Family Mashup: Goodbyes, Celebrities and Rockets

This Is Us - Season 2
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This week, “This Is Us” wrapped up its Big Three trilogy, “Modern Family” devoted an entire episode to awkward celebrity run-ins and “Young Sheldon” developed its titular character’s fascination with theoretical physics.

‘This Is Us’

“This Is Us” capped off the 2017 run for season two with an entire episode revolving around Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and his family. While the earlier two parts in the Big Three trilogy opted to showcase Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Kate (Chrissy Metz) at their lowest points, “Number Three” doesn’t really do that with Randall. Throughout the emotional wringer he has to experience in “Number Three,” Randall remains calm, composed and in check –– a significant sign of character development given his understandably fractured emotional state in the back half of season one. We also get Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) back on our screens after two entire weeks, and she still remains the protective mama bear/badass/cure for Randall’s “Randall-ness” that she’s always been. Overall, “Number Three” is able to successfully conclude a well-conceived trilogy of episodes while also planting seeds for the battles to come in the back half of season two.

We start off the episode in the present, with Randall checking in on Deja’s (Lyric Ross) progress with her school project. The two seem to have developed a stronger bond –– though that doesn’t stop Deja from rolling her eyes at Randall’s “foster dad” quips.

Just as things seem to have settled down a bit for Randall and Beth, Shauna (Joy Brunson), Deja’s mother, arrives at their doorstep. Apparently, Shauna got released from prison earlier than expected and wants to get her daughter back as soon as possible. Beth, in total Beth mode, vociferously airs her concerns about Shauna’s erratic behavior and her disregard for the foster care process. Deja hears the screaming and goes outside to reunite with her mother. She reassures Shauna that she will return to her, but through the appropriate channels of the foster system. After speaking to her daughter, Shauna calms down a bit and drives off.

Alarmed by Shauna’s release, Beth and Randall immediately meet up with Linda (Debra Jo Rupp), the social worker who is responsible for Deja’s case, to discuss the recent turn of events. Linda, while understanding their concerns about Shauna’s behavior, tells them that Shauna’s life seems to have improved and that she is fit to regain custody of Deja again. Randall, disturbed by Linda’s decision — especially given how fragile Deja was when she first came to live with him and his family — believes that Shauna is unfit to take care of her daughter. Together with Beth, he says he will fight Linda’s decision.

After driving the kids to school, Randall remembers the Thanksgiving he spent with his biological father, William (Ron Cephas Jones), the previous year. In particular, he flashes back to a conversation they had after Randall discovered that Rebecca (Mandy Moore) actively tried to keep William from coming into her son’s life. During the conversation, William says he followed Rebecca in a cab to her house after she rejected his proposal to be a part in raising his child. It would have been very easy for him to enter that house, tell Rebecca and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) that he means no harm and begin taking an active role in how his son grew up.

While William wonders aloud what could have been, we get a signature “This Is Us” montage of an imagined universe in which William did become a part of Randall’s life, all through the Christmases, the birthdays, the proms, everything. However, that was not to be. Before knocking on the door that could potentially unlock a lifetime of future happiness, William saw three bicycles parked outside on the lawn. He didn’t know which bicycle belonged to Randall and whether Randall was “Number One,” “Number Two” or “Number Three.” Realizing that he was about to intrude upon a life he didn’t know anything about, William decided to go away and respect Rebecca’s wishes.

In the present, after remembering that conversation, Randall drives over to Shauna’s neighborhood. He sees Shauna excitedly conversing with her friends, showing them clothes that she probably bought for Deja. Upon seeing firsthand that fighting against Linda’s decision would basically break the relationship of a mother with her child — a relationship and file that Randall can’t know anything about — Randall meets up with Beth, his mind made up.

Beth knows that Randall is having the same doubts that she has, and the two decide to relinquish their objections against Linda’s decision. It is here that Randall, in a burst of “Randall-ness,” likens life to a game of Pac-Man — you try to win as many points as you can, but the ghosts, the enemies, remain the same each time.

Beth makes a quip about the bleakness of Randall’s analogy, and the two bittersweetly go to watch Deja present her project before the school. During the presentation, Deja thanks her foster dad for helping her out.

Basically, “This Is Us” just wants to be looking for excuses to make us grab the Kleenex nowadays.

