Monday, December 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

This Is Us 4.09: “So Long, Marianne”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 15, 2019

This Is Us 4.08: “Sorry”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Is Us 4.06: “The Club”

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Is Us 4.05: “Storybook Love”

“You have strange relationships with people.”
- Nicky

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 17, 2019

This Is Us 4.04: “Flip A Coin”

“So, I picked up a book and started a new chapter, in every sense of the phrase.”
- Carol

There wasn’t a huge leap of forward momentum in this week’s episode, but it still took a few small shuffles forward on several storylines. In the past, we see Rebecca and Beth’s mom, Carol, meet during parents’ weekend. They actually end up sharing their respective stories of loss. Rebecca rambles on about what she’s lost and Carol just sits there listening, all stoic (Beth and Randall had made a semi award retreat to class by that point). Rebecca ends up being in awe of Carol’s ability to be so strong. Carol shares that she’s got her students to keep her focused. Rebecca wants that, too but she’s still struggling. Kate has also been struggling to find purpose with her brothers off in the world. She goes to the record store and meets a cute guy who offers her a job. He’s not Toby but he’s kind of sweet and musically nerdy like Kate. In the end, Beth and Randall are on track to move forward with another date (despite what Beth’s mom thinks about the fact and the way that Randall is still grieving Jack’s loss) and Kate and Rebecca maybe moving out of their condo. Oh, and Kevin and Sophie got married!

Speaking of Kevin, he, Nicky and Cassidy are heading to an AA meeting only to find that the website hasn’t been updated in ages and the meeting isn’t’ for another five hours. Cassidy is really irritable about the mix-up because she really needs a meeting after having breakfast with her husband and he still wants a divorce. Kevin wanted a meeting because the Manny got cancelled and Nicky was just along because Kevin really gave him no choice. But, Kevin jumps into actor mode and finds a way for them all to stay busy until the meeting rolls around. Despite Nicky insisting he doesn’t want a new trailer, Kevin takes them to a dealership and starts haggling with the Manny-obsessed salesman. Along the way, Kevin interacts with another super fan and Cassidy is kind of baffled. She thinks he’s a shallow idiot who can’t possibly relate to her trauma or what she’s going through with the potential divorce. But, we know Kevin Pearson has layers. He explains that the Manny was his first big job and while he hated the pilot, he discovered that he could actually be an actor and he had actual skills when he made the baby in the end of the pilot laugh instead of screaming his head off. He also points out that he’s been divorced and it sucks. I still think that Kevin and Cassidy are going to end up together but she wants her husband back and he insists on helping her. We also get Nicky to open up about why he bought the trailer in the first place. He got it for a girl named Sally (who Jack asked out on Nicky’s behalf) but when he got back from the war, he went to her house and she wasn’t there. By episode’s end, Kevin has bought himself a trailer and parked it next to Nicky’s. Yeah, I can’t see how this is going to go over so well.

Beth and Randall have their own drama cooking this week as Beth unveils her dance studio. I’m a little confused how when they arrive, there’s a dead possum in the wall. Hadn’t she been there before? Anyway, one of Randall’s constituents comes out to help but the smell won’t go away for a few weeks. Carol tells Beth to just reschedule the event but Randall insists he can fix things. And he does so beautifully. He sets everything up outside and it goes off like a smash. We even get a little moment with Randall and Carol where she says that she was wrong about him. She couldn’t see the strong man and devoted father and husband that young man was going to become. That’s not the only drama they’ve got to deal with this week, though. Deja wants to go to the movies with Malik and some other kids and Beth and Randall insist on meeting him. Randall is okay with him until he learns about baby Janelle. That, understandably, leads to both him and Beth flipping out. As much as the situation is unusual and I can see their worry about their teenage daughter, Deja isn’t a stupid girl. She’s more street smart than maybe they give her credit for. And I just like Malik.

And lest we forget, Kate and Toby are having their own drama this week with baby Jack. Kate has signed him up for a baby music class, despite Gregory’s suggestion that Jack is too little. Kate is insistent though and she wants her son to experience everything that other kids do. The class is an absolute disaster. There’s way too much auditory stimulation for Jack going on at once and the teacher just doesn’t get it. She’s up in his face and being super loud. I could see both of Kate and Toby’s points as they argue in the car. They were late because Toby needed to go back and grab Jack’s favorite toy (which he’d put in the fridge when he got extra milk). Kate says they wouldn’t have been late if they hadn’t spent all that time looking for the toy so they could have gotten Jack used to the space. But Toby also notes that it was a lot of stimulation all at once. I kind of agree that even if they had gotten him used to the space itself, that wouldn’t have dealt with all the conflicting sounds and stimulation from the teacher. I think Kate is also still resentful of Toby for spending so much time at the gym. In the end, though, they take Jack to the beach and slowly introduce him to some new sounds (ocean, seagulls, wind) and feelings (water and sand on his feet). They are going to have missteps but I do appreciate the writers for showing us the good and the bad along the way.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

This Is Us 4.03: “Unhinged”

“You know, I was sober for over a year before I came here and met you. Did you know that?”
- Kevin

Well, the Pearsons continue to move forward in their lives and cross paths with our new characters. We also get to see Kevin taking Jack’s suggestion o “find people to care about” to heart both past and present. In the past, we see Randal start school a couple of days before Kevin and Kae. He wears some Air Jordans to try and impress one of his new (Black) teachers. Unfortunately, that means he is out of dress code and gets given a slip his parents need to sign. Randall has probably his first panic attack and calls the house but Kevin answers. Kevin slips off to Randall’s school and forges Rebecca’s signature on the slip so that she and Jack never have to know Randall got in trouble. But Randall isn’t the only Pearson in trouble in the past. Jack made a mistake on a project that will cost the company $20,000 to recover from and Jack ends up getting fired. But, Miguel steps in and demands their boss reverse that decision or else Miguel walks and takes his very high earning potential with him. At the end of the night, we see the Big Three actually hanging out together as Kate reveals she kissed the boy at the pool. We also get a brief glimpse at the start of her issues with weight as a teenager. She did an exercise video with Rebecca but it didn’t burn any weight off.

In the present, Kate is still clearly dealing with her weight. She’s gained 10 pounds since baby Jack came along, while Toby is now ripped. She ends up meeting him and some clients (apparently Toby is in IT) for lunch and they have to ask for a table rather than a booth because Kate won’t fit. Kate is caught really off guard by Toby’s transformation and he says he didn’t tell her because he didn’t want to make her feel bad. We do see her start to get a little exercise when she ends up walking with her new neighbor who was not a happy person for most of the episode. He walks the neighborhood to try and build up his stamina after a stroke and Toby’s car had been blocking the sidewalk. After Kate sort of broke down in front of him (and he explained about the stroke…which apparently mirrors what happened to the actor playing him), I think they bond a little and I’m excited to see more of him.

