Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Fresh off the Boat 4.05: "Four Funerals and a Wedding"

“I’m sorry. I’m still worked up over the layover in Atlanta. How can you have three Cinnabons, and all of them are closed!”

This episode provided an interesting look at the extended Huang family (well, Jessica’s side of it, at least), and it also used Jessica’s family troubles to take a deeper dive into the relationships between the three Huang brothers. I enjoyed learning more about Jessica’s family, even if some of it was very sad (her relationship with her father is incredibly distant and robotic), and I also enjoyed the boys finding some new respect for each other. They really act like brothers in this episode, and it was nice to see. I found Jessica’s distant relationship with her father interesting, and I thought it explained a lot. The Huang parents grappling with how their relationship with their kids is different from their own relationships with their parents was an interesting direction for the story to take. All in all, there was a lot of good character building stuff in this episode, and I just hope that some of it sticks going forward.

The episode opens with the Huangs in Houston for the funeral of a distant relative of Jessica’s. The relative was named Trina, and she was a triplet. At the funeral, Emery discovers he has a stain on his tie. Grandma Huang tells him to spit out the bad luck of his bad luck year, and Trina will take it with her to the afterlife. Emery was supposed to spit in a handkerchief, but instead he spits in the casket. Grandma is appropriately appalled. Even though this is a funer in Jessica’s family, Jessica’s sister and brother-in-law Connie and Steve aren’t there. Jessica’s father is there, though. Jessica and her father have a very formal, inquiring-about-the-weather type conversation. Neither Eddie nor Evan recognize him and are shocked to learn that they just met their grandfather. Jessica’s father is a diplomat, so he’s always been globetrotting and not around much.

Back home in Orlando, Emery realizes he has lost the stained tie (the tie becomes relevant later, I promise!). Evan, thoughtful from the funeral, decides he wants to change his will because he hasn’t changed it since they moved to Orlando. Honey is currently his executor, and after seeing how she reacted to Princess Di’s death (we get to see a flashback), he thinks she’s too emotional for the job. Out in the kitchen, Louis hears Jessica talking to her psychic on the phone. She says that “maybe there’s another way,” and Louis immediately assumes she’s talking about wanting a closer relationship with her father. Louis talks this over with Marvin, and he tells Marvin that there might be a way to help Jessica. The second of the triplets has now also died, so Louis and Jessica will be making another trip to Houston. Louis wants to use the occasion to encourage Jessica to talk with her dad.

At the funeral, Louis keeps deliberately trying to bring Jessica and her dad together, but it doesn’t work. They either avoid each other or have really surface level exchanges. He can’t even get them to agree to spend Christmas together. Jessica confronts Louis about how weird he’s being, and Louis is forced to reveal that he heard the phone conversation. Jessica clarifies that she was actually talking to the psychic about the possibility of trying barbecue chicken while in Houston. Louis always gets to excited when she tries a new food that she wasn’t sure if it was worth the fuss. Meanwhile back at home, Evan asks Eddie to be the executor of his will. Grandma is offended she wasn’t chosen! Deirdre notarizes Evan’s new will, and she spreads word around the HOA that Evan must be terminally ill. He starts receiving and endless parade of casseroles, which seems cool at first, but then gets annoying. Emery, for his part, is a bit offended he wasn’t chosen as executory. Evan says it’s just because of Emery’s bad luck year. Eddie is just a temporary executor, and when the bad luck year is over, Evan intends to switch over to Emery. Emery, for his part, thinks things are looking up. He has found the missing tie.

Louis is still upset about the distant relationship between Jessica and her dad. He tells Marvin that he thinks Jessica is in denial about the type of relationship she’d really like with her dad. I think Louis needs to back off. The pair go back to Houston, though, this time for a wedding. The remaining triplet is getting married. Louis thinks it would be a genius idea, at the reception, to tell Jessica that her dad is dying. Jessica does make an effort to reach out to her dad, but they are just as awkward as ever. Louis ends up blowing up and revealing his whole plan. Jessica and her dad do have a heart to heart, and Jessica tries inviting him for Christmas. They quickly realize that a close relationship isn’t going to work for them, though, and they back off. Jessica’s dad does make a point of saying, though, that his affairs are in order and he won’t be a burden to Jessica when he dies. Jessica and Louis end up having a deeper conversation, too, and Louis admits that he’s still working through his feelings about his own father’s death. He has regrets about not being closer with his father. Jessica encourages Louis to talk to her psychic about it, of course.