After the presentation, we are “treated” to a tearful goodbye between Deja and her newfound foster family. Tess (Eris Baker) and little Annie (Faithe Herman) are understandably upset. Losing a grandfather and a new sister in a short matter of months is an emotional devastation that even the best of people won’t be able to handle.

Beth hugs Deja and tells her to take care of herself and her “big, beautiful” head of hair.

As if that sequence wasn’t sad enough, we also get Deja telling Randall that she did like living with him and his family and that she appreciates all that they did for her. Randall, while holding back tears, reassures Deja that he knows how she feels about them.

The icing on the cake: Deja hugs Randall, a special token of love from Deja given her traumatic history.

The episode doesn’t end there, though. We fast-forward to the end of “Number One,” when Kevin went to Randall’s house looking for help.

When Randall tells Kevin that Kate lost her baby, Kevin flips out and escapes in his car, not knowing that Tess is also in the backseat.

A police officer then calls Randall, telling him that Kevin has been arrested for a DUI and that Tess, his daughter, was with Kevin in the car. “I’ll kill him,” Randall says. “Not if I kill him first,” Beth replies.  

DUN, DUN, DUN.

Wait, wait, wait. What about the whole “Jack Has a Goatee” time period? What happened there?

So while teenage Kevin (Logan Shroyer) was being a jackass to everyone and teenage Kate (Hannah Zeile) was passive-aggressively arguing with her mom, teenage Randall (Niles Fitch) was preparing for a college road trip with his dad.

They are going to visit Howard University — something that Jack has a little trouble getting on board with because of his Ivy League aspirations for his son. Once they arrive on campus, Randall avoids the official campus tour and instead meets up with a friend who offers to show him around.

Randall is immediately taken in by Howard’s predominantly Black community and feels accepted in a way he didn’t seem to before.

When Jack comes to pick him up, Randall hesitates to introduce Jack to his friends — a fact that Jack is all too quick to mention on the car ride back home.

Randall brushes off his dad’s concerns, joking that he hesitated not because Jack wasn’t Black but because he was old. However, after a few seconds, he says Jack’s feeling of being off balance because Randall hesitated to introduce him to friends is something that Randall goes through every day. He quickly adds that it is not because of his family but because he just feels somewhat off balance and a little out of place in the life he currently has. Randall believes that going to Howard would reduce some of those feelings.

Jack picks up on, and starts relating to, what his son is trying to say. He then takes Randall to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and proceeds to share his own traumatic experiences. Jack usually doesn’t talk about what he went through as a veteran, but something about what Randall said related to him on a fundamental level. He too felt off balance and out of place after coming back home, and he too felt as if his identity didn’t seem coherent at times.

Jack may not have gone through what Randall goes through, but he does have an inkling of what Randall feels. The two then have one of those rare moments of connectedness, that familiarity that comes about with a shared perspective but not necessarily a shared experience.

Out of all the Pearsons, it seems that Randall has handled the death of his father with the most maturity. Maybe it’s because their relationship didn’t leave anything unsaid, something that Brown touched on in a recent interview.

Maybe it is Randall, then, who at the end of the day will be able to help out Kevin the most in the present. If Kevin is spiraling in the present, then Randall, who knows a thing or two about spiraling, could be the glue that pieces him back together.

Only if Beth doesn’t kill Kevin for unknowingly putting Tess in danger, though.

‘Modern Family’

“Brushes with Celebrity” is one of the better episodes of season nine so far. There is a Chris Martin cameo, an unexpectedly delightful plotline for Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and a consistently clever use of the show’s oft-forgotten mockumentary origins.

The entire episode is framed around the central characters talking about recent celebrity run-ins they have had.

John Fleenor / ABC

One of these encounters occurs when Phil (Ty Burrell) shows a house to Coldplay’s Chris Martin. Understandably excited to meet Martin, Phil plans out the whole day and even embroiders a flower on his jeans. His plans, though, go haywire when he starts experiencing some acute pain in his, as he says it, “tersticle.” After collapsing from pain during the showing, Phil wakes up in a hospital bed, with Chris Martin bringing him ice for his “biscuits.” Deeply embarrassed — even more so when Claire brings her snooty book club over to the hospital to meet Martin — Phil tries to flee.

Martin, realizing the impact that fame has had on his own life, apologizes to Phil for all the people who have gathered around the hospital bed. To make it up to him, Martin sings and plays a song that Phil wrote about his job as a realtor.