Over in Philly, the girls are starting school as well and Tess is rather quiet about everything. Later in the day—after school—we see Tess still not want to talk to Beth about her day. Meanwhile, Deja gets a visit from Malik. He explains about Janelle (his daughter) and we get a little more on his backstory. He and her mom were together for a while, she got pregnant and she and her parents wanted to give the baby up for adoption but he and his parents didn’t so he took her and has custody now. He just didn’t want Deja to hear about it through the rumor mill at school. Deja isn’t sure how she feels about all this and confides in Tess, who in turn shares that she thought being at a new school, she could just be “out” but she’s still not comfortable with it. I’m really glad the girls have each other and I am excited to see their sisterly relationship grow. Randall had a bit of a day, too. He took the door off his office to show he has an open-door policy and he spent all day meeting with constituents, much to his aid’s disapproval. At the end of the day—after he’s already missed drinks with two other councilmen—she says he needs to fire his chief of staff (who we know has become his best friend by this point) because he doesn’t know what he is doing. Randall ends up firing the aid because he wants to do things his own way. We also get to see Randall help out his chief of staff with the plan to propose to his girlfriend (which I thought was totally adorable).

And last, of course, we have Kevin. Before we catch up with him, we see what led Nicky to throw the chair through the window and get arrested. He started seeing a therapist at the VA and things were going really well. He was opening up to her and he cleaned out his trailer and tossed most of the alcohol and he even looked less shabby. But the day of the chair incident, she told him she was transferring to a different location. He clearly didn’t want to see anyone else so he acted out. Kevin shows up and tries to convince the center to give Nicky another chance. They say he needs to be evaluated and as Kevin waits for him to get done, Kevin meets Cassidy’s son. They bond rather quickly which isn’t surprising given how good Kevin is with kids. He then meets Cassidy who finds it very creepy that an almost 40-year-old man is hanging with a nine-year-old boy. But that won’t be their last interaction. Even though Nicky gets to stay in the program, he still ends up at a bar drinking. Kevin tracks him down and drags him to an AA meeting because dealing with Nicky has made him want to drink. And who should be at the meeting but Cassidy. Kevin starts to talk about everything that’s going on in his life and he worries about growing old and ugly, which set both Cassidy and Nicky off into fits of giggles (Kevin eventually falls into them, too) and the three of them are asked to leave the meeting. I have a feeling Kevin has found his new love interest and I want to see where they go. Maybe Cassidy will be able to

Friday, October 4, 2019

Food TV Friday: The Zen of the Stand and Stir

I’m very into both food and travel at the moment, so I love shows that combine both, like Anthony Bourdain’s (RIP) “Parts Unknown,” “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” or “Ugly Delicious,” but when I’m really stressed out (which is often these days), there’s nothing like a stand and stir to quiet my mind for a little while. At the risk of being to jargon-y (many of my coworkers speak almost entirely in the jargon of our field, so I’m especially sensitive to this), let’s take a second to explain what I mean by “stand and stir.” A stand and stir is a more old-school cooking show that features the TV personality in a kitchen teaching you how to cook something. Often it can cut to the TV personality doing other related activities, too, but the scenes in the kitchen are what make it fundamentally a stand and stir. Let’s take a look at three of my favorites: “Southern and Heart,” “The Pioneer Woman,” and “Pati’s Mexican Table.”

“Southern at Heart” features Kentucky culinary instructor/chef Damaris Phillips. Phillips was a Food Network Star winner, and so early episodes featured the concept she developed through that competition: teaching someone how to cook a meal for their significant other. Over time, however, the show evolved to focus more on Damaris’ life. Each episode usually features her doing some sort of quirky activity or hanging out with family or friends. Damaris is a very quirky person (which is a good thing in my book). She loves going to events dressed in costume and rescuing cats, among other things. The number of costumes she comes up with on a regular basis (which you can get some insight into if you follow her on Instagram) is really impressive. That quirkiness is reflected on the show, especially in episodes where she and a friend go to a circus training class or when she and her husband take some kids to a healthy food-themed puppet show.

Most episodes feature recipes with a Kentucky twist (usually bourbon, sorghum, or pecans). Food Network cancelled “Southern at Heart” several years ago, but they still air episodes on weekend mornings, and I have my DVR set to record them all. I also have Damaris’ cookbook, “Southern Girl Meets Vegetarian Boy.” I’ve cooked several recipes from it, and all are tasty. Both her stuffed acorn squash recipes (one from the TV show and one from the cookbook) are also staples in my repertoire. I also love her recipe for Kentucky red beans and rice (even if beans don’t usually love me) and chickpeas and dumplings. Her husband, Darrick, is vegetarian, and Damaris was raised on classic Southern food, so finding recipes that worked with both was the inspiration for the book.

I mostly watch “The Pioneer Women” because the vibe is overall very calm. Ree Drummond lives on a ranch in Oklahoma with her husband and kids. She also often cooks for the cowboys who work on the ranch and other various extended family members. She intersperses the cooking with commentary on whatever happens to be happening on the ranch at the time. Sometimes it’s activities her kids are involved in, like football practice or going away to college. Sometimes it’s something ranch-related like needing to move the cattle or build a new fence. There have also been episodes that show how buildings that would eventually become part of her lifestyle brand empire (more on that in a bit) were remodeled. One very poignant episode dealt with the death of Ree’s mother-in-law, who was a town institution and the matriarch of the family. I kind of feel like Ree is the Chip and Joanna Gaines of the food world in that she’s built a lifestyle brand that has turned a small town into a tourist destination. Like the Gainses have in Waco, Texas (which really isn’t that small, but work with me here), Ree has shops and restaurants Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

The food is generally fairly simple, keeping a busy parent trying to put food on the table in mind. There are a lot of freezer meals, for instance. Ree also very much likes butter, and she occasionally waxes nostalgic about her mother’s recipes from the 1970’s. Especially beef stroganoff. Her style of cooking doesn’t really gel with mine. Her chickpea curry recipe is awesome, though, and is one of my lunch staples. I don’t really watch for the food. I watch for the stories of ranch life told in a calm, almost hypnotizing way.