Eddie’s being his usual self and giving an Emery a bit of a hard time, and when it finally gets to be too much, Emery tells Eddie the truth about Evan’s plans for will executor. Eddie doesn’t take this well, naturally, since it implies he’s only good enough to be a temporary solution. Emery asks Grandma if spitting in the casket made his bad luck worse. Grandma reveals that it was actually Eddie who replaced Evan’s missing tie (granted, he did so with an IOU to grandma, but still). Eddie and Emery end up having their own heart to heart. Eddie tells Evan that what he’s experiencing isn’t really a bad luck year. It’s puberty, and it’s going to last more than a year, but at least they’re going through it together. It was really refreshing to see Eddie be such a supportive big brother to Emery. Evan, for his part, is just sick of receiving tuna casseroles because the neighborhood still thinks he’s dying.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

This Is Us 2.11: “The Fifth Wheel”

“You wanted me to talk about Dad. I’m talking about Dad but I can’t say the only reason I’m messed up is because he died.”
- Kevin

Welcome to 2018 Pearson clan! We are finally back with our favorite family. And boy did we leave them in a not great placed at the end of 2017. Kate had lost the baby, Randall and Beth saw Deja go back to her mom and Kevin spiraled into a hot mess in handcuffs! When we next catch up with the Pearson clan, it’s been a month and Kevin is in court-mandated rehab. Kevin has asked the whole family to convene for a group therapy session and things are a bit awkward. Beth is furious with Kevin still but Randall reminds her that his brother was there for him when he really needed him so they’re going to do the same for Kevin. And Kate seems like she’s stress eating and hiding it from Toby. Things are only made worse by Kevin’s therapist when she insists on the session being just Rebecca, Kate and Randall. The spouses need to take a hike. Beth, Miguel and Toby end up at a bar talking about how there are certain “no fly” zones with the Pearson family, chief among them being Jack. Although, Miguel does defend his best pal a bit. It was nice to see them interacting without the rest of the family around though. I liked that Miguel was able to acknowledge that Rebecca and the kids went through something the rest of them can’t understand because they weren’t a part of it. But he’s okay being on the outside. I am starting to warm up to Miguel more and more.

In the past, we find the family when the Big Three are around ten years old. Jack comes home all excited to spend a week in a cabin (which makes me think it’s THE cabin) and Rebecca reluctantly agrees to go. I suspect things are going to be a little rough with the kids as we start to explore Kate’s weight a little more and Randall may face some bullying in school now that he’s wearing glasses. Kevin is a few days late to vacation thanks to being a summer football camp but things are not as happy as everyone hopes. Jack and Rebecca the same argument over Kate’s weight again and Jack promises to try and get her to be more active. This involves trying to get her to play football with Kevin and all Kevin wants is his dad’s attention for a little while. But Jack says the wrong thing that sends Kate running off. And then, out of frustration, Kevin lashes out at Randall. Kevin is really just not in a great mood, telling Rebecca that she sucks when she asks if he took Randall’s glasses. That night, the other kids end up in bed with Rebecca and Jack and Kevin ends up on the floor (even though he doesn’t realize his mom gets on the floor with him too as he sleeps).

