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.”

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 Amy is blonde and bubbly, Greta has dark hair and is withdrawn.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.”

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!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Doctor Who 11.03: “Rosa”

“If she can live here her whole life, a couple of hours ain’t gonna kill me. It ain’t gonna kill me, right?”
= Ryan

I have to admit, I was very pleased with this episode of “Doctor Who”. Jodie is coming into her own as the Doctor. She’s sticking up for people and I really like her energy. I will admit there was a scene in the episode where she could have easily dropped a line referencing River Song. That’s really the main gripe about the new season: not enough overt references to prior iterations and companions. I understand the showrunner and writers want to make this season as accessible for non-Whovians as possible but come on, give us a little love!

Since their jaunt to the future to find the TARDIS, the Doctor has been trying to get Ryan, Yaz and Graham home. There’s a bit of arguing of whether when they land this time, it’s time nine or fourteen. Either way, they land in 1950s Alabama. Not a very friendly time for folks with Ryan and Yaz’s skin color (then again, if we’re being honest, is 2018 really much better?). As is often the case, the TARDIS has likely brought our gang to this place and time for a reason. That reason bumps into them not long after they arrive: Rosa Parks. She intervenes when Ryan tries to return a dropped article of clothing to w a white woman. He gets a smack across the face from the woman’s’ husband. Thankfully, Rosa is able to deescalate the situation to some extent before going on her way.

Before long, the Doctor and her companions run into a man from the future whose energy matches the TARDIS. He’s not going to be good news, we know that from the start. Not when he’s got fancy future weaponry. Naturally, the Doctor is intrigued and traces the energy to his hiding spot. After some rambling banter by the Doctor, we learn that the man, Krasko, was a prisoner in the future at Storm Cage. He’s a killer and he’s used a vortex manipulator to come back to the past to kill Rosa to affect the future. Goodie, racists exist at any point in the timeline. This is the spot where they could have dropped a little nod to River, even with just the Doctor mentioning “oh, my wife was in Storm Cage”.

Of course, this now means that the Doctor and her gang are going to have to keep Rosa from getting killed and make sure she’s on the bus to refuse to give up her seat and get arrested. Trying to plan this whole thing in an era where white people and people of color couldn’t dine together is difficult. They first try to grab some food but the waitress refuses to serve them because they don’t’ serve “Negroes and Mexicans”. Yaz is rather offended at being called Mexican but there’s not much she can do about it. She does learn that there are different definitions of race in the South at this time. She may not be white but she also doesn’t count as “colored” so she can sit with the whites on the bus. The Doctor devises a plan to get Rosa onto the bus. They are going to ensure they fill up the bus so she will have to be asked to move. And it’s on Graham to make sure the bus driver is one doing the driving. That’s going to be a little hard since he’s called out to go on vacation. So, the Doctor uses her connections in the past (a sneakily distributed cell phone) to get the man who was going to cover for the driver on a trip to Las Vegas.

The other problem is going to be keeping Krasko away from Rosa (and making sure Rosa leaves on time to catch the bus). Ryan is put on Rosa’s tail but he’s not very good at it because she catches him like two seconds after he starts following her. He’s kind of in awe of her, but more so when he gets to meet Martin Luther King Jr. (whom he knows a lot more about). Ryan also thinks he’s done a good thing when he uses Krasko’s vortex manipulator to send him as far back as the device will go. Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of him. In the end though, the gang manages to get the bus filled and the driver to tell Rosa to move. She refuses, gets arrested and history is safe. The Doctor isn’t super happy about Ryan sending Krasko to the past though. Still, he was only trying to help and he was a bit jazzed up by seeing the beginning of the Civil Rights movement taking shape. I really appreciated how they addressed the issues of racism especially between Ryan and Yaz.

Overall, I really enjoyed this episode. I thought it touched on important issues that are still relevant today (sadly) and it showcased the Thirteenth Doctor’s skills and personality. She’s very caring and I like that. Not to say prior regenerations weren’t, but I’m not sure this story would have worked with her predecessors. I also appreciated that there were writers of color and women involved in writing this script. My hats off to Chibnall for trying to diversify the staff and tell more stories like this. I also have to say, I missed the adventure of the week format we had in the early days of modern Who. Don’t get me wrong, I like a season long arc too, but when giving us a new Doctor and companions, I think just sending them on wild adventures in the past and the future is a good idea. I also have to admit, I like how the companions are fitting together. I like that they sort of knew each other before the Doctor so they’ve got history that binds them together. If the season continues in this vein, I will be a happy camper.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Doctor Who 11.02: "The Ghost Monument"

If we stick together, if you trust me, we can get out of this.”

-The Doctor

The second episode of the latest “Doctor Who” reboot was a proper adventure story, which I appreciated. I enjoyed Doctor Who the most when Russell T. Davies was writing adventures of the week that loosely tied together into a cohesive season arc. It might make me unsophisticated, but the Moffat era got too twisty for me. I like to have a good time when watching “Doctor Who,” not keep spreadsheets worth of plot points in my head. Plus, a classic adventure story provides a great training ground for the Doctor’s new friends to get used to the idea of traveling with an alien who can go anywhere in space and time. The Doctor even helpfully points out that this must be Yaz, Ryan, and Graham’s first alien planet visit (she also warns them not to touch anything).

This was my first opportunity to really take in the new version of the theme song. There’s a completely new creative team behind this season, and that includes the composer. For the first time in modern Who history, Murray Gold isn’t behind the music. The new composer is named Segun Akinola, and his take on the classic tune was sufficiently eerie and mysterious. Anyway, the episode picked up right where the last one left off. The Doctor and her new crew are all floating in space after her failed (sort of) attempt to find the TARDIS. They are each picked up by passing-by ships. Ryan and Graham find themselves with a woman named Angstrom, and the Doctor and Yaz are picked up by a man named Epzo. Both pilots were looking for the “final planet” (which we later learned is called Desolation), but it has been knocked out of orbit. Eventually, both ships crash land on Desolation, and our crew are reunited.

The reunited group, along with their pilots, make their way to a big tent, where they are greeted by a hologram. Angstrom and Epzo are the final two contestants in an “Amazing Race” style competition called the Rally of the Twelve Galaxies. Several thousand other participants have died. The hologram tells the group that they have reached the final challenge. They must brave the extremely inhospitable planet (don’t drink the water, among other things) to reach the “Ghost Monument.” It turns out that the Ghost Monument is none other than the TARDIS, phasing in and out of time and space, so of course the Doctor is all in. She’s pretty confident she can get the group through the ordeal safely, and then they’ll have the TARDIS to make their escape, which is very important considering the hologram said that the loser would be stranded on the planet.