Wrapping this up, I’m going to talk about my very favorite stand-and-stir, “Pati’s Mexican Table.” This show has single-handedly changed the way I cook. I started watching earlier this year because I’ve been thinking about taking a Dia de los Muertos in the future, so I had been looking for whatever I could find about Mexico. Pati Jinich was born and raised in Mexico City, and she and her husband moved to the United States for his job in finance. Pati focuses on ways to mix her Mexican heritage with the life she has built in the United States. Seasons 3-7 are available on Amazon, and season 8 starts premiering on PBS stations around the country this weekend. These seasons (I’ve never seen seasons 1-2, so I can’t speak for them) each focus on a different part of Mexico. Places featured thus far are Michoacán, San Miguel de Allende, the Yucutan peninsula, Oaxaca, and the Baja peninsula. Season 8 will feature Sinaloa. For the most part (there are a few exceptions each season), each episode mixes Pati traveling around the featured area of the season talking with cooks with Pati cooking dishes in her Maryland kitchen (yep, she’s a fellow adopted Marylander!) inspired by her travels.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this show has changed the way I cook. I’ve dabbled in various Asian cuisines before, and Southern food as well, but Latin food was always a bit of an enigma to me. Since I started watching “Pati’s Mexican Table,” I think I cook Mexican food more than I don’t. I even have a favorite latin grocery store in Baltimore (Cinco de Mayo in Highlandtown if your curious) and have discovered the awesome that is fresh Queso Oaxaca. I’ve made tacos and enchiladas and guisados, and making a sauce Mexican style has started to become routine (cook your components a bit most of the time, blend them up, then “season” the sauce by frying it). I’ve learned so much about the regionality of Mexican cuisine, and I can’t wait to try the real thing. I’m hoping to get to Mexico City and Oaxaca next fall, and I’m teaching myself Spanish to prepare.

So, if you’re having a stressful day and need to zen out, check out any of these stand-and-stirs, and lose yourself in the cooking and adventures. And try cooking something, too! Chopping veggies can also be extremely calming. You’ll definitely learn something, and you’ll have a delicious meal at the end of it all!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Fresh off the Boat 4.09: "Slide Effect"

“Don’t make me look like a cat. There’s nothing scarier than a cat-person.”

I’m trying to ease back into writing here by tackling some of the comedies that are in my backlog (since they’re shorter and all), and I was surprised to see I hadn’t written about “Fresh off the Boat” since March 2018. Then I fired up my DVR and saw I was missing the next episode, which probably explains part of why I abandoned writing about the show for so long. So, $2.99 given to Jeff Bezos later, and this recap is coming to you courtesy of Amazon Prime (you’re welcome). I actually distinctly remember watching this episode before, which makes me think I must have deleted it off my DVR accidentally. Back in March 2018 I was commuting 30 miles each way to work at a difficult job while having a (not life-threatening if treated but still fatiguing) autoimmune disease, though, so I can see how that could happen. I still have the difficult job and the autoimmune disease, but my commute is much improved these days, which is why I’m trying (again) to get back into writing. Anyway, this particular episode struck me as a pretty basic (going for easy jokes) example of a sitcom episode, but it did explore the character of Eddie with some depth, so I appreciated that.

The main plot in this episode is a bit of a coming of age story for Eddie. Eddie is mortified to learn that his friend Trent is on the school Safety Patrol (and Trent is kind of a jerk about it, so I really can’t fault Eddie here). He’s also mortified that the rest of his friends are also lame enough to want to join school activities. One friend is a cheerleader, another is the lead in the school musical production of “Brent” (it’s totally not “Rent” because the landlord’s name is “Brent” and everybody has the flu), and one is in book club. Eddie is so disappointed that all his friends want to be good, productive member of the student body. Then Trent takes it to another level by writing up Eddie for wearing “slides” (those black and white Adidas flip flops every teenager but me wore in the late 90 – they always looked painful to me), when East Orlando High is a “close toed campus.” Eddie has to get the dress code violation notice signed by a parent, and Louis, to his credit, pretty much just laughs when he sees what his son has gotten in trouble for. He tells Eddie that he’s glad he didn’t get in real trouble and that he and his friends are “good boys.” This is basically a nightmare for a teen who wants to be “cool” like Eddie.

This episode’s B plot centers around Jessica. She’s going to be a published author, but her editors are requesting an author photo for the book, and for some reason it’s freaking her out. Honey offers to take the photos, which seems to please Jessica. Honey puts her all into it during a fabulous montage set to Cake’s “Going the Distance” (I have fond memories of that song thanks to a law school friend), but Jessica is not happy with any of the pictures. She wants to use a picture of Amy Tan instead, because her picture looks like a picture of a real author. She doesn’t even like any pictures Evan or Emery took of her (which I kind of don’t blame her for). Later, Louis tries to tell Jessica that Eddie got detention (more on that in a bit), and she’s so distracted by trying to write a new children’s book (about an alligator who eats dreams) that she doesn’t care. While she’s working, Jessica finds out that a photo has been submitted on her behalf, and she goes to confront Honey. Honey wisely suggests that Jessica is suffering from self-doubt, and after some initial resistance, Jessica agrees. Honey reminds Jessica that even if it’s not perfect, even finishing writing a novel is more than most people have accomplished, and people will respect her for that. This inspires Jessica to get back in the game. She even likes the photo, which is a picture of her looking back at the kids, annoyed, from the driver’s seat of her car.

At East Orlando High, Trent’s reign of terror continues. He even wrote the producers of Rent to tell them about the upcoming production of “Brent,” and they’re not happy about it (he thought it was his safety patrol duty to warn of potential copyright infringement). The rest of the guys are all mad at Trent, and Eddie sees this as his opportunity to get his friends in on a little mayhem. He tells them they should all wear slides to school on the same day and see how Trent reacts. The guys all agree, but when the day comes, they chicken out, and Eddie is the only one wearing slides. Trent writes him up again, and this time Eddie gets Saturday detention. Louis still isn’t very upset about it and ends up quoting Breakfast Club a lot. Eddie ends up sleeping through detention, which impresses the hackey sack guys (in detention for sacking), since the detention monitor explicitly told them not to sleep.

The hackey sack guys start asking Eddie to hang out with them. They regularly ditch school at lunch time to go to Taco Fiesta, and they invite Eddie to join them. Eddie is desperate to fit in, and he makes a big show of asking for a water cup and instead filling it with Sprite. The hackey sack guys complain that Trent confiscated their hackey sacks, and Eddie hatches a plot to get them back. He has the combination to Trent’s locker, which contains a key to the principal’s office, where the sacks are being stored. The plot goes off perfectly – a little too perfectly. The hackey sack guys decide to steal the petty cash while they’re in the office, too. Somehow the powers that be figure out it was Trent’s key used in the theft, so Trent gets kicked off the safety patrol.