In the therapy session, I felt like at the start we got Actor Kevin as he was making his apologies to his family for how he hurt them and for not being there for them when they needed his support. It just felt so disingenuous, like he was saying lines because they were expected of him. And when the therapist says they need to talk about Jack and how he wasn’t so perfect, everyone gets really uncomfortable. Especially Rebecca and Randall. I don’t think Kevin is ready to deal with his feelings about Jack’s death. And if he does, it’s going to be so messy. And messy it is. Kevin rightfully points (at least from his point of view) that Kate and Randall were the favorites for his parents and he was always second best. He says that he tried to fill the void with things and that ultimately led him down a darker path. When Rebecca proclaims that she loves all her kids equally, things get really heated. She tearfully admits that she didn’t tell her kids about the possibility of being more prone to addiction because she didn’t want to color her children’s’ memories of their father. And then Randall lets into his brother about Randall’s perspective on things. Kevin fires about why Tess was in the car. I have to agree with Kevin that Randall brought all these people into his home without consulting his wife and kids and Tess became unimportant. And as Kevin pressed Rebecca to just admit that Randall is her favorite, she breaks down and exclaims that Kevin recoiled from her, was angry for no reason as a teenager and then abandoned her after Jack died. I was not expecting that and my lord did it make me cry.

In the end, all of the tears and emotions seem to be leading to a good place and some healing. Kate is able to admit to Toby that she’s been eating junk food and she acknowledges her weight issues are more complicated than she wanted to believe. Randall apologizes for not being supportive to Kevin and it seems that maybe now, Rebecca and Kevin will have a better relationship. I was a little worried they weren’t going to at least sort of resolve that tension between them after Rebecca’s admission. I want to know more from Kevin’s perspective on why he left when he did. There’s always more I want to know with this show. I am glad that they are still presenting Jack as such a good guy. Yes, he had a problem and he worked to confront it (and maybe he succeeded and maybe he didn’t) but at his core, he was a good man. And while I do want them to reveal how he died so we can all stop speculating, there is so much more I want to know about Papa Pearson. Namely his brother and time in the military. That’s got to be a juicy story there just waiting to come out.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Lucifer 3.11: “City of Angels?”

“You didn’t come here to find the thief, you’re stalling your return to Hell!”
- Amenediel

Before we can get back to Lucifer and Cain sitting at the bar sharing a drink, we have to take a trip back in time to when Lucifer first set foot in LA. When we first find Lucifer, he’s strolling down the street in an Elvis suit. Apparently, the last time he went to Earth that was the fashion. He ends up meeting a woman who introduces him to some other women and he’s in quite the party mood when Amenediel shows up. Lucifer isn’t surprised to see his big brother. Just miffed about his timing. It would appear this isn’t the first time the brothers have done this dance. Lucifer asks for a little time to “say his goodbyes” and Amenediel gives him ten minutes. In retrospect, Amenediel should have dragged Lucifer off kicking and screaming that moment because Amenediel ends up getting shot and the guy makes off with his necklace (which we all now know was part of the key to activating the flaming sword).

While our core group doesn’t realize it, they will all be working the same case. Amenediel tries to go to the police (dealing with Chloe before she earned her detective shield) and I can’t remember laughing so much at a scene from this show in a long while. His outfit, the sketch he made of the shooter, the price of the necklace. It was all just perfect in his naivete in dealing with humans. Oh, it was great. But he ends up getting Lucifer to agree to help him. At first Lucifer is just stalling but after seeing a news report on the other victim, Lucifer actually offers help in return for a blank check. I suspect that means his 5-year stay on Earth before the pilot.

I suspect this may also be the case that gets Chloe that promotion. She’s starting to dig into things and she finds a key fob where Amenediel was shot with some blood. Hopefully it’s the killer’s blood and not angelic blood! She and Dan are also still married and showing some PDA in the field. Well, it’s more Dan than Chloe but that’s fine. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting Dan to have a higher rank than Chloe. It’s kind of nice to see them before they split.