The isolated location does provide a good opportunity to try and do some character work in the middle third of the episode. On the more fun side of things, at one point, Angstrom and Epzo are fighting, and Epzo has a blaster, so the Doctor disables Epzo with some Venusian Akido. Even though I’ve never actually seen a classic Third Doctor episode, I appreciated the little nod to a previous regeneration. The team needs to get a solar powered ship up and running to make it further towards the TARDIS, and Ryan and Graham end up taking on the task. This leads them to start hashing out their mutual issues. I think Ryan has resented Graham intruding on his family ever since Graham married Ryan’s grandmother, but now that Ryan’s grandmother has died, all they’ve got is each other. Ryan doesn’t like that Graham keeps treating him like a kid, but Graham starts to make some headway with Ryan by talking about looking out for each other. Eventually, they both are able to make progress figuring out what is wrong with the ship, and the team is able to continue on.

We also learn that Angstrom and Epzo are both coming from rather rough home situations. It makes sense, considering they’ve both essentially entered an “Amazing Race” to the death. Somebody probably needs to be really desperate (or really foolish) to do that. At one point, Angstrom alludes to Yaz that something very bad happened on her own planet, but she checks herself and stops opening up. Later we learn that her whole family has been trying to flee the planet. We also learn that Epzo’s mother was physically abusive and caused him serious injuries. He still appreciates the strength that his upbringing gave him, though.

The team eventually finds themselves at some interesting looking ruins. The Doctor is preoccupied with the fact that they have encountered no living beings on this planet, and the ruins especially seem to quiet. Still determined to win the race, however, Angtrom and Epzo charge ahead anyway. Epzo accidentally trips something, and a bunch of robot guards start to appear. The Doctor and friends notice them once they make their way inside the ruins, which look like a target practice site. They are sniper bot guards, and they get triggered and start shooting. The team has to run in crazy patters to avoid them. Once they’re immediately out of danger, they go back to exploring, because the Doctor thinks that whatever happened to this planet is very important. They continue the journey by heading down a ladder.

The ladder leads to an intricate network of tunnels, and the group decides that they can get to the Ghost Monument more safely (and more quickly) using the tunnels instead of traveling on the surface. The safety is short lived, though. Epzo is attacked by a killer cloth thing that tries to suffocate him. The Doctor also discovers a room where she finally learns what happened to the planet. Scrawled on the floor is the story of how scientists were brought there and made to develop all sorts of deadly weapons while their families were tortured. The Stenza, who we met in the last episode, were behind it, lending a bit of continuity to the season thus far. The sniperbots soon join the party too, making the tunnels no longer safe for the group.

Everyone has to climb a ladder to get back to the surface, where they pop up in the middle of an acetylene field. As soon as they make it to the surface the sentient cloth things surround them and become very threatening. They have a cigar with them, though, which when lit ignites the acetylene and the deadly cloths. Somehow, by lying on the ground, the group manages to avoid being burnt to a crisp. Eventually, they get to the end of their journey, but the TARDIS isn’t there. A tent is there, though, and after some cajoling, Epzo and Angstrom go inside the tent and demand a joint victory to the competition. They get what they want and are whisked away, but everyone else is left behind. The TARDIS is still a no-show, and the Doctor is devastated, convinced she has let everybody down (I guess the Doctor now truly understands what it is to be a woman – any of the male incarnations of the Doctor would not have lost confidence so quickly).

The TARDIS does eventually appear, though, and the Doctor coaxes her to stick around. The also gets to do the classic “bigger on the inside” reveal with her new friends. As you would expect given that we’ve got an entirely new creative team behind this series, the TARDIS has also redecorated. I think I like this version. With some crystal elements, it combines the more organic look of the Ninth/Tenth Doctor’s TARDIS with the steampunk elements favored in the Moffat era. It’s a nice merger, I think. Ryan is especially impressed that he gets to hang out in a space and time ship now. The Doctor gleefully starts pushing buttons and pulling levers, ready to take her new friends on more adventures.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

This Is Us 3.07: “Sometimes”

“I can’t talk about it, Vietnam. The things I did and saw, I don’t want to bring that part of my life into this, with us.”
- Jack

I enjoyed this episode of “This Is Us” more than I have some of the others. While we didn’t get nearly the amount of information or answers we probably wanted about Jack and Nicky, that’s honestly not that surprising. They dole out answers in bits and pieces and I feel like we got some more of Jack’s war story as Kevin and Zoe made their way to Vietnam in the present.

As we see, post-war, Jack and Rebecca are embarking on their roundtrip across the country to LA so she can meet with a record executive. She’s got high hopes for her demo and Jack is kind of there for the ride. He’s got some business he needs to take care of nearby which he won’t tell her about. In fact, while they start to get more into each other—slow dancing at a diner and making out in a myriad of hotel rooms—Jack still can’t let Rebecca in on the pain he’s carrying around from the war. She wakes him one morning from a nightmare bout he claims not to remember his dreams and he says he never cries because he’s learned to swallow the bad stuff. I’m not sure that’s a good tactic, Jack but it is probably accurate for how men coming back from this particular war dealt with it. As they make their way across the US, we see Jack trying to deal with Nick during the war. He’s high and at first he thinks Jack isn’t real and then Nick’s commanding officer kicks Jack to the curb. Jack has to walk back to the village he’s stationed in and he ends up getting a ride from a local. It is interesting that it seems this guy may be Viet Cong (or as he eventually puts it to Jack…sometimes). But, Jack eventually makes it back to his village and then Nick shows up. His commanding officer gives Jack two weeks to straighten is brother out. Nick seems unhappy that Jack stepped in.

Not surprisingly, Rebecca’s meeting with the record guys doesn’t go how she wants. He says she’s good but she’s “Pittsburgh” good. She tries to take it as a compliment. While she’s getting this rather brutal feedback, we find that Jack has gone to see the parents of one of the men who died under his watch during the war. He goes to tell them that he is responsible for their son’s death and he is sorry for what happened. God, it broke my heart to see him placing the blame on himself. They rightly tell him it wasn’t his fault. And when he meets up with Rebecca later, he asks her to sing the song she’d sent as the demo. She’s reluctant at first but as she sings, we see how much it touches him and he starts crying. Kudos to Mandy Moore for writing a sweet song.

