This week, we get two dads at their absolute best. One of them is emboldened by his indefatigable Halloween spirit, while the other is empowered by his sheer persistence to unite his two children.
‘This Is Us’
The future of the sophomore season of “This Is Us” seems a bit worrisome after last week’s “Brothers.” If the writers cannot keep a tighter leash on some of these plots, they are bound to spiral out of control sooner or later.
In the present, Kevin (Justin Hartley) is going with Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Déjà (Lyric Ross) to a charity auction hosted by Kevin’s girlfriend, Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge). How’d Déjà agree to go to a high-falutin’ event with Randall, you ask? Well, apparently she has a crush on Kevin (who can blame her?) and is willing to put up with Randall and his Randall-ness for a night.
Always one to make the best out of a weird situation, Randall tries to use this time to bond with Déjà by talking to her about which restaurants used to exist in his neighborhood. Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) was right. Randall may be sincere and goofy, but he is not an able wisecracker.
It is Randall’s sincerity, however, that ultimately saves the day. When Randall physically tries to stop Déjà from eating the tail end of a shrimp, she flips out at him and escapes to the bathroom. Randall realizes that something is wrong and makes sure to keep on waiting for Déjà until she is ready to talk. Finally, the two have an honest and raw conversation about the extent of the abuse that Déjà suffered while she was in other foster homes. Their talk is easily the highlight of the night and lends a dose of empathy to both the characters.
With Randall and Déjà, “This Is Us” seems to know what it is doing.
Kevin, on the other hand, seems to be on the short end of the stick. Kevin, on the other hand, seems to be in over his head. His painkiller addiction was bound to be referenced in upcoming episodes, sure, but did it have to be so clumsily handled? From the moment we found out that Kevin was out of his Vicodin, it was easy to predict that he was going to screw up Sophie’s night and that he was going to resort to shady means to get another prescription of drugs. All of that is fine and dandy, but someone should have noticed that Kevin is not completely alright.
With people like Randall and Sophie around, it seems unlikely that nobody noticed Kevin sweating his face off and acting really jittery — especially since Sophie is a nurse.
If the writers are insistent in prolonging this story arc, can it please not go down the familiar route of Kevin getting embroiled with a drug dealer? Because that has been done to death.
Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) pregnancy arc, sadly, is not faring much better. In a season that was apparently promising to explore Kate’s singing career and her life outside of her relationship with her over-possessive boyfriend, the writers are now doubling down on said clingy boyfriend. Toby’s (Chris Sullivan) reaction to Kate’s pregnancy was what you would expect from Toby: An embarrassing dance in a cafe at the end of the episode. Kate herself did not really have anything to do in this episode, apart from regularly snapping at the thin member of her weight-loss group and deciding that it’s okay to share that you are pregnant with other people.
Why the writers are choosing to relegate Kate’s personal journey to the background is anybody’s guess. Hopefully they have some kind of long-term plan in mind with the storyline because, right now, it seems like an excuse to have Toby be a part of the show.
Back in the past, we are still in Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) “dad mustache” period.
This time, Jack is taking young Kevin (Parker Bates) and young Randall (Lonnie Chavis) camping. He wants to smooth out the relationship between the two boys and encourage Kevin in particular to reciprocate his brother’s love. After a lot of effort on Jack’s part, Kevin finally discovers a journal that Randall keeps on the best ways to strike up a conversation with his brother. Kevin slowly melts, and begins bonding with Randall. This plot line works so well because, as Kevin says in the present, the two are still struggling with how to express themselves. While Randall cares too much, Kevin does care but wants to hide his emotions.
Meanwhile, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) finds out that Jack’s dad is about to pass on and struggles to update Jack, who is away at camp with the two kids. When she finally gets a chance to talk to Jack, he refuses to come back. Empathizing with Jack’s decision, Rebecca then proceeds to tell his father of the wonderful man his son has become.
We know that Jack had a tumultuous relationship with his father, but the extremity of their relationship is starting to be teased out here, with flashbacks going back to a time when Jack’s father used to take him camping — only, it wasn’t really camping. He used to leave his sons in the middle of nowhere in the car and go to a bar and drink himself dizzy. Yeesh, talk about dark!
And yes, sons, plural.
The episode reveals that Jack had a brother, who appears to have died during the Vietnam War. This added wrinkle is a doozy, and is a sign of relief because it seemed for a while that the writers were just preoccupied with telling the story of how Jack died, instead of the story of who Jack was while he lived.
“Modern Family” quickly bounced back from a below-average clunker with “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Phil Dunphy.” How did it do that? By centering the entire episode around the show’s best and consistently funniest character, Phil.
It’s Halloween, and Phil (Ty Burrell) and Claire (Julie Bowen) are pressured by their kids to get over the theatricality of the festival. That predictably proves to be easier said than done, with Claire continuing to unknowingly make her colleagues suffer with her yearly Halloween-themed choreographies and Phil (again, unknowingly) terrorizing the children in his neighborhood with his Halloween pranks. When the two learn of the adverse impact of their enthusiasm on the lives of the people around them, they quickly become depressed. That is, until they both decide to do a pumpkin boat dash in the water. Their joy is so infectious that their previously unenthusiastic children, after suffering their own bouts of embarrassment, come over to cheer them on.
For some reason, “Modern Family” always does the Halloween plots with Phil and Claire the best.
Elsewhere, Gloria (Sofía Vergara) is annoyed by the constant presence of Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) in her life after he and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) start staying in her house while Jay (Ed O’Neill) remodels their kitchen. When she finally snaps, Cam becomes predictably dejected. But, the two soon make up after Gloria gives Cam a pumpkin seed to grow another all-time large Pumpkin for a competition he used to participate in back home.
This plot line may sound silly on paper, but by juxtaposing Gloria’s and Cam’s similar longings for home, it acquires a nuanced emotional quotient.
Mitchell and Jay, meanwhile, are dealing with the kitchen remodel. Mitchell wants to fire Jay because he thinks he is taking too long. When Mitch vociferously airs his concerns, Jay reveals that the remodel had been mostly completed by the time he got there. Nevertheless, Jay is impressed by Mitchell standing up for himself, and wants to put up the window that will complete the remodel with him.
When Jay encourages Mitchell to stop asking for others approval, Mitchell picks his own preference for the window over Cam’s. After heading out for some father-son time, the two come back to see the kitchen burnt down again. It turns out that the window that Mitchell picked didn’t deal too well with the sun.
While Mitchell and Jay’s subplot was easily the least engaging out of the three major storylines, it was still a much better plot for Mitchell than he has had in previous episodes this season. It seems like “Modern Family” knows how to treat both Mitchell and Cam when it separates them for the majority of the episode.
New episodes of ‘Young Sheldon’ will premiere Nov. 2nd.
Contact Arjun Sarup at [email protected].