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!