In the present, Kevin and Zoe land in Vietnam and Kevin is understandably excited to see what he can find about his dad’s time in country. Zoe doesn’t seem quite as excited and she sort of freaks when he takes a selfie of them and is going to post it to Instagram. She says her dad is in China and he would try to reach out if he saw she was in Vietnam. She doesn’t elaborate beyond that and Kevin accepts it, even though you can see he wants more. They end up eating lunch at a market where Kevin sees a tourist with the necklace his father had given him and he quickly learns that tons of them are sold all the time. He’s disappointed because he thought the necklace was such a key piece. I think it still may be. After all, a man bought it for a woman but he discarded it when he saw her with another man. Another guy picks it up and then when he dies, a woman takes it off his body so it clearly has a story. Still, Kevin is kind of moping about the whole thing when Zoe asks to go back to the hotel. At first Kevin thinks she’s just being a party pooper but when she gets sick, he rushes her back and even buys her coconut water. Kevin may be kind of a dope sometimes but he can be awfully sweet when he tries. He explains that his parents built a relationship on secrets with Jack not letting Rebecca in on his life before they met and it worked for them but Kevin doesn’t want that for him and Zoe because he’s falling in love with her. I appreciated the parallel that the writers drew between these two stories. I also get why Jack didn’t want to talk about the horrors he experienced because he didn’t want what he had with Rebecca to be weighed down by everything he was feeling. After Zoe divulges the deal with her father, I can see why she wanted to keep it quiet and why Beth previously told Kevin that Zoe’s history is complicated. She was sexually abused by her father and every so often he reaches out to try and make amends but she doesn’t want to forgive him. She’s let what he did to her affect her life and relationships for so long, she doesn’t want to give that part of her history power anymore because she’s falling for Kevin, too.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I liked this episode. It did move storylines forward, if a bit slowly. But, they’ve got the rest of the season to dole out this information and I know that the writers will give us all of Jack’s story eventually. I have faith in their ability to give us all the pieces to the Jack Pearson puzzle. I am excited to see how the story continues to unfold as we hit the Thanksgiving episode for the season.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

This Is Us 3.06: “Kamsahamnida”

“I’m curious about Dad, too, but Vietnam that was a chapter in his life he didn’t want us to know about.”
- Randall

This episode of “This Is Us” saw a bunch of present-day storylines continue to move forward which I think is a good thing. And we got to see a glimpse into a period in the past we haven’t seen quite yet. The Big Three are about 12 years old and Jack comes home with a black eye from boxing at the gym. Rebecca kind of freaks out about the whole thing and he promises to only hit the punching bag from now on. His promise doesn’t last long because Randall tells Jack he’s being bullied at school and he wants to be able to defend himself. Jack agrees to give his son some lessons without telling Rebecca but she finds out anyway and she again gets upset. They both then end up confused when they discover Randall lied about the bully. When Jack confronts him, Randall admits he just wanted a piece of his dad that Kevin got biologically. In typical Jack fashion, he reminds his son that his secret weapon his is mind. I was also kind of surprised that in the end, Jack related a story to Rebecca about him and Nicky boxing as kids. The look on her face says “you’ve never told me about him before” and I think that’s just great. We also find the whole family watching boxing on TV and Jack points out that sometimes when an opponent is hurt really bad, they put on a big smile to fake out the other guy.

That advice comes back to help Randall later on. He goes to Philly for church and gets called out by his opponent. It’s all gracious and covered in a fa├žade of friendliness but Randall sees it for what it is. He’s not going to win the black neighborhood. When Kevin drops by to inundate his brother with all of the stuff he’s been digging up about Jack and Vietnam, Randall realizes he needs to take a different approach. He does a little research and finds out the Korean population in the neighborhood barely votes. And also, they apparently love the Manny in South Korea. So, they use Kevin’s fame to set up a voter registration table. Randall gets to give an impassioned speech that touches the residents to show that he does care about them and what they need and want. Randall even manages to get a new campaign manager out of it, too. I am excited to see what happens with this new character. I liked that he really seemed impressed with Randall after Randall got his 75-year-old grandmother who’d never voted in her life to register.

While Randall is off having his campaign drama, we see Beth is still struggling with being unemployed. She’s been trying to hide the fact that she’s not dealing with it from Randall and the girls but when they go out to try and sell girl scout cookies, she ends up snapping at Tess (who admittedly is being kind of a brat). Beth goes to apologize but Deja has quite a few words of wisdom. I’m so glad they kept her character on the show and have made her part of the family. She really has an interesting way of seeing things and her life experience really shines through in this conversation with Beth. She reminds Beth that Randall is head over heels in love with her and he’ll be there to support her and remind her of how awesome she is. He does that when he gets home but she’s just not feeling it. He then decides to offer her a job on his campaign team. Not as a pity job but because he knows they work so well together and he realizes having her with him was the missing piece to the puzzle. Later that day, Randall goes to see his opponent and we see him smile big when Randall exclaims that he’s going to win Koreatown. Randall knows he’s hit his opponent hard and he’s just covering. Even all these years after they lost Jack, his presence is still being felt and I love it.

And lest we forget about Kate, she and Toby are still dealing with the fall out of Toby being off his medication. Even though he’s on the meds now, it is taking a long time to recalibrate and he’s just really struggling. Kate calls Rebecca a whole bunch for advice and I like that their relationship is in a place where she can do that and accept what her mom has to say. Since the wedding, I feel like Kate and Rebecca have started to become closer and have a stronger mother-daughter bond. Kate isn’t sure if she should push Toby or let him do things at his own pace. It seems that letting him do things his own way isn’t really working. And as Kate laments this to her mom on the phone while walking the dog, said puppy gets into a bag of garbage and ends up eating a rock. So now she has to worry about what to do about the dog. Ultimately, the dog is fine. But, we get some really good insight into Toby’s character. While Kate is at the vet, Toby showers and gets dressed but he’s still not feeling better. As he tells Kate, he hoped going through the motions would make him want to do things but it doesn’t. He almost gets out of going for another walk with Kate and the dog when she just tells him he should go on the walk. So not coddling him seems to be the answer. He also worries that Kate is going to eventually leave him given his depression 9and that’s what happened with his first wife). Kate insists she’s not going anywhere because she agreed to be with him in sickness and in health and for better or worse. Her life has been kind of crappy at times but she thinks it’s made her stronger and she’s determined to stand by her man, no matter what.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

This Is Us 3.05: “Toby”

“The joy in you is as much a part of you as this sadness, you hear me?”
- Mrs. Damon

We usually don’t get non-Pearson family centric episodes until around episode 16 or 17 of the season but this year, we got some background on Toby early on. Then again, his story, especially with his depression, tied into active storylines with him and Kate trying to have a baby. Overall, I thought this episode was just okay. I didn’t dislike it but after the previous episode, I wanted more answers about Nicky!

