‘This Is Us’
“A Manny-Splendored Thing” is a more confident episode of “This Is Us.” Unlike the packed season premiere, we get a thematically rich episode that offers compelling character team-ups and never feels overstuffed. The show picks up back in the past, with Rebecca (Mandy Moore) asking Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) how he kicked his alcohol problem before. So, we flash even further backward to when the Pearson kids were really, really, adorable. In this time period, Jack kicked his drinking habit in the most Jack-like way possible — by being there for his kids and, er, boxing in his free time.
In the present, the Pearsons have all gathered to watch Kevin (Justin Hartley) film the last episode of “The Manny,” arguably the worst fictitious show of all time. “The Manny” plotline essentially exists as an excuse to get all of the ensemble together and watch them stir. Kevin is trying to be respectful of his comeback to the show like George Clooney, but things get complicated when a writer purposely changes scenes of the comeback special to humiliate him. Meanwhile, Randall (Sterling K. Brown) is still doubting whether it is a good call to adopt a child who was not as fortunate as he was. Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) is annoyed with Randall for “Randall-ing” (can this please be an official word?) all over the place and vents to the one person she least expects to understand — Kevin.
The show’s fascination with past and present gets particularly crafty in Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Rebecca’s storyline. We check in on what Kate was doing while Jack was punching away his drinking problem and learn about the deep-rooted insecurities she has always faced because of her mother. When we switch to the present, then, the mother-and-daughter interactions become more layered and more interesting to watch, especially when Rebecca tags along with Toby to watch Kate’s first performance as a singer.
During Kate’s performance, the show gets really time-loopy in an artfully executed montage — we go to Kevin, who is humiliating himself on set because it is the right thing to do and because Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) is there to support him, and we also go to Kevin in the past, again humiliating himself because Sophie is there to watch and laugh along. We also go to Kate in the past, who refuses to sing because she thinks her mother is better and more well-suited for everything than her. We also check in with Jack, who further thinks about how his dad was also an alcoholic and how his own experiences as a war veteran may be the cause of his drinking. Seriously, this show’s time-loopiness can get “Inception”-level trippy sometimes and still make sense.
After the montage, we are firmly back in the present, and Randall and Beth end up making up while Kate and Rebecca try to sort out their issue. Kate and Rebecca’s tacit reconciliation closes the time loop of the Pearson kids in the past, and we now go back to Jack in the time period in which he and Rebecca have stopped fighting and are now struggling with his alcohol addiction.
The episode ends with Jack telling teenage Kate about his alcohol addiction, a tender moment in a series of tender moments between the father-daughter duo in this episode. Seriously, can Jack please not die? Like, ever?
“The Long Goodbye” is one of those episodes of “Modern Family” that is instantly relatable. The central story arc deals with Manny (Rico Rodriguez) finally moving to college. Yeah, Manny, the cute kid who wore his heart on his sleeve back in Season 1, is now a fully functioning adult. Anybody feel old yet?
Jay (Ed O’Neill) and Gloria (Sofía Vergara) have to honor Manny’s request for a clean, non-emotional goodbye. The promise is predictably easy to break, especially when Manny remembers that he left his “white noise” machine at home and has to go get it. Jay and Gloria think Manny’s forgetfulness is just an excuse and that their son is not prepared to go out into the world yet. After discovering, however, that Manny gave Joe (Jeremy Maguire) a list of things to do for his parents in his absence, Jay and Gloria realize that it is not Manny, but they, who are not ready to say goodbye. The plot culminates in a long and tearful hug between the family.
Goodbyes are always hard, and “Modern Family” does not shy away from giving them the Kleenex-worthy attention they deserve.
Meanwhile, Phil (Ty Burrell) and Claire (Julie Bowen) are grappling with their own relevance in Alex’s (Ariel Winter) life. Now that she is back at Caltech and can do most of her own chores, it seems as though Alex does not need her parents anymore. As Phil and Claire come to see for themselves, though, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Alex does need them — maybe not for the small stuff, but certainly for the big stuff, such as her struggle to express her vulnerability to other people. As “Modern Family” often points out, one of the major roles of parents is just being there for their children.
Other subplots within the episode include Haley (Sarah Hyland) going to work at the local club for Luke (Nolan Gould) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) having a predictable and unfunny argument after their kitchen catches fire. Haley’s arc has potential, but rehashing Mitchell and Cameron’s petty issues is eye-roll-worthy at this point. Also, Pameron (Dana Powell) has overstayed her welcome, period.
New episodes of “Young Sheldon” will premiere Nov. 2.