Lucifer drags his brother to a porn shoot because he claims the photo the news used showed a particular set of breasts of a very popular porn star named Misty Canyons. Lucifer is quite excited to chat her up and Amenediel gets himself into yet another funny situation. Lucifer understands the girl’s desire to rebel and I think we are seeing the seeds of him wanting to stay in LA. But after Amenediel botches the scene by blathering on about his necklace and the dead guy, things really start to get interesting. She tells the guys about the fact that the dead guy (who was an MMA fighter) wasn’t the best but he wanted to win fair and square and he turned down a lot of money to throw an upcoming fight. Chloe is on a similar track, visiting the gym where the victim frequented and she gets pointed towards a shady promoter with some less than savory fights (and he also didn’t pay his talent0. This may be where our dynamic duo first crossed paths as everyone convenes at the fight. Unfortunately, it appears I was wrong. Chloe goes after the promoter’s bodyguard while Lucifer and Amenediel go after the promoter. Amenediel ends up training to look like he can fight like a human—well just enough until Lucifer gets the promoter to admit he fixes fights and he offered the victim a ton of money. Chloe has come to the same conclusion but Dan warns that without any concrete proof, they can’t try to make a deal without tipping their hands to the bad guys.

When Amenediel isn’t able to get the promoter to confess the whereabouts of his necklace, he turns to Lucifer’s particular talents. Being the wily Devil he is, he delegates to dear Maze. She gets so excited about torturing the guy, she just jumps him. It’s not a total loss though. The gang decides to use the promoter to rig the fight. All seems to be going well until Amenediel calls Lucifer evil because he’s the Devil. So, Lucifer ends up in the ring opposite his big brother. And if they want to find the thief, Amenediel is going to have let his little brother win. While all of this is going on, Chloe has gone to the promoter’s lawyer, none other than Charlotte Richards (pre-Mom obviously). While I like the character, I’m not sure they really needed her for this episode. It seems a little convenient. Oh, and Chloe manages to exert some leverage over the attorney to get what she wants.

The fight is somewhat cathartic for both brothers but Amenediel yields in the end and the killer turns out to be the owner of the gym where the victim worked out. The brothers get him to admit where he stashed the necklace and then he confesses to the police (a glimpse of Lucifer’s Devil face may have helped). And as I was expecting, Lucifer’s deal with Amenediel is for Lucifer to stay on Earth. We even get to see him and Maze on the beach as she cuts off his wings (in a giant middle finger to God). Overall, I think this was a nice episode to give us some backstory on the characters and I am hoping that we are now through the standalone episodes they filmed at the end of last year that didn’t get to air. They all were a good time but they messed with the continuity and flow of the show a little bit. I want to get back to Lucifer and Cain and what all of this means for the team!

The Mayor 1.08: “Monuments Man”

“When you’re a leader you have to see things from both sides. Consider opposing perspectives.”
- Courtney

As is becoming a pattern on “The Mayor”, we have two storylines that really don’t have that much to do with each other. The B storyline involves Dina taking over as choir director and becoming something of a dictator on what songs she wants to sing and who can be a soloist. It really only serves the larger plot when Courtney needs his jolt of inspiration from his mother to solve the problem posed at the top of the episode and to provide a fun little bit at the very end of the episode. I didn’t really see the point in this storyline, other than the fact that we had a previous arc where Dina was strong armed into joining the choir (that she didn’t really want to join in the first place).

The larger storyline involves a local bar that Courtney started rapping in. Tito’s Ballroom holds quite the place in his heart in terms of remembering his roots and where he came from. It also happens to be where he and the guys (and Dina) hang every Tuesday night. Well, that tradition won’t be going much longer because Tito can’t keep up with the rising costs and rent of the place. He’s going to have to close down. Courtney, obviously, is heartbroken by this notion and decides he is going to find a way to save the bar. His solution: hold a music festival to raise money so that they can keep the bar open. Finding acts is going to prove harder than Courtney thought, especially when he gets asked questions like “is Bono coming?”.