At this point, Eddie’s conscience kicks in (I told you this episode was a bit of a coming of age story). He turns to Louis for advice. After using some really confusing metaphors, Eddie finally tells Louis everything that happened. Louis assures Eddie that the fact Eddie is upset about this means he’s not a bad kid. Eddie says he has a plan to make it right, but he needs Louis’ help. Louis loans Eddie the money to pay back the school (for which Eddie has to work at the restaurant in exchange). He also gives Trent a tip about the lunch time taco runs to give Trent a way to get back on safety patrol. Not sure if that was the best move, considering Trent doesn’t seem to have learned much about not abusing power, but I can see why Eddie wanted to fix all the damage he himself had done. The guys all reunite to see their friend in “Brent,” which is pretty hilarious until the principal announces that the school lost their court case, and they have to shut down the production for copyright infringement.

This Is Us 4.02: “The Pool Part Two”

“I had a whole life before I met you. The things that make you uncomfortable remind me of where I’m from.”
- Deja

If you were worried that we wouldn’t get to spend some quality time with the Pearson clan in episode 2, fear not because we’ve got the whole family! In the past, the Big Three are about to enter seventh grade and have hit the point in puberty where they are too cool to be seen with their dorky parents. Still, Jack and Rebecca convince them to go to the pool one last time before school starts. Kate gets asked to hang out with the two most popular girls in school and Rebecca worries they are setting her little girl up for heartbreak. It doesn’t end up happening though. At least not like she thinks. The girls tell Kate that a popular boy wants to kiss her and to go wait behind the snack machine. Another kid shows up and she ends up kissing him anyway because he was expecting it to be her. The boys have a less than stellar time. Randall just wants to read his book (that’s so me) and Kevin has to show off of course in front of Randall’s friends by rapping and then embarrasses Randall who doesn’t know the song. Randall ends up ruining Kevin’s tape and the two nearly come to blows. Kevin then asks Jack if he’s a good person and Jack explains in a very Jack way that they are both dealing with stuff but that they are good people.

In the present, we catch up with Beth, Randall and the girls in Philly. Randall wants to do a family fun day (it’s amusing to me how he and his siblings resisted it back in the day but he wants to do it now). The girls are not interested, especially since Randall said he’d ride the bus with Deja to see if he feels comfortable with her riding it alone and Tess wants to get her hair cut. Both girls are trying to find themselves a little and both parents are obviously worried about them. Annie’s pretty chill at least. By episode’s end we learn that Deja’s motivation for the bus was because it takes her right by the car repair shop where Malik works. And we see Tess trying to figure out her own style with a cute hat. I am intrigued to see how the new characters fit in with our current cast.

Over at Kate and Toby, the family gathers to meet with a new specialist who is apparently supposed to educate and give them pro tips on raising a blind baby. Having been a blind child, I was really interested to see what they did with this part of the story and while I obviously don’t remember things from when I was that little (about 6 months old), it seemed a little early to be dealing with intervention type stuff. The specialist was going on about keeping furniture in the same place and having different floor textures to help Jack know what room he’s in. While that’s probably a good idea (lord knows I still walk into furniture when it’s moved and not where I’m expecting it to be), some of the things like dealing with sharp corners isn’t really a blind baby thing. That’s just a mobile baby thing (as in, we’ll have to babyproof our house pretty soon when our little guy gets moving on his own). I did find Kate’s ultimate outlook on things, about just having to narrate things to actually be accurate and ring true with my own experience. People know that if they go to a movie with me or watch something that has subtitles, they need to narrate it for me as I can’t read the screen. I also was touched by Kate and Kevin this episode. Kevin has been sober for 187 days (that’s how old Jack is at this point). But he worries that he’s just moving though life. He has a house plant to take care of but you can see he’s struggling not to get involved with Nicky more. He also worries that Jack cries every time he tries to pick him up. Kate explains you have to warn him since he can’t see what’s happening. Once Kevin learns to do that, things go much more smoothly.

We also get to see how all of this is affecting Toby, too. He’s losing a lot of weight (he’s going to the gym a lot) and he and Rebecca are both worried about Kate. She’s overeating and they both recognize that as a problem. Hopefully Kate sees it as the issue it is, too. And just when we think Kevin is jetting off to take a new movie role (we got to see him in an M. Night Shyamalan movie) he turns up on Nicky’s doorstep with his plant, ready to hep his uncle face his demons. And this definitely puts him right in Cassidy’s path. I just keep thinking she’s going to be his son’s mother.

Overall, I thought this was a decent episode. It moved things forward and while I’m sure I’ll have conflicting feelings and opinions on the baby Jack storyline as things progress—just because of my own experience as a blind person—I am hoping the writers treat it right. No, not every disabled person’s life and journey are the same and shouldn’t be portrayed like they are but I think the writers of This Is Us have usually handled sensitive topics well. So, while the infant tips specialist was probably a little unrealistic (It did provide a backdrop to address other issues), I trust them to proceed with sensitivity. It also might have helped if they also explained a little more of his journey in the NICU. All we saw was him getting off the vent. But hey, I also have Randall meeting Malik to look forward to!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

This Is Us 4.01: “Strangers”

“It’s so strange, isn’t it? How a complete stranger can become such a huge part of your story.”
- Rebecca

The Pearsons are back and even though we didn’t spend a lot of time with them this episode, it still felt so good to have them back on our screens. I know some people were probably annoyed or unhappy with the new characters they introduced in the episode but as much s I love Jack and Rebecca, they will run out of story to tell and we need to expand. We’ve got a whole host of other characters to explore and increase their orbit.

We do catch up with Jack and Rebecca as they are getting back from their cross-country road trip. They exchange adorable goodbyes about not calling each other first and then of course, Jack calls her. She invites him to dinner with her parents and their friends at a fancy country club and Jack being Jack, tells her not to worry about anything. He goes to a store to buy a suit—even though we know he’s strapped for cash and jobless—and he meets Miguel! I think their friendship is born partly out of Miguel letting Jack take the sport coat since they aren’t doing any alterations and lets Jack just tuck the tag away and return it a week later. Hopefully without that little bit of lobster he got on it at dinner. Honesty, I wasn’t surprised by the way Rebecca’s parents acted and treated Jack. They clearly don’t have a high opinion of him, no matter what Rebecca’s dad says after dinner. But as we know, Jack isn’t giving up that easy and he wins out in the end. I did love how he matter-of-factly told them that his parents aren’t worth much and he lost a lot in the war. It was eloquent in that beautiful Jack Pearson way. And the night ends with Jack and Rebecca going to one of her old haunts and her singing during open mic night.

Throughout the episode we are introduced to several new characters. There’s Cassie Sharp, a Marine clearly dealing with PTSD and alcoholism. There’s Malik and his parents and his little (very adorable) baby girl. And there’s the unnamed blind musician and his cute diner waitress. I wasn’t entirely sure where any of these storylines were going until we got to the end of the episode. I wasn’t surprised by Cassie’s storyline necessarily. I was a little surprised by the waitress and musician and Malik’s storyline just makes me grin ear to ear.