Focusing on Toby and Kate, when last we saw them, they had eight eggs retrieved to be fertilized. As the episode progresses, we see that three of them were viable when fertilized with Toby’s sperm and ultimately one of them is good to implant into Kate’s womb. I did like the cute little graphics they put up on the fridge with each step of the process. It has now been about five weeks since Toby was off his medication for his depression and his withdrawal symptoms are clearly getting worse. He’s agitated and the leg shaking is getting worse. He goes to the pharmacy to ask if they can just refill his medication so he can be ready to go back on them if Kate is indeed pregnant, but the pharmacist tells him that he needs to call his doctor to get on a sfe plan to go back on the medication. In his past, we see that depression isn’t just affecting Toby. It’s clear that his mother is also suffering from depression (whether it’s post-partum or otherwise is unclear). But, even at a young age, Toby exhibited signs of mood swings. We see Toby’s first use of humor to cope with a situation when he’s out shopping for school clothes with his mom. We also get glimpses into when his father left and when, as an adult, Toby’s marriage to Jose fell apart and he spiraled into a deeper depression. In the present, Kate gets the good news that she is indeed pregnant again and this pushes Toby over the edge into a bit of a breakdown. He admits to Kate what he did in going off his medication and we finally catch up to the flash forward scene from the season 2 finale of Kate letting Toby know the doctor wants him to go in to adjust his medication.

Randall and Beth have their own trials going on right now. Apparently, Randall is still bull headed and can’t see that his wife really needs him to be her rock because he’s going forward with running for city council. How he can do that without living there is a little confusing to me, but whatever. He sets up a sort of meet and greet at an old diner in the neighborhood and people come in for the food. None of them are overly impressed with Randall, especially when he tells them that they’ve become complacent with the current councilman’s behavior. It was honestly nice to see Randall fail at something for once. Beth, meanwhile, is struggling to find another job. She has an interview but breaks down when asked why she left her other company after twelve years. That has honestly got to be a hard thing to try and explain, especially when you were fired. I still wonder if there was something race-related in the decision but that’s probably just my day job seeping into everything in my life. She doesn’t tell Randall the truth about how poorly the interview went but she does point out to him that he needs to find a different approach to reaching people. This is very obvious when the owners of the restaurant who hosted the event explained that they were on the verge of eviction decades ago when the current councilman stepped in and set their landlord straight. How Randall moves forward with this storyline will be interesting. I’m hoping he sees that Beth is hurting and puts aside his own aspirations (and what he thinks he needs to do to live up to both of his fathers’ memories) to support her.

Speaking of living up to their father’s memory, Kevin sets out on his quest to learn about Jack’s time in Vietnam. Robinson writes back to him and invites him to come and chat. Kevin is all excited to meet someone who knew his dad back then. Zoe goes with him and there are some things that happen that she assumes that Kevin, as a white man, won’t understand. She needs her silk pillowcase (for her hair) but she doesn’t tell him the reason she needs it. Still, in typical clueless Kevin fashion, he actually manages to be sensitive to her needs and buys her one anyway. These two might just work out after all. At first, Robinson is hesitant to tell Kevin anything other than Jack’s line about being a mechanic. But, when Kevin insists he really wants to know this part of his father’s past, Robinson relents and admits that Jack was a Staff Sergeant. He shows Kevin a photo of the unit and I was honestly surprised that Kevin was able to point out that Nick was probably Jack’s brother. As we know, Robinson never met Nicky since Robinson was sent home with his amputated foot before Jack went to find his brother. We also get another clue in the puzzle that is pre-Rebecca Jack Pearson: the necklace that Jack gave to Kevin seems to have come from a Vietnamese woman whom Jack knew then (the mother of the little boy from last week’s episode). I honestly don’t think they’d go with the “secret family” angle. But I think Jack may have been found a friend in this woman after Nicky’s death.

Speaking of dealing with death, in the past, we find the Pearsons in their new apartment. The kids are getting ready for prom—well the boys are at least—but they don’t seem super excited. Randall is mostly nervous to meet his girlfriend’s parents. That goes horribly. Either she didn’t tell her parents that Randall is black or they are just typical white people in the 1990s, but her dad can’t handle the fact that Randall is not white. So, Randall bails on the whole thing and Kevin winds up massively drunk. So drunk that Sophie brings him to Miguel’s place to sleep it off. Miguel and Randall do get to share a nice moment which I think helps cement the fact that Randall doesn’t hate Miguel like his siblings do. We also see that Miguel finds a small upright piano and gives it to Rebecca. She and Kate end up bonding over it a little bit. This is the first time Kate’s even sung or touched an instrument since Jack’s death and Rebecca reminds her daughter that music is always in her. We even see this in the present when Kate is doing a singing telegram as Adele and one of the people points out how good she is and asks why she’s doing this instead of singing professionally herself. Kate explains that whenever her life takes a dark turn, music is the first thing to go. I appreciated that little tie-in.

While this wasn’t my favorite episode of the season, I am intrigued to see where the plots take us next. Will Kate and Toby actually get a baby out of this? What secrets will Kevin and Zoe discover in Vietnam when they eventually head there and what does life have in store for Randall and Beth?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween "Classic" Recap: Psych: "Scary Sherry: Bianca's Toast"

“I can’t believe this!”
“We actually started an urban legend!”
“That’s dope!”
-Gus and Shawn

The horror-themed first season finale of “Psych” is one of my favorite episodes of the series, and the flashback with young Shawn and Gus happen to take place on Halloween, so I’m counting it as a Halloween episode for the purposes of this year’s Halloween recap! Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, so I couldn’t let it pass by without a recap. I’m also being occasionally disrupted from writing by Trick or Treaters, but this is my first year living in a place where I get any (not an onslaught, but I’ve had a few), so I wouldn’t pass that up, either! Anyway, this particular episode of “Psych” was co-written by none other than Shawn Spencer himself, James Roday. I believe this may have been his first-ever television writing credit. Roday is a big horror fan, and he crammed quite a few horror references into this episode.

The opening flashback takes place on Halloween, where nine-year-old Shawn and Gus have been Trick-or-Treating. Little Shawn is a policeman, and Little Gus is Lando Calrisian (which is awesome). Henry wants to take the boys to the police station to have all their candy x-rayed, but he gets called on to help with a problem at the Wispy Sunny Pines hospital. A woman wearing a very wispy outfit (who we later learn is known as “Scary Sherry” is about to jump from an upper story window. Henry leaves the boys in the car and tries to help, but Scary Sherry jumps anyway. Twenty years later, we see a co-ed running through Wispy Sunny Pines. Unlike Scary Sherry, though, she doesn’t jump out the window. She is startled and falls.

