin buying a trailer in in the woods in Pennsylvania, Kate didn’t have a ton to do this episode in the present. She does uncover some Polaroid pictures from the dinner party, her and Rebecca’s reaction to the photo of Kate and Mark promises drama about to unfold. I have a feeling it’s going to be some sort of abuse.

Out in Pennsylvania, Kevin is trying to bond with Nicky but it’s just awkward and Nicky isn’t really interested in bonding. He doesn’t really want to go to the hockey game Kevin is dragging him to. Cassidy is being honored as a veteran and Kevin is going to support her. Plus, her husband is going to be there which gives Kevin a chance to help her fix things. At first it doesn’t seem like things are fixable. Her husband is chilly at best to her and Kevin and he spends the whole event looking at his phone instead of focusing on Cassidy. Nicky also bails on the event and I don’t blame him. There are too many triggers around: copious amounts of alcohol, loud noises that are somewhat unpredictable. He ends up leaving. I get Kevin was trying to be supportive of his new friend but he put his uncle in a really bad situation. After the game, Kevin confronts Ryan who admits that he met Cassidy when they were 15 and he fell in love immediately and he knew she was going to be his favorite person. The ceremony honored the thing that broke his favorite person. So there may be hope for them yet. I still think that Kevin and Cassidy may end up together but we’ll just have to wait and see. By the end of the episode, Kevin has also gotten Nicky to open up. He tried to share a story about Jack sharing a box of ice cream with him and how much Kevin loved that connection with his dad. Nicky explains that it was their father who started it. Even though he wasn’t a very nice man, every now and then he did something nice and cool. It was nice to see how different things, both good and bad, can be passed down through generations. It was a nice connection for Kevin and Nicky to have and I’m so glad that Nicky was able to stay sober despite the whole triggering situation.