He starts by going on a local talk show to get the message about that he wants to save the bar and help out a friend. Of course, Councilman Ed Gunt is on the warpath because as we know, he just really doesn’t like Courtney. He’s so obnoxious it kind of makes watching the show less fun. I just want to smack him repeatedly fore being such a jerk. He threatens Courtney with corruption charges if he continues to use his position as Mayor to divert public funds to help save Tito’s. Courtney’s first idea to counteract Gunt is to go back on the talk show and find people who will speak at a public hearing on why the place should be saved. He also learns that the bar used to be a meeting place for the Black Panthers back in the 1970s. He thinks that promoting the wider historical relevance of the place will be a way to garner more support. It turns out that it does just the opposite. A man stands up at Courtney’s prompting and admits he didn’t like the place because riots broke out there and caused a lot of people harm and Courtney bringing it up on the radio triggered his PTSD. Yeah, that’s not such a great thing and Gunt ends up blocking Courtney’s measure to have the festival.

Of course, Dina helps Courtney find the right way to approach the problem as she’s ranting about her choir quitting on her. Well, Courtney kind of brings up the concept on his own that he should see the opposition’s perspective but it’s Dina who really gives him the little push he needs. He shares his idea with the gang and they head back to the City Council armed with some Danish pastries based on Gunt’s stint on the radio show. See, he’s got this bakery that he takes his kids to that sell a particular pastry eaten during a Danish celebration. Courtney points out that Gunt would be upset if they tore down the bakery and that is how Courtney feels about Tito’s. So, he is going to work on passing a preservation act that will keep places like Tito’s (and the bakery presumably) in tact even if finances get hit and they can’t actually stay open. So, ultimately, Courtney gets the win he was looking for (and the festival he really wanted). In the episode tag at the end, Val comes in to find the guys putting together a ridiculous list of places to make future monuments in town. Yeah, because that’s a great use of taxpayer money, guys. It was fun to see a rapper on the show other than Courtney (although I do think they have him record some of the tracks that get overlaid on the episode which I think is a fun little touch). I was kind of hoping we’d see Daveed Diggs again but I guess he’s kind of busy doing other things that are Hamilton related.

As much as it’s nice to see him win, it would be more realistic if he didn’t always get his way or solve the problem in a nice little bow. That’s really been my biggest gripe this entire season. Sure, they come to realizations every episode but there doesn’t appear to be sustained growth throughout the season. It’s just very standalone plotlines. Maybe I’d prefer it more if it was an overarching narrative and we really got to see them grow. Sure, they reference things they’ve done before (they did give a little nod to saving the music program at the elementary school from earlier in the season) but that’s about it. And it would be great, if they are going to always have Courtney win and solve the problem of the week, that he comes to it all on his own. Without Dina or Valentina being the catalyst. Here’s hoping that one day we’ll get an episode that either Courtney won’t solve the problem and learn the value in losing sometimes or if he always has to win, he’ll at least come up with the solution himself without the aid of other people in his life. If we don’t get some changes to the format of the episodes, I’m not sure the show will be back next season.

The Mayor 1.07: "Here Comes the Governor"

“Aw man, that figures. I spent my whole life not doing crimes. I had a pardon waiting on me the whole time!”

I’ve got to say, as someone who has been interested in politics for most of my life and works in government, this episode really made me think. It made me think of the summer of 2008 when I attended a meeting at a public housing complex in Baltimore where city officials were giving a presentation to residents about the big redevelopment plans for the nearby State office complex. An elderly resident said something to the effect of “You people always say things are going to change, but they never do.” It’s nine-and-a-half years later, and for a variety of reasons, there has been no redevelopment of the State office complex to date. I’m realizing now that maybe my enthusiasm for government and politics and my belief (up until November 2016, at least) that government can truly be a force for good comes at least somewhat from a place of privilege. I’m a super rule follower who always tries to work the system to make things happen. But for many people, the system is broken and doesn’t work. A politician says they’ll do something and doesn’t follow through, and the people hurt by that decision don’t have a good way at expressing their discontent. (And on a lighter note, can I say how I love that the title of this episode evokes the line “Here comes the General” from “Hamilton.”)