At Psych HQ, Shawn and Gus return from what looks like a game of racquetball happy engaged in their usual banter. They are surprised to see Juliet inside, dressed like a cross between Cher Horowitz and Elle Woods. She’s undercover as Mary Lou, Vice Parliamentarian of Beta Kappa Theta sorority. She’s investigating the (more recent) death at Wispy Sunny Pines, and the victim was a Beta Kappa Theta pledge. She wants Shawn’s psychic help to solve the case, because the girls keep reporting spooky supernatural happenings. They think Scary Sherry is back. Shawn and Gus head to the Beta Kappa Theta house, and they are enthusiastically greeted by all the girls. A sister named Bianca (played by Cheylan Simmons, who I know from “Wonderfalls” and “The LA Complex”) tells about how her clock was destroyed. As Shawn tries to create a distraction so he can go upstairs with Juliet (I forgot Gus hated being mistaken for Bud from “The Cosby Show”), the lights start flickering, and a voice screams at the girls to “get out.” The guys hightail it out of the house, but Juliet calls them back. Shawn obeys, of course, but Gus drives right away in the blueberry.

Meanwhile, Lassiter has been reassigned. He’s supposed to help train a rookie, Detective Goochberg, a much older woman that Lassiter anticipated. He starts by taking her to the shooting range, where she promptly destroys his favorite gun. Then she says she has to ride in the back of the car because the sunlight bothers her retinitis pigmentosa. Worst of all, she harasses, the chases down, a clerk who is trying to report a crime that happened at his deli. It turns out that she has a heart attack during the chase, and she winds up in the hospital. Lassiter is not pleased. He’s less pleased when (Interim) Chief Vick tells him that everyone thought he and Goochberg would get along because they’re so similar. It makes him start to rethink how he relates to Shawn, Gus, and Juliet.

All is not well in Beta Kappa Theta. The girls are out on the quad trying to recruit new members. Juliet sees Alice Bundy, the victim’s best friend, and tries to reach out to her. Alice, however, is not impressed. The other girls start getting annoyed at Bianca for not passing out enough flyers. Bianca says she’s still upset over all the hauntings, and she leaves in disgust. It turns out Bianca has good reason to be scared. Shawn and Gus have a breakthrough when they realize that one of the noises the ghost was making earlier was “Bianca” spelled backwards. They call Juliet and try to warn her, but it’s too late. Right before the sorority’s big recruitment mixer, Bianca is electrocuted in her bathtub. The sorority house receives a card inviting them to a vigil for both victims, Doreen and Bianca, at the same time as their mixer. This leads sorority sister Betty to confess that Bianca was in the Scary Sherry costume and accidentally scared Doreen to her death.

Shawn takes it upon himself to get to know Alice Bundy a bit better. He approaches her with a pineapple to share, and while she’s weirded out at first (I don’t blame her), we eventually learn that Doreen was her best friend, and they grew up together when Doreen’s parents took her in as a young child. Alice appeals to Shawn’s affection for Gus, saying she couldn’t have possibly murdered her best friend. Later, Shawn and Gus go to Henry’s house for dinner. Henry and Shawn are still somewhat estranged, so this dinner is awkward. We do learn, however, that Scary Sherry didn’t actually die. While Shawn and Gus had their eyes covered, Henry saved her, and she was rehabilitated. Shawn and Gus are pretty impressed with themselves for starting an urban legend.

Shawn and Gus pay a visit to Alice’s house, where Gus (who pretends he has lost his cat Mrs. Pickles) meets the nanny, Poppy. She says Doreen’s parents and Alice are all at the cemetery. Shawn gets a phone call from one of the sorority sisters saying Juliet went to a vigil. This makes him very worried. He and Gus think that Alice is going to try and kill Juliet because she thinks Juliet is the queen bee of sorority girls, and they are right. Juliet approaches Wispy Sunny Pines and sees a bunch of candles. She’s met by Alice, who lures her upstairs then tries to attack her with an Axe. Shawn calls Lassiter for backup, and the three all meet up at Wispy Sunny Pines. Gus isn’t thrilled at being back there, and he tries to set up some rules to avoid being the stereotypical black guy in a horror movie. He spends most of his time with his foot stuck in a floor board scared out of his mind. Juliet manages to fight off Alice just as help arrives, and Alice admits to trying to kill Juliet. She asks Shawn what he would have done if it were Gus.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Good Place 2.09: “Best Self”

“You’ve been our teacher this whole time. If we’re the best versions of ourselves, which that balloon just proved, then you definitely are.”
- Eleanor

When our core four and Michael duped Sean and the rest of the demons last episode, I wasn’t sure what this week was going to entail and frankly was the rest of the season (let alone series) was going to be. It feels like the writers tend to blow through story rather quickly on this show. Anyway, the gang is left in the “Good Place” and they need to find a way to get to the actual Good Place before Sean realizes what happened and punish everyone. Michael says he’s come up with a transportation device to get them there that turns out to be a giant hot air balloon which some rules that you have to be your best self to get on. Eleanor, Tahani and Jason get on but Chidi ends up being booted. He starts spiraling emotionally and Eleanor ahs to talk him down. The next go around, Tahani, Chidi and Jason make it and Eleanor doesn’t. When Janet tries to get on, she breaks the thing and Michael admits that the balloon was a lie and that he never figured out how to get to the Good Place. I guess it’s kind of interesting that he’s learned to admit his mistakes and take ownership of them. I thought Michael was going to admit that he made the balloon purposely not let everyone on so he could stall and spend more time with them but I was wrong.

While the gang is temporarily pissed at Michael, they end up sharing some really good moments while they are all getting hammered (thank you Eleanor). Tahani and Jason break up (whether it’s because Tahani realizes Jason is kind of an idiot or she doesn’t want to compete with Janet it’s unclear but she’s actually solving her own problem for once so that’s progress. And Eleanor admits to Chidi that she still has feelings for him. I did like Michael reciting the time they fell in love. Sure, he was all grossed out by the kissing but it was really nice to hear that there was some version of Eleanor and Chidi who were comfortable enough with each other to actually express those feelings. I suspect if Chidi just relaxed a bit, he and Eleanor could actually be together and be happy. I feel like they’ve spent more time on the whole Janet/Jason/Tahani triangle and they are just not nearly as interesting. I still find Jason really dumb and annoying and Tahani is just so self-centered and full of herself that I want to smack her. For me, Eleanor and Chidi are the couple of the show that interest me and we’ve barely seen any development with them. I know we still have a few episodes left for the season (and the show has been renewed for season 3) so maybe we’ll get more progress with the two of them.

Near the end of the night, the gang ends up awarding Michael “Honorary Human” status, complete with a gift box of useless crap that makes him happy and highly amused including car keys, a beat up stress ball and a diet book. He really has found his tribe in all of this. I wasn’t expecting that to be the outcome when this season started but he’s actually making progress in being better. We also get some fun dance montages, including a sweet Chidi and Eleanor slow dance. Things then devolve into the core four wondering what the real Bad Place will be like for them all. After some drunk rambling, Tahani suggests they go to the Judge and plead their case. That’s all fine and good except the only way to get there is through the actual Bad Place (and a portal).