When we first meet Cassie, she’s overseas in the Middle East, trying to get intel from a local woman. She’s ultimately successful but the higher ups change their plans and take out the terrorist they got intel on. It killed at least eight civilians. We also learn (and I have to believe it’s fairly accurate because I don’t see Dan Fogelman not doing his homework) they pay civilians $1,200 per death as compensation. That’s honestly horrible and sickening. And it brings Cassie to a point where when her husband tells her their water heaters is busted and will cost $1,200 to fix, she kind of goes into a trance and ends up hitting her son, Matt. Her husband kicks her out of the house for what she’s done (and the drinking no doubt) and she ends up at an AA meeting. As she’s talking about how she can’t feel anything, someone throws something through the window and we see Nicky standing there, sucking down booze. We later see that its’ the Big Three’s birthday and Kevin gets called to go deal with Nicky’s situation. So maybe people are right and she will be the mother of Kevin’s child in the future.

Malik and his family end up being from Philadelphia. He’s got to work now that he’s got a baby to support but when he tries to get in on some shady business from one of his customers—gang affiliated I’m assuming—his dad ends up dissuading him. I’m really interested to see Malik’s story and what brought him to this place. By the end of the episode we find him at his friend’s house where he meets Deja. By the look she gives Randall when she gets back, she’s clearly smitten. That’s going to be an interesting situation to bring Randall and Beth into when Deja finds out about his daughter.

Lastly, we have our blind musician (who I learned is actually both blind and a musician) and the waitress. He’s got a little dog (it looks kind of like an American Eskimo actually) who ends up breaking a plate so he’s got to go out for breakfast where he meets Lucy. She’s a waitress with aspirations of owning her own restaurant. We briefly see their friendship develop into a courtship and marriage before we see her reveal that she’s pregnant. Our musician is thrilled and we see him take the stage at the end of the episode, introduced as Jack Damon. As in, Toby and Kate’s son. We see them learn that he’s got retinopathy and he likely won’t every regain his sight. He’ll see lights and darks a little and some blurred shapes but that’s it. That really struck me that they’d really consider the effects of him being born at 28 weeks. It also hits close to home because that’s the same eye condition I have. I have more usable vision than Jack but still, it’s lovely see a character I can relate to. I know we likely won’t get a ton of Jack and Lucy and the next generation of the Pearson/Damon clan but I really hope we see him again because he’s very pretty to look at and he’s got a great voice. And I love that they are playing the musical skill through the generations from Rebecca to Kate to Jack.

This felt a little bit like the pilot in how it revealed the timelines at the end of the episode but I’m not mad about that. I’m intrigued by the new characters we’ve met and can’t’ wait to see how they enhance and deepen the lives of our core family.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

MTVP Emmys Coverage 2019: The Aftermath

“And for that, I am here. And for that, my children are here. So step out of line, ladies. Step out of line.”
-Alex Borstein

I have mixed feelings about Sunday night’s Emmy telecast. Overall, because it was hostless, it was very disjointed. On the other hand, there were some interesting winners and inspirational acceptance speeches. On the whole, though, it wasn’t much to write home about. I suppose the fact that the telecast ended on time was a blessing, although it probably ended on time because of the lack of performance bits that a host would probably provide. I generally don’t mind if a show goes a little over (not too over, though) if fun performance bits break up the monotony of distributing the awards. I’m a fan of Broadway-style song and dance numbers, so I want all the theatrics with my awards telecasts.

I was most curious about how the show would open with no host, and it turned out that it would be a combination of Homer Simpson, Anthony Anderson, and Bryan Cranston. The telecast started with an animation of Homer about to start hosting the show and falling through the stage. Anthony Anderson then took over and tried to get the show back on track. This entailed trying to find someone with enough gravitas to start the show off right. Since he is an Emmy winner, Bryan Cranston fit the bill, and he performed admirably. This is where there would usually be a host making fun of a lot of the folks in the room, but without a host, that didn’t happen. I would imagine the self-serious celebrities who don’t like the usual roasting at the beginning of an awards show appreciated this development.

Ben Stiller then introduced the comedy awards, and the doling out of the hardware began. Tony Shalhoub won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his work on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which I appreciated, since he is indeed excellent on the show. His acceptance speech was amusing and pointed out that Amy and Dan Palladino basically fill every role on the show’s production crew (writer, director, producer, etc.). Alex Borstein also was a “Maisel” repeat, winning Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. I was most surprised that she was sitting in the audience with Seth MacFarlane. I didn’t realize they were co-stars on “Family Guy,” which makes me a bad nerd. I spent most of the rest of the telecast frantically Googling and watching my Twitter feed to try and figure out if they are in a relationship or just friends (my research was inconclusive, by the way). Borstein went on to give an amazing acceptance speech where she invoked how her grandmother survived the Holocaust (it’s quoted above). I completely missed it in real time because I was so busy googling “Alex Borstein Seth MacFarlane.” Because my priorities are apparently messed up.

There were a few other little gags that were presumably included in the show thanks to the lack of a host. Comedian Thomas Lennon did commentary and voice over (he kept up the tradition started by John Hodgeman of saying funny things about people as they walked up to accept their award. He had one joke that was a pretty sick Felicity Huffman burn (basically a shout out to an Emmy winner he understood was spending a couple weeks in jail). Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel also did a really funny bit that was basically all about how having no host for an awards show sucks (it does!).

Less successful was the creative team’s attempt to have a sort of “in memoriam” for shows that completed their final seasons in the past year. There was a moment where the entire cast of “Game of Thrones” was invited to come out on the stage and be applauded for wrapping the show before they presented an award. The same thing was done for “Veep,” as well, although that went a little better because Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a pro and is hilarious. Hugh Laurie introduced that bit, and Tony Hale got in on the gag by continuing to hover around Julia like his character does on the show. To top it all off, Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson introduced a video montage that was basically an in memoriam for a bunch more shows that recently ended. It was weird, and “The Big Bang Theory” was basically the centerpiece. Oddly, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” was not included in the montage, when it absolutely should have been.

There were some other interesting winners outside of the comedy world. John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” won a bunch of awards, which made me happy because John Oliver is awesome and has really been an exceptional torch carrier for the type of smart, informed comedy Jon Stewart perfected on “The Daily Show.” A show I had never heard of before, “Fleabag,” which is available on Amazon, also won a great deal of awards. It appears to involve some raunchy British humor, so I will be checking it out at some point, no doubt. Creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge won the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (beating out Julia Louis-Dreyfus of all people!), and the show itself won for Outstanding Comedy. While “Game of Thrones” didn’t win many individual awards (Peter Dinklage did pick up another Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama trophy, though), the show did receive the Outstanding Drama award, presumably as a going away present. Actually, I think the fact that so many actors from the show were nominated hurt it certain categories by splitting the vote. That fact did make for more variety of winner, though, which brought some much needed interest to an otherwise lackluster telecast. Can we have a host again next year, please?

