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?