Elanor leads the charge to just throw caution to the wind and try to get to the Judge through the Bad Place and after Sean sends a bunch of texts to Michael about a Bad Place train arriving in the morning and the core four being rounded up and tortured, our ragtag bunch of misfits is off and running. Michael deactivates Bad Janet and our Janet conducts the train to their next destination as the fake Good Place disappears into a black void. I know we only have a handful more episodes this season but I honestly can’t predict what’s going to happen. Will they make it through the Bad Place? Will they actually get into the Good Place? I will be interested to see what the actual Bad Place looks like and how they end up changing it from what we’ve seen so far. Will we get to encounter some of the other demons we got to know, like Vicky?

The one problem I still have with this show is that the episodes sometimes seem random. I honestly worried we’d spend an entire episode dealing with the scale on the hot air balloon this week. The fact that they are burning through story (and not exploring things like the Eleanor and Chidi relationship in more depth) is worrisome to me. I feel like they could have spread things out over a longer period of time. They kind of wrote themselves into a bit of a corner by revealing that Michel was a Bad Place architect and they were in the Bad Place too early. They could have built up the other characters more before doing that. And now that they are on the verge of maybe getting into the Good Place, it makes me wonder how they will continue the story. I suspect they won’t actually make it into the Good Place this season. Or if they do, Michael won’t be let in and the rest of the group will have to decide whether they do an all or nothing approach or if they abandon him.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Good Place 2.08: "Leap to Faith"

“You’re bad, Eleanor. This is exactly the place you should be.”

“Leap to Faith” was one of the twistier episodes of “The Good Place,” I think, and “The Good Place” is a pretty twisty show overall. Throughout the episode, we have no idea if we can trust Michael, and the other characters all have various different opinions on the topic throughout the episode. Things changed so quickly and so often that I didn’t know who to believe. Even at the end of the episode, I still wasn’t 100% sure about Michael. He seems to still be on the side of the humans for now, at least, but when the going gets rough and he doesn’t have a plan like he had this time around, I’m not sure if his loyalty will remain. Even this time, his plan to help the humans, while successful, was pretty darn cruel. It was cruel enough that the humans temporarily doubted him, which could have been a major liability.

We pick up with Michael being very surprised to see his boss, Shawn, sitting in his office. At first, Michael thinks that all his failed attempts at creating what I’m going to call a Huis Clos neighborhood (read your Sartre if you don’t get the reference) have been found out and that he’s in big trouble. That isn’t quite the case, though. Shawn says he’s been reading the reports on the latest reboot, and he’s trilled that our four humans are more tortured than anybody in a traditional Bad Place scenario. Shawn thinks this is just the second, reboot, though, not hundreds of attempts in. Due to the resounding success of Michael’s neighborhood, Shawn has been promoted, and he’s sharing the wealth by promoting Michael, too. He’s got a senior staff pin to give out and everything. When Vicky finds out about this, she is not at all amused. She wants a promotion, too. Michael thinks he has her under control, reminding Vicky that if Shawn learns about Vicky’s latest successful neighborhood, he’ll also learn about all the failed versions, and they’ll all be in trouble.

The four humans are called into Michael’s office, where Michael gives the “you’re actually in the Bad Place” speech and the humans try and act surprised. Shawn says that they’re going to shut the neighborhood down and send the four to a more traditional Bad Place neighborhood to be tested then tortured. Back at the house, the four debate what to do next. Chidi toys with the idea of ratting out Michael to Shawn. Tahani and Jason vote for taking the train to the Medium Place, which has been complicated by the fact that Shawn has shackled Janet, and she’s acting like she’s drunk, so she can’t call the train. Eleanor, however, thinks Michael is actually still on their side. She points out that a reference Michael made to Kierkegaard was too specific to be random. She thinks Michael was trying to tell them to take a leap of faith and trust him to work things out.

To send off the neighborhood in true Bad Place style, Michael hosts a comedy roast followed by an all night rager. The comedy roast is especially cruel, with Michael saying the exact right thing to really hurt each human. He even insults the Jacksonville Jaguars (that’s the final straw for Jason)! The roast is hurtful enough to make Eleanor doubt Michael. She thinks he is indeed in league with Shawn. Meanwhile, the demons are all partying like crazy to a Puddle of Mudd song and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” on repeat thanks to DJ Bad Janet. Michael kind of conspicuously mysteriously talks to Janet a couple times, and this draws the attention of Vicky. Vicky starts trying to ingratiate herself with Shawn, but then the train suddenly pulls out of the station. Since things are going south, she automatically wants to give Michael credit for everything about the neighborhood.

I’m going to take a little pause here for a second to recognize a pretty cool guest star (or maybe she’s been recurring and I just didn’t notice?). Amy Okuda, who I know from Felicia Day’s groundbreaking web series “The Guild” plays a demon named Gail. On “The Guild,” Okuda played a bratty but endearing gamer named Tink. I’ll admit, there’s not much to the character of Gail, but she kind of hits some of the same notes (she’s a major tattletale). It’s nice to see Okuda working on television, though. I like when people from my nerdy, small-time fandoms get a chance to make some bank. Plus “The Good Place” is a pretty great show to get to appear on, even if it is pretty brief.

Anyway, thanks to Gail being a tattletale, Shawn thinks that Vicky is responsibly for the humans escaping on the train. He calls up another train to follow them and encases Vicky is a very oozy cocoon. Once the second train pulls out of the station with all the demons on it, we see that the humans have been lying on the track the whole time. They sit up to see Michael staring at them. He is so happy to see them safe that he starts crying uncontrollably, and soon the whole group is crying.

We get a nice little mystery-style recap of exactly how the gang followed Michael’s clues to (relative) safety. Each of Michael’s insults at the comedy roast provided one of the pieces to the puzzle. They needed to get Derek (who I still think of as Pimento from Brooklyn Nine-Nine) back from Janet’s void and have him call the train. Then they needed to hide on the train tracks so that they couldn’t be detected when Bad Janet was asked to scan for human life signs. The final terrifying wait while the train traveled over them was the last piece of the puzzle. Michael, of course, has to mention that he actually left them 1,200 clues since their brains are so underdeveloped.

This Is Us 3.04: “Vietnam”

“He’s there now and he’s struggling. I just need to be where he is even if I can’t get to him, even if I can’t do anything for him. I just need to be there. He’s my little brother, Doc. It’s my job to take care of him.”
- Jack

Everyone’s been waiting to see the story of Jack’s time in Vietnam. And this episode introduced us to the start of the journey. The story was told in backwards fashion, using consecutive farther back flashbacks but I’m going to present it in a more linear fashion so we can see how Jack and Nicky ended up where they did (even if Nicky would prefer to look back and try to figure out how he got where he was).