The catalyst for the events of the episode is the Governor of California, Govenor Fillucci, placing a call to Courtney. He wants to visit Fort Grey. Courtney, the boys, and Val are all really excited about this opportunity. Val especially really wants Courtney to go all out with the hobnobbing. Fort Grey doesn’t get much state funding compared to other municipalities, and Courtney sees this as a real chance to advocate for the city and bring those state dollars home. Courtney and the boys put together an itinerary that they really think will show the Governor the true Fort Grey. They want him to see the all-day café famous for its waffles, the “recommissioned” train yard, and the city park where people play chess. Unfortunately, this isn’t what the Governor had in mind. He wants to skeet shoot with Courtney at a fancy sporting club 40 miles north of Fort Grey. TK and Jermaine aren’t thrilled by this, but Courtney thinks it could be worth it if he can get the Governor to help the city. Dina also is unfazed by the change in venue. Her coworker Krystal has been talking incessantly about the photograph she got with the Postmaster General, and Dina wants Courtney to get her a photo with the Governor to compete.

The meeting with the Governor goes surprisingly well. Courtney is game for skeet shooting and does reasonably well at it. The rather stuffy Governor gets to be photographed with a buzzy, Black mayor (who is wearing a “Reelect Fillucci hat none-the-less), and there are no major gaffes. Dina even gets her picture with the Governor. Following the shooting, the Governor invites Courtney up to the club house for a steam. TK and Jermaine seem skeptical, but they figure why not enjoy a little bit of the good life. Things get awkward, however, when the Governor realizes TK and Jermaine are in the steam room and says he’ll come back another time. Seeing his chance to get funding for Fort Grey slipping away, Courtney shoos TK and Jermaine out of the steam room so he and the Governor can get down to sweaty brass tacks. Courtney reminds the Governor of how helpful that photograph will be and asks for something concrete in return. Governor Fillucci promises that Fort Grey will be at the top of the list for an upcoming round of urban renewal grants. Even though he’s a bit of a sell-out, Courtney feels like he’s accomplished something good.

By the time the gang is back at the office however, things have gone south. The local news has found a rap video Courtney and his friends released when they were in high school, the chorus of which starts with “Don’t Vote.” The lyrics are rather harsh, but the boys were basically expressing their frustration and lack of belief in their government. Of course, the Governor gives a press conference right away where he calls on Courtney to officially apologize if Fort Grey is going to get any support from the State. Courtney is read to do just that if it means getting help for Fort Grey, so now TK and Jermaine think he’s a complete sell out. Val (who we learn in this episode is a crazy good marksman and has pink ear protection) of course approves whole heartedly, and I’ll admit, so did I.

TK and Jermaine basically decide to kidnap Courtney to make their point. First they take him to the All Day Café, but they don’t stop for waffles, much to Courtney’s chagrin. Then they head to the chess tables at the park, and Courtney knows what’s up. They guys are trying to give him the tour that they were going to give the Governor to remind him of where he came from. The final stop isn’t the train yard, though. It’s a dilapidated building that has a sign on it saying it is going to be the Fort Grey Resource Center. Back when they made the video, the Resource Center was already way behind schedule, and these several years later, there has still been no progress. There were even lines in the Don’t Vote song about it. This is when I made that connection to my experience in Baltimore ten years ago. Courtney and his friends really did have a legitimate gripe against the political establishment. They were supposed to get a wonderful new resource center that would provide job training, among other things, but it sits there unfinished.

Dina, meanwhile, did indeed get her picture with the Governor, and her coworker, Krystal, is sore about it. She thinks this is just one more way Dina is one-upping her. They do have a nice heart-to-heart about how nobody truly has it all (except maybe Jimmy Kimmel), and Dina has her struggles too. She even encourages Krystal to put her Postmaster General picture back up. For his part, Courtney shows up to the press conference, and everybody thinks he’s going to apologize. Instead he gives a great speech about how he and his friends felt disenfranchised when they wrong their song, and he knows there are still kids in Fort Grey who feel like that today. He doesn’t want to delegitimize their feelings by apologizing for his own past feelings. He wants to be a leader those kids can actually count on. The Governor ends up liking Courtney’s speech, which of course means Val now approves too (although she claims she would have approved even if the Governor didn’t call and say he liked it).