If every sentence of Phil’s arc sounds weird, that’s because it was. It is hard to tell whether it was good weird or mediocre weird, however.

Jay’s (Ed O’Neill) celebrity encounter occurs when he strikes up a conversation with Terry Bradshaw during jury duty. Things look to be going well, with Bradshaw reminiscing about his famed life with his new friend, until Jay accidentally pokes fun at an apparent misstep in Bradshaw’s career as an actor. Bradshaw is understandably offended and, in a quick succession of events, gets a restraining order against the visibly obsessed Jay.

All is not lost for Jay, though. As he says, Bradshaw at least signed the restraining order.

Manny (Rico Rodriguez) and Gloria’s (Sofía Vergara) celebrity run-in is easily the weakest of the entire bunch. While dining at a cafe, Manny spots a famed playwright and goes to say hello, only to be summarily rebuffed. Gloria, angry at the playwright’s reticence, goes over to confront him and, in true Gloria fashion, reduces him to a pool of tears.

The most notable feature of this storyline is the Billy Crystal cameo at the end.

Now, let’s go to the couple that saved this episode from mediocre territory: Cam and Mitchell. While the earlier episodes of season nine saved some of the worst storylines for these two, this time we got them at their quirky and self-aware best. It was nice to see Cam and Mitchell acknowledging that they really do bicker all the time, and that a lot of those times they are just repeating the same mistakes again and again.

Their desire to get a television host of a home improvement show to pick their garden for remodeling also feels familiar and relatable. After all, who wouldn’t want an already-paid-for remodel of their home?

Besides acknowledging the cyclical nature of their daily arguments, the episode also takes care to point out the underlying love that the two have for each other.

Stonestreet and Ferguson’s chemistry shines the most when their respective characters take time to actually converse and talk things out rather than engaging in an endless battle of wits.

As the show nears its end, hopefully it continues to give Cam and Mitchell enriching and thought-out plots with satisfying payoffs rather than the reheated baloney we have had to suffer through in the last few episodes.

‘Young Sheldon’

“A Patch, a Modem, and a Zantac®” is a return to form for “Young Sheldon.” Meemaw’s (Annie Potts) screen time is dialed down a bit and there is a welcome development in George Sr. (Lance Barber) and Sheldon’s (Iain Armitage) relationship that, like Cam and Mitchell’s plotline in “Modern Family,” saves this episode from mediocrity.

The episode starts off with a NASA scientist coming over to give a talk to Sheldon’s class. When the scientist mentions a potential mission to Mars, Sheldon tries to convince the scientist of his idea of using a rocket that could land with its first stage intact. The scientist brushes off the 9-year-old, giving Sheldon a NASA patch to shut him up.

Understandably annoyed, Sheldon spends the next few days trying to come up with mathematical calculations to prove his theory. Only, he needs a computer to calculate a specific ratio accurately.

Tam (Ryan Phuong) tells Sheldon that he’ll need a modem to run the calculations on the school’s computer. When Sheldon pesters Mary (Zoe Perry) to drive him to a store so that he can purchase said modem, she gets annoyed and grounds him.

Sheldon, stressed out, soon develops an ulcer. But, somehow, he is able to make the math work for his theory without a computer, and he sends it to NASA as soon as he is finished.

After not hearing back from NASA for days, a depressed Sheldon starts sulking. George Sr., fed up with the situation, stands up for his son and takes the entire family to NASA to make sure that they hear Sheldon out.

At NASA, through George Sr.’s physical intimidation, Sheldon is able to perform the calculations for his theory in front of the scientist who disregarded his ideas. The scientist is impressed but says that Sheldon’s math cannot practically be implemented and used at the present time.

Satisfied that he has proved himself, Sheldon goes back home with his family and thanks George Sr. in the car.

Whenever the writers focus on the father-son aspect of “Young Sheldon,” it immediately acquires an espresso shot of emotional resonance.

Even though Sheldon’s solution cannot practically be implemented in the ‘80s, we get a flash-forward to April 2016, when SpaceX has launched the first rocket with the exact same idea as Sheldon’s. We then see Elon Musk, in a well-placed cameo, reading the notebook that Sheldon gave NASA all those years ago, implying that the rocket works because of Sheldon’s math.

The inclusion of Musk is a fun tie-in and also shows, rather than tells, the significance of Sheldon’s intelligence –– something that “The Big Bang Theory” has struggled to do as of late.

Contact Arjun Sarup at [email protected].

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