We begin with Nicky’s birth. The nurse tells Jack’s mom that October 18th is a lucky day and Nicky just misses sharing a birthday with his alcoholic grandfather. It’s interesting to see that at this point, Papa Pearson isn’t a drunk or abusive. I want to know what causes him to snap and become so violent and such a horrible person. At this point, he seems like a decent guy. Next we find Jack and Nicky as young kids. They are tossing a football in the front yard and Nicky breaks his glasses. He’s terrified he’ll get a beating from their father but Jack swears he’ll never let that happen. He even fixes Nicky’s glasses for him with some tape. Later that night, both boys stand up to their dad and he ends up leaving their mother alone. I like that Jack tries to encourage Nicky to be brave and strong, even with glasses (he calls him Clark Kent).

It’s clear that Jack spends most of his life looking out for his baby brother. Even as adults, Jack has a plan in the event Nicky gets drafted to the war. I found it fascinating that Jack was more of a hard working type (he was a mechanic before the war) while Nicky is a bit more of a long-haired hippie. But, the worst comes to pass and Nicky gets drafted. To be honest, I didn’t realize they just called people’s birthdays out and everyone with that birthdate had to go to war. I will admit that not having an active draft is a blessing. I applaud the show for addressing this time period and this particular conflict since not many shows or films ever venture into the territory. I also appreciate that they filmed quite a bit of this storyline (even what we haven’t seen yet) on location. That’s some serious dedication! Jack plans to get Nicky to Canada to avoid the draft but in the end, Nicky decides it’s his turn to be the super hero and defend people for once.

When next we see Jack, he and his mother have gotten news from Nicky overseas that he’s not doing well. Despite a heart condition, Jack begs his doctor to let him enlist to look after his brother. The doctor isn’t thrilled but given that the government doesn’t have people lining up to voluntarily enlist, he gives Jack a few tricks to get him past the physical. It seems that even back then, Jack was a good leader and quickly becomes a Staff Sergeant leading his own unit. Unfortunately, they had to show the brutality of war and one night his unit is ambushed and he loses one man and another, Robinson, loses a foot. I liked that they tied in that he was the one Kevin reached out to in the previous episode. I also loved (and totally got a little misty-eyed) when Robinson was about to be sent home and he told Jack to breathe and put his hands on his face. Like Jack does with Randall as a kid. I just love getting to see where all these little gestures and mannerisms come from. It makes them all feel that much more real.

Following the ambush, Jack and his unit get sent to what’s considered a “cushy” job. They have to monitor a small village which is suspected to harbor Viet Cong and sympathizers. It’s mostly a village of women and children. It was also authentic to see some of Jack’s unit show prejudice against the people in the village, especially the little boys who would grow up to be teenage boys who could be drafted to fight against them. But, Jack, using some bribery gets his men in order before command shows up and uses it to buy himself a day to go see Nicky. Whether he intends to straighten out his brother or just be there, we aren’t sure. But it was kind of jarring to see Nicky with a close shaved head and beard when last we saw him he was a hippie. Nicky also doesn’t look pleased to see his big brother there. Then again, it’s been about a year and a couple months since Nicky got drafted. He’s no doubt seen some horrors of his own by this point. And he hasn’t had Jack to look out for him.

This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting when they touted that we would learn how Jack became Jack. I guess I was expecting more storyline with Jack and Nicky in the war. But we have the rest of the season (and beyond as I can’t imagine the network not renewing the show for at least a fourth season) to explore their relationship at this point in their lives and what leads to Nicky’s death. I find it fascinating that Jack lied to everyone about his war experience. I’m sure it had something to do with Nicky’s death. While it would have been interesting to tie this episode’s content in with Kevin’s search for Jack’s past, I think it served us well to give some necessary backstory and spotlight on Jack. I’m glad that even though we solved the mystery of his death, we have so much yet to explore about who Jack Pearson was. I love seeing little pieces of his experience from this era bleeding into how he operates as a husband and father. To me, it speaks to how strong a person Jack was to be able to take all of these experiences and still come out of it a decent and loving man. Yes, he had his own demons but he was willing to face them and do better for the people he loved.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

This Is Us 3.03: “Katie Girls”

“You deserve more than what’s in that house.”
- Jack

This episode took us back to the aftermath of Jack and Rebecca’s disastrous first date. We quickly learn that the man who showed up with flowers on Rebecca’s doorstep was her ex-boyfriend, Alan whom she met in shop class in high school. I was kind of surprised that she would have been allowed into the class in the 1960s and 1970s given that it was seen as a masculine endeavor. But, she and Alan had three years together before he jetted off to London for a job and she decided she didn’t want to follow a guy around the world. Well, at least at that point she didn’t. Now, he convinces her to move to New York with him. She goes out to grab some celebratory champagne and runs into Jack in the grocery store. He’s a bit dejected from seeing Rebecca with another guy and then gets plain angry at his abusive father for throwing the sandwich his mother made on the floor and demanding another because it had too much pickle. Jack gives his mom an ultimatum: pack her bags and stay with a friend or stay and Jack will kill his dad. I don’t see Jack Pearson as the kind of guy who normally results to violence, but to defend someone he loves, especially against her piece of garbage father, he wasn’t kidding. Ultimately, after Jack and Rebecca have their grocery store run-in, Rebecca realizes she wants to give Jack a try and she’s more than pleasantly surprised when she sees him doing dishes—a task she always saw her mother do. By the end, they agree to go on a road trip to LA together. I just love seeing the fact that this great relationship we entered into in the pilot wasn’t as effortless as a lot of us believed. They have so much to get through to where they end up and it’s exciting.

In the present, we get a quick reaction to Kevin’s film (everyone thinks it’s pretty great and Kate is so proud of her brother) but things take a turn when Randall confronts Kate about her “piece of Dad” comment. They end up in quite the argument where he mentions adopting and she throws back that he had two biological kids before adopting Deja. A week later, Randall still hasn’t apologized and in typical Randall fashion (which he totally got from Jack), he flies across the country to be there for Kate for her egg retrieval surgery to make it up to her. As sweet a gesture as it was, he probably should have stayed home because he’s got fires to put out on the home front. Beth has been putting together a fun kitchen co-op proposal but instead of approving it, her boss ends up firing her allegedly for budgetary reasons (okay there’s the day job bleeding through). It’s unclear if she took the severance pay or not but this offshoot of the Pearson clan now has zero breadwinners. So someone is gonna have to step it up. If you believe William (thank you flashback), it needs to be Randall who puts Beth front and center. But given he now wants to run for city council to try and improve things in William’s old neighborhood, I get the feeling there is going to be some discord in this marriage.