Sunday, September 22, 2019

MTVP Emmys Coverage 2019: The Players

I’ll admit I haven’t been watching a ton of scripted TV lately (the latest season of “Glow” is awesome, though, by the way). The real world is too stressful and dramatic right now for me to want to add more stress and dramatics in my downtime. I’ve been writing about the Emmys here at MTVP for a decade now, though, so I’ve still got some opinions I’d like to share. As always, my usual disclaimer: I’m not a professional awards prognosticator. There are plenty of better known sources you can go to on the internet for that. My choices here might not even be who/what should objectively win. There is so much TV these days, and I’ve scaled back on my watching at the same time, so there’s plenty of Emmy-worthy stuff I haven’t even seen. This is just a few categories where there is a particular possibility of a winner whose work has made me happy. Also, a brief aside, there will be no host for tonight’s telecast on FOX, so I don’t have that to chat about here, either, this year. The choice of host is always one of my favorite things to speculate about, so I’m a little disappointed. Just because the Oscars couldn’t get their act together to choose a decent host this year doesn’t mean the Emmys had to follow suit. Anyway, with that, on to the discussion of specific categories.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

The Nomiees:

Christina Applegate (Dead to Me)
Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag)
Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll)
Catherine O’Hara (Schitt’s Creek)
Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)

My Pick: Rachel Brosnahan

I’m going with Rachel Brosnahan for this one because hers is the only show I’ve seen. Applegate, O’Hara, and Louis-Dreyfus are all seasoned comediennes, and I’m sure they have turned in outstanding performances. I do especially want to try watching “Schitt’s Creek” someday, because I’ve heard great things. But as of today, I’ve only seen “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and Brosnahan has been consistently fantastic in it. She can be subtle, such as when you can sense how much pain her mother running away to Paris has caused her, and she’s also not afraid to be big and completely go for broke in any stand-up comedy scene. I think that broad range of talent makes her a deserving winner in this category of very talented women.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

The Nominees:

Sarah Goldberg (Barry)
Sian Clifford (Fleabag)
Olivia Colman (Fleabag)
Betty Gilpin (GLOW)
Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live)
Marin Hinkle (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel)
Alex Borstein (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel)
Anna Chlumsky (Veep)

My Pick: Betty Gilpin

In some ways, this one was tough for me to make a pick, and it some ways, it wasn’t at all. Seeing Betty Gilpin’s name here was pretty much the only nomination that has gotten me really exited out of the whole shebang. On the other hand, Marin Hinkle and Alex Borstein both turn in consistent excellent performances on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” The sequence where Rose (Hinkle) goes to Paris in season two is especially memorable. Betty Gilpin, however, is a tour de force. I’m actually surprised she was submitted as a supporting actress instead of a lead actress (it was probably strategic), considering she was the glue holding GLOW season three together. Her character Debbie’s struggles balancing being a mom with advancing her career was really compelling to watch. I appreciated her determination to try and find the right balance that worked for her. I also appreciated that Debbie could be ruthless (I won’t spoil the end of season three if you haven’t watched it yet, but she’s definitely ruthless). There are also plenty of moments where she shows her humanity, as well, especially in her friendship with Ruth. Gilpin handles it all effortlessly and deserves all the kudos.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

The Nominees:

Bill Hader (Barry)
Don Cheadle (Black Monday)
Anthony Anderson (black-ish)
Eugene Levy (Schitt’s Creek)
Ted Danson (The Good Place)
Michael Douglas (The Kominsky Method)

My Pick: Ted Danson

This was another tough category for me, as I have seen and enjoyed the work of most of the actors on the nominee list. The inclusion of Eugene Levy again makes me really want to catch up on “Schitt’s Creek” (I’ve watched too many Christopher Guest films to not be excited about another Levy/O’Hara team-up). Since “The Good Place” is the only show I’ve watched, however, and Ted Danson is excellent in it, I’ve got to give him the nod. I’ll preface this with the disclaimer that I have only seen seasons one and two of “The Good Place” thus far (planning to watch season three soon to get this blog caught up), but at least in those two seasons, Danson successfully left me wondering whether his character, Michael, was good or evil. Of course, he’s a demon, so there’s at least a bit of an evil core there, but he does seem to be genuinely trying to help the humans, though. I’m still wondering, though, since he also seems to care quite a bit about saving his own skin, if he’ll keep trying to save them. Only time will tell!

Outstanding Competition Program

The Nominees:

American Ninja Warrior
Nailed It!
RuPaul’s Drag Race
The Amazing Race
The Voice
Top Chef

My Pick: Nailed It!

I still love “Top Chef,” and this past season in Kentucky was fantastic, but I’ve got to give this one to “Nailed It!” for trying to do something different. In a world of food TV where everyone is striving for perfection, “Nailed It!” stands out for showcasing ordinary people just trying to do their best with extraordinary baking tasks. The results are what we’d expect when any of us civilians (as opposed to pastry chefs) decides to try and recreate some beautiful decorated baked good we saw on Pinterest. The show embraces the ordinary. Hosts Nicole Byer and Jacques Torres also have fantastic chemistry and play well off each other. Byer, a comedienne, goes for the joke whenever she can and has a really big personality. Torres, an acclaimed chocolatier, lends some prestige to the proceedings, but he also is always game for some banter with Byer. The combination of all this is the perfect way to get sucked into a major Netflix binge.

The Good Place 3.01: “Everything is Bonzer!”

“I know what you mean. My goal in life was to be completely different, too.”
- Michael

When we last left our core four, Michael had convinced the Judge to send them back to earth as living people to see if they could be better people. Throughout this episode, we see Michael go down to earth and save them all from the incidents that would have killed him. But, unfortunately, while they all have short-lived bouts of wanting to be better people, inevitably, all four revert back to their original selves. Eleanor gets bored of being good, Chidi suggests a friend get in shape and his friend then ends up seriously injured. Tahani spends time in a Buddhist monastery for a while until a news reporter finds her and she ends up back in the spotlight and Jason assembles a dance crew but after repeatedly losing competitions, he goes back to a life of crime.

