This week, both “This Is Us” and “Modern Family” deal with the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell the people around us. There are also arguments between mothers and daughters, one being much-needed and the other being a good example of shockingly bad writing. Keep reading to find out which one is which.
‘This Is Us’
The underlying seriousness of “Still There” stays with you long after the episode is over — and that’s a good thing. The challenges that these characters are grappling with will not be resolved in one fell swoop, or in one emotional montage. No, the Pearsons need to take their time with these battles because, as the show points out, they will emerge stronger people on the other side.
We begin with a flashback to Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) “dad mustache” period, aka when Kate (Mackenzie Hancsicsak), Randall (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Parker Bates) were adorable little kids and all was right with the world. Kevin and Kate both have chickenpox, and it is up to the bumbling duo of Jack and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) to take care of them. To complicate matters, Rebecca’s overbearing and critical mother comes over for a visit, and Jack himself catches a bout of the pox as well.
The situation is played for laughs, until Rebecca realizes the extent of her mother’s entrenched bias against her life — and against Randall in particular. Rebecca rightly calls her mother out for being a racist, and she and Jack have a delicate conversation with Randall about how racism isn’t always overt — even the people who are seemingly kind may not have the kindest intentions at heart. Kudos to the writers for treating such an important issue with the intelligence and the delicacy it deserves.
It is not all doom and gloom in the past, though. After the confrontation, Rebecca’s mother does try to make a genuine effort with Randall. We also get an adorable sequence in which Jack is teaching Kevin to power through the irritation of the chickenpox itch by bellowing at the top of his voice.
Sadly, it seems like Kevin (Justin Hartley) has taken Jack’s lessons to the far extreme in the present. After a producer finds out about his knee injury from the previous episode, Kevin is effectively benched, and some of his last few scenes for the movie are rewritten. Not one to go down without a fight, Kevin treats his injury by undergoing an operation, walking on the treadmill and, by the episode’s end, swallowing as many painkillers as he possibly can. Why, you ask? Because Kevin’s bad knee was the reason he could not play football beyond college and because Jack always used to extol his toughness. If anybody is in serious need of an intervention right now, it is Kevin.
Meanwhile, Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) are still facing difficulties with how to raise Déjà (Lyric Ross). After Randall’s bowling plans go up in flames, Beth tries to get through to Déjà by talking to her about Beth’s own family and how, despite any issues they may have had, they always came together to comb each other’s hair. Beth’s talk and her subsequent combing session with Déjà seems to melt the ice a little, until Déjà finds out that Beth told Randall about her struggles with alopecia. Feeling betrayed, Déjà cuts off her now-braided hair, and Beth and Randall are now back right where they left off.
Once again, it is encouraging to see that “This Is Us” is not interested in wrapping up this plot-line in a neat little bow anytime soon.
Elsewhere, Toby (Chris Sullivan) is concerned about Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) intense commitment to her weight loss. Between not missing any yoga class and working out in the house as much as she can, Kate is not showing signs of taking a break anytime soon. Toby thinks that Kate’s newfound zeal is for a singing gig, but by the episode’s end, we find out that Kate is actually pregnant and that she is making sure to stay committed because she wants her pregnancy to go off without a hitch. Who says shocking twists only have to be related to a person coming back from the dead?
“Sex, Lies & Kickball” was a disappointment, especially considering the solid run of episodes preceding it. All of the character arcs felt weirdly thought out, and it almost felt like the makers themselves were just phoning it in for this one particular episode.
We pick up with Jay (Ed O’Neill) randomly running across his best friend Shorty (Chazz Palminteri). Shorty is apparently back from Costa Rica for a bit, and Gloria (Sofia Vergara) jumps on the opportunity to host a guest at her house so that she can fill the void left by Manny (Rico Rodriguez), who is now off at college. If the writers had not checked out for the episode like a couple of seniors in high school, this specific plot line could have been a much-needed exploration of Gloria’s struggles to get used to a world where she does not get to spend as much time with her son. Instead, all we get is a forced joke about Manny wanting Gloria to come visit him more because everyone in college will think that he gets more, uh, female company, to put it mildly. Seriously, who thought this was funny?
Meanwhile, in the only passable story in this episode, Jay is annoyed that Gloria is hogging all of his time with Shorty, and he decides to accompany Shorty to a play for some “best friend” time. There, it is revealed that Shorty was avoiding Jay for a reason — his life in Costa Rica has not been going well, and he was worried that Jay would judge him. The two promptly make up, with Jay assuring Shorty that he will always be there for him. #Friendshipgoals
Let’s now check in with the two consistently sore points of Season 9 — Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). While earlier seasons could easily mine their respective idiosyncrasies for funny and thoughtful stories, the two are mostly relegated to clichéd, repetitive, and tiresome gags this season.
In “Sex, Lies & Kickball,” their issue is with Pepper’s (Nathan Lane) and Ronaldo’s (Christian Barillas) adopted son. Cam and Mitch think that the couple is not raising the child well and that they have forced their son to adopt their glamorous (read: pretentious) lifestyle instead of allowing him to explore his own identity. They air their worries to Pepper and Ronaldo, and we are then treated to sight gags of clumsy kickball playing. Finally, Cam and Mitch realize that Pepper’s and Ronaldo’s son likes the way he lives, and they let the issue go. Can these two focus on raising Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons), please? It seems like they have somehow become particularly inattentive and emotionless parents in their own right.
The last notable “plot,” if you can even call it that, is Claire’s (Julie Bowen) unwillingness to accept Ben (Joe Mande) as Alex’s (Ariel Winter) boyfriend. Both mother and daughter get promptly involved in a power struggle, which involves a gag with a painting you make while having sex that is lifted straight from a recent episode of “The Big Bang Theory.”
The less said about this cringe-inducing and worthless excuse to fill in the requisite 20 minutes for an episode, the better.
Honestly, if the makers did not want to make any effort, they could have just treated us to an entire episode revolving around the adorable Joe (Jeremy Maguire) talking to himself, and we wouldn’t have minded. At all.
New episodes of “Young Sheldon” will premiere Nov. 2.
Contact Arjun Sarup at [email protected].