Speaking of Kate and Toby, they are both nervous about the procedure and we get to see Toby and Randall share some time together while Kate is under the knife, bonding over their “hidden” conditions. I like that they are starting to get close. I’m honestly hoping that continues. Kate, meanwhile, is under anesthesia and she sort of hallucinates the two younger versions of herself. Young Kate is just carefree and wants to know if she maries Zach from Saved by the Bell and Teen Kate is bitter and angry following Jack’s death and keeps pushing that Kate can’t have a baby or take care of another person. Things finally settle down when Jack—sporting the look from the pre-teen Big Three era—shows up and brings ice cream. Getting to see her dad one last time give our Kate the permission she needs to wake up. She’s allayed her own fears represented by her younger selves and it turns out the procedure was a success so she and Toby are one step closer to parenthood hopefully. I’m still waiting for Toby’s downward spiral to kick in. I have a feeling the embryos may not take or something else will go wrong that will prolong him being off his medication.

And then there was Kevin. He’s doing some wrap up press stuff following the movie premiere and he invites Zoe along for an NPR interview with one of her favorite reporters. It irritated me later on the way Zoe quoted the reporter as to why she was suddenly taking an interest in what was going on with Kevin. I mean it’s good he has someone to go on the journey with him but the way she framed it made it seem very self-serving. In the NPR interview, Kevin gets asked a bunch of questions about Jack’s time in Vietnam and Kevin realizes he knows next to nothing about his father’s military service. It’s a wakeup call for him to go digging into his dad’s past. He also has a memory of being a young kid, wanting to get a toy grenade (instead of plane) and Jack kind of freaking out and yelling at him. Jack later explained to young Kevin that he was in a war and a lot of people got hurt and war isn’t a game. He gives young Kevin the opportunity to ask him questions and of course he doesn’t ask anything. But this gives us a nice springboard into Jack’s past before he met Rebecca and his time in the war. I’m very excited by the fact the show is tackling this time period as not many shows really address this era.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Doctor Who 11.01: “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”

“We are all capable of the most incredible change. We can evolve while still staying true to who we are. We can honor who we’ve been and choose who we want to be next.”
- The Doctor

I have now watched this episode twice through and I have to say, it feels good to have the Doctor back on my screen. I know I spent a lot of the previous series complaining about a lot of things but when the new showrunner said this series was going to be fresh and accessible to new fans, they meant it. But, they also made sure to keep hints of the past for those of us who have stayed with the series. Jodie’s Doctor is vibrant and fun and in control and I love it all. I also feel more connected to the three companions (or friends as I believe they are being called now) than I ever di to Bill or Clara. I am properly excited again to go on adventures with the Time Lord with two hearts! v While the plot of this episode wasn’t anything spectacular or new, it served the purpose of introducing us to our new cast of characters. We begin with Ryan and his nan, Grace and her second husband Graham. Ryan has a coordination disorder that makes it really hard for him to do things like riding a bike. He gets so fed up with his failure, he chucks his bike off a cliff, only to be sent down after it while Nan and Graham hop the train home. Thanks to some poor choices (maybe don’t touch the weird glowing shapes in the air), a weird alien pod shows up, prompting a call to the police. Enter Yaz, a young female officer still in training. She’s bored of breaking up stupid squabbles over parking spaces and she jumps at the chance for something a bit odd. It also appears she and Ryan went to primary school together. I like that they aren’t just total strangers. They have a history we can explore.

We jump to Nan and Graham on the train that has a massive power outage and is being attached by a tentacle, electricity-shooting alien. Enter the Doctor. Or rather, she falls through the roof of the train. She’s a bit discombobulated as to who she is but she does fend off the creature for now. And then, in typical Doctor fashion, she starts trying to solve problems. She’s still regenerating so she’s having some memory gaps. I quite appreciated the fact she acknowledged that not long ago she used to be a white-haired Scotsman. I also enjoyed the fact that she was able to explain certain things about what she was going through while still taking charge of the situation. She motivated the gang around her to reach out to their contacts to figure out if anything else odd had happened.

As I mentioned, the story of the episode wasn’t anything new, although the alien certainly was. In a way, it almost reminded me of the Hirogen from Star Trek: Voyager. Not in how they looked (the Hirogen were way better looking) but in how they treated humanity as prey to be hunted for honor and glory. Even if she’s not quite sure who she is, the Doctor is clear she doesn’t like that one bit. She’s still working on a plan to get to the bottom of things, but regeneration energy knocks her out for a bit, reminding me of The Christmas Invasion (one of my all-time favorite Christmas specials and overall episodes of Doctor Who).

It turns out, the alien race has been to Earth before and took a young man’s sister. He’s intent on finding out what happened to her but he’s never going to get those answers because the alien kills him. Oh, and did I mention his name is Tim Shaw? How scary! Tim orders our motley crew to stay out of his way as he hunts his randomly selected human and he thinks he’s got a solid deterrent: DNA bombs that have been placed in everyone. Well he clearly has never met the Doctor before. She’s clever and resourceful. She built her own freaking sonic screwdriver! We haven’t seen any other iteration of the Doctor (at least in modern Who) do that!

Just when the situation seems the direst, the Doctor finally remembers who she is and gives quite the speech. It reminded me a little of Ten and Nine in her delivery. She stops the bad guy but unfortunately, we lose of the companions we’ve started to cling to: Nan. It wasn’t that unexpected given that we knew Graham, Ryan and Yaz were the ones she’d be travelling with. Still, it was sad to see Nan go. Following her funeral, the Doctor acknowledges that there are ways to keep the ones we lose with us by remembering what they would say and do. It makes me wonder who specifically she’s referencing. Her granddaughter Susan? “daughter” Jenny? Wife River? (Don’t get me started on how much I want a Thirteen and River adventure). But, it’s now time for her to move on. Except of course she hasn’t got her TARDIS. And she needs a wardrobe change. I still don’t love the new costume but I like the story behind it. She thinks she’s gotten the leftover alien tech to do what she wants and send her to the planet her TARDIS has landed but as she herself admits, seven layers of the tech made no sense and she zaps herself along with the other three into the vacuum of space. How are they going to get out of this pickle? I can’t wait to find out next week!

I thoroughly enjoyed this episode and I am so pleased by how well Jodie portrays the Doctor. She’s kept that balance of funny, smart and intelligent that so many of her predecessors had. And they didn’t make a big deal of her being female which I think was good. Because for the character, it doesn’t really matter. For the rest of us, it is nice to see someone a little more like us at the helm. We got a lot of strong women in this episode and I look forward to seeing how they continue to grow.