Despite the Judge’s instruction that the core four needs to succeed on their own Michael can’t sit by and just let them all fail. He’s invested in this little experiment and against Janet’s better judgement, he goes back down to push them together. He thinks at first that it just needs to be Eleanor and Chidi. He had a lot of fun playing the bartender for Eleanor and the librarian (whom Eleanor dubbed as sexy) and it does get Eleanor to head to Australia to ask Chidi for help. I enjoyed the little forays into the year of their lives from when they had their near-death experience and where they end up during the present timeline of the episode. I also found it interesting that there is going to be a love interest for Chidi, just so that he and Eleanor don’t’ end up together too fast. Clearly as it stands now, they have very little in common. Although, it was pretty funny to see Eleanor play match maker while Chidi underwent another MRI. It does seem like a semi-reformed Eleanor thing to do.

This prodding by Eleanor sparks Chidi’s third thesis idea (thank goodness he dumped the first one). He wants to study survivors of near-death experiences and see what impact it has on ethical decision-making. And he gets to partner with Simone, the neuroscientist that he’s now kind of dating. As much as I want Eleanor and Chidi to be together I kind of like Simone as a romantic prospect for Chidi. She’s bubbly and quirky and fits into the group really nicely. I like that she has a way of bringing Chidi out of his shell.

I think I liked Michael’s persona the most when he was talking to Jason. I feel like he was able to get Jason to express himself. It was honestly the first time we’ve really seen Jason act like not a complete idiot. He had feelings and emotions and he didn’t sound like a dope. He was invested in his dance crew until he got caught stealing to try and pay rent on the rehearsal space. I just know that Michael’s little scheme to get all four back together is going to backfire somehow. The Judge isn’t that stupid. She was pretty all knowing last season. I can’t imagine she would see past Michael’s antics. And it may be sooner than he expects. Then again, he is convinced he made it through without anyone the wiser. He even bribed the Doorman with a frog covered insulated mug for his decaf anti-matter. I highly suspect the “key” made from the first atoms of the universe is going to come into play before the end of the season. They made a big deal about it. It can’t just be a throw-away gag. On his last trip, I thought Michael may have used the mug to distract the Doorman while he took the key. But, I think the Doorman would have realized it before Michael had a chance to get away. Still, it has to come back at some point.

While the Judge may not be aware of Michael’s meddling yet, Sean, Michael’s demon boss, is certainly aware. He has demons working to hack the Judge’s system so they can see what’s going on down on earth. They finally get access during Michael’s last trip down to earth. I was half-expecting Sean to pop down to earth and try to directly mess with our gang. But, it turns out he’s going to use one of his lackeys to do his dirty work. He sends one of the demons who got run over by a train in the fake Good Place to be part of Chidi’s study. Michael and Janet see this at the end of the episode and realize it’s bad. I will be interested to see where this goes.

Overall, I think I enjoyed this episode more than the season 2 premiere. Part of it was because we didn’t rehash the same plot line we’d spent all of the first season building to over and over again. I liked that we got to fill in the blanks on their lives during their second chance but we still ended up with everyone together by the end. I do think they have a lot of chemistry together and you can see little hints of the people they will become. I still think Jason and Tahani have the farthest to go but I suspect they will eventually get there. That said, I’m not sure where they can go with the storyline after this season. I’m assuming the whole season will be spent on earth trying to get them be good people so that they get into the real Good Place. Still, even if they are successful, to me that feels like a series ending arc. Given the popularity of the show and the caliber of the cast, I don’t see the network saying goodbye after only three brief seasons. NBC needs more successful comedies and they aren’t going to want to let this one go anytime soon.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Good Place 2.12: "Somewhere Else"

“The point is, we’ve all gotten better. Why should we have to go live alone in a boring void because of a messed up system? How is that justice?”

The second season finale of “The Good Place” gave us yet another of the show’s signature twists. I think part of what makes “The Good Place” such an entertaining and worthwhile show to watch is that the paradigm is always changing. In that sense, it kind of reminds me of “Fringe” about ten years ago, which really got interesting when the creative team worked to flip the script each season for the last three seasons or so. Both with “Fringe” and with “The Good Place,” sometimes the twist works and sometimes it doesn’t (can Chidi and Eleanor just be together already without all this rebooting!), but I always appreciate the effort to try something different and keep things fresh. I have a feeling that Mike Schur and the team at “The Good Place” will keep us entertained with their creativity for some time to come.

We pick up with this episode in the Judge’s court room, where Michael is trying to argue that the Good/Bad Place system is fundamentally flawed and our four humans shouldn’t be punished for it. After all, they have become “better” since their death, and the current system, which just tallies up what you did in life, doesn’t account for that. Tahani and Eleanor chat while the judge is figuring out what she’s going to do, and they actually acknowledge that they have become friends, which was nice. Janet also takes the opportunity to appear next to Jason and confess her love for him. And yes, I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of Japan Youtube, and the Japanese concept of “confession” pretty perfectly describes what Janet does here. Chidi has an epiphany when he sees this, and he grabs Eleanor and kisses her. Eleanor’s response is to say “hot diggity dog!,” which she is embarrassed by at first, but then she decides to own it. I thought it was pretty adorable, myself.

Michael and the judge try to work out a compromise that will test Michael’s theory that people can become “better” after death. Their first potential solution is to send everyone to the medium place while Michael does more work to build his case. When the humans learn that this means they will have to be separated and alone for as long as it takes (a medium place has to be fine-tuned to be perfectly medium for each individual), Eleanor throws a fit. She doesn’t think it’s fair that they all have to be alone because of a faulty judgment system. Michael and the judge then come up with an alternative plan that will test his theory. He needs to prove that humans will become better without a promise of reward.

Suddenly Eleanor is alive again and waking up in her bed in Phoenix. She goes to the store and harasses the guy who wants to get her to sign a clean energy petition, just like on the day she died, but she gets pulled out of the way of the flying shopping carts and truck, so it’s just a near death experience instead of actual death. Eleanor, to the surprise of everyone who knows her, decides to go on a self-improvement kick and become a better person. She quits her job at the shady pharma company right before it gets shut down by an investigation, and she joins the Clean Energy Crusaders. She also spends time hanging out with the guy who always tried to get her to sign that petition. She’s drinking less and generally trying to be kind to people. Michael is very happy at the results he is seeing.

After a few months, however, being good all the time starts to get tiring for Eleanor. She gets kicked out of her apartment for telling her roommate the truth about something she did the previous year. She writes a note when she bumps someone’s car and gets sued by the owner. Eventually, she quits her job with Clean Energy Crusaders and goes back to her boss from the pharma company, who has started yet another shady pyramid scheme. Michael is very disappointed and decides to try and intervene. Eleanor goes to a bar to drown her sorrows, and the bartender is none other than Michael, which gives Ted Danson his “Cheers” moment for the series. Elanor thinks trying to be good is hopeless. She is, after all, the person who “cyberbullied Ryan Lochte until he quit Instagram” (seriously…he’s so pretty, but so very dumb).

Michael tells Eleanor that the question to ask is “what do we owe each other.” While moping at home, Eleanor googles this and finds a video of a lecture by Chidi. He is faulty at a university in Australia now. This gives Eleanor yet another epiphany. Next thing we know, she has hopped on a Qantas jet and is headed for Australia. She shows up at Chidi’s office and tells him she’s a fan of his lecture. And I’m swooning. With all the twists this show keeps throwing at us, one thing seems constant. Eleanor and Chidi are meant to be together.

I’m pretty excited to see what this latest reset is going to bring for the next season. Presumably, at least for one episode, we’ll get to see all the humans back on earth, and we’ll see how they all reacted to their own near death experiences. I’m especially curious to see what Jason has been up to during his time on his own. I’m also excited to see how things will progress with Eleanor and Chidi now that they’re reunited (although I’m sure they’ll be reset again soon enough – it’s already happened several hundred times!). Even if this ends up being one twist too far, I think attempts at creativity and changing things up should be appreciated.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Food TV Friday: "The Chef Show" Season 1: Volume 1

“Part of the reason we do this is because I used to cook with Roy all the time when he was training me, and then the movie came out and it all ended.”
-Jon Favreau

I started watching “The Chef Show” on a flight home to the East Coast from Seattle earlier this summer (yes, it’s still summer for a few more days, damnit!), and I binged the whole thing pretty quickly. I think it’s safe to say that Jon Favreau’s “Chef” is my favorite movie. It incorporates several of my favorite things, like talk about how food evokes memories of a place and New Orleans. Although my favorite thing to eat in New Orleans isn’t beignets. Beignets are great, but I’d rather stuff myself with oysters, po boys of all types, jambalaya, etouffee, and I’ll stop there before I basically recreate that Simpson’s bit where Homer describes his eating in New Orleans. That bit basically describes me every time I go to the Crescent City, by the way. Anyway, “The Chef Show” features Favreau and chef Roy Choi, who was a consultant on the movie, talking and gabbing, sometimes with celebrities. It’s just an enjoyable way to spend time when you want to take a break from the world and have fun nerding out about food. Since season two premieres on Netflix today, I thought I would share my thoughts on season one.

Several episodes feature Favreau, Choi, and friends recreating iconic dishes from the movie. The grilled cheese sandwich and the pasta aglio e olio are both memorable, of course. They also make mojo pork and use it to make Cubanos. Oh and there’s a running beignet fail gag, too. Note to all: if you ever pick up a cannister of Café du Monde beignet mix while in NOLA, make the beignets before the mix goes stale. It’s fascinating to get some insight into Roy Choi’s process through the cooking sequences. He’s very intense in the kitchen (which you can tell if you watch the sequence in the “Chef” credits where he walks Favreau through making the grilled cheese sandwich), and he cares about his craft deeply. One of the things he seems to really concentrate on while cooking is controlling the temperature. Even when just making a simple grilled cheese sandwich (which is loaded with multiple types of yummy cheeses, of course) or toasting bread for cubanos, he’s paying attention to the temperature of the grill at every second. He also has a habit of constantly changing up his recipes. There’s a funny bit where Choi loves a dish Favreau makes, and Favreau tells him that Choi texted him the recipe years ago. Choi had already added multiple additional ingredients into his own version.

There are many celebrity guests, primarily either chefs (like Aaron Franklin and Dave Chang) or Marvel actors (like Tom Holland, Robert Downey, Jr., and Gwyneth Paltrow). Director Robert Rodriguez also makes an appearance. I think I enjoyed the chef appearances more. I really enjoyed the moments in the series that involved serious nerding out about food. I’m a bit of a barbecue snob (one of my favorite food memories is of trying the Sunday special prime rib at Lockhart Smokehouse in Dallas), so I especially liked seeing how Aaron Franklin prepares one of his famous briskets. I’ve been a fan of Dave Chang for a while (I promise I really will write about “Ugly Delicious” here soon!), and it was fun watching him and Roy Choi compare food memories from growing up Korean American. There’s also an episode (the first filmed, I believe), where Favreau, Choi, and a bunch of Favreau’s Marvel actor friends get “crushed” by the staff at The Optimist in Atlanta. The towers of seafood they were invited to work their way through made my mouth water, and I vowed to check out the restaurant if I ever find myself in Atlanta again. I’m also not really a Robert Rodriguez fan, so I had no idea that he was really into cooking and included a recipe with each of his movies.

One thing I found interesting about the season was that there wasn’t really a standard format for an episode. Several episodes focused around Favreau and Choi cooking with others in a kitchen, but there was variation, too. Episodes filmed in Atlanta and Austin in addition to Los Angeles. The episode that was set in Atlanta, as I already mentioned, had an extended sequence of Favreau and a bunch of Marvel notables talking Iron Man and Spider Man while eating insane amounts of seafood (sounds like my kind of party!). There was also an episode in memory of Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold which, while it did include some cooking, also included a lot of discussion of Gold’s legacy and how he worked hard to promote small restaurants and many different kinds of cuisine. The final episode of the season centered around Aaron Franklin’s Hot Luck festival, where he basically invited a bunch of chefs to Austin to cook whatever they felt like. Roy Choi made some smoked Korean barbecue, which I’m sure was awesome, because I had something similar at Pine Street Market in Portland, Oregon earlier this summer.

Overall, I think one of the things I enjoyed about the show the most was getting to know Favreau and Choi better as people. Favreau makes Gwyneth Paltrow laugh by using Yiddish words, talks about making beignets with his daughter because she first saw them as a little kid when “Chef” was filming, and is actually a pretty accomplished amateur cook thanks to Choi. He also is a talented visual artist and quickly pulls together an impressive drawing for Robert Rodriguez’s guestbook. Roy Choi, as I said earlier, is very intense and serious about his craft. He also takes a lot of pride in how he was able to build his business. He seems to always be tweaking his recipes and never just settles on one, definitive version. I think my favorite moment with Choi was when he mentioned how his mother basically has a shrine to him at her house and makes sure all her friends who visit stop to see all the articles and other memorabilia she has collected to document her son’s success.

I’m not sure how much someone who isn’t a super fan of “Chef” like I am would like “The Chef Show,” but I found it just as uplifting as the movie. I think anyone who is interested in food or Marvel, or just creativity in general could find something to interest them in the show. I’m looking forward to diving into the second set of episodes as soon as I can because Favreau and Choi have succeeded in creating an environment where I just want to hang out and watch them cook and chat for a while.