This week, “Modern Family” returned for its annual Thanksgiving episode, “Young Sheldon” gave viewers a reason for its protagonist’s well-documented obsession with comic books, and “This Is Us” delivered the first out of the three gut-punches it has planned before it breaks for winter.
‘This Is Us’
“This Is Us” premiered the first episode of a trilogy centered on the Big Three this week. “Number One” focuses on Kevin (Justin Hartley), the firstborn. After breaking up with Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) last week, Kevin doesn’t seem to be doing so well. He is characteristically sweating all the time, has an overgrown beard and looks like he hasn’t showered for a few days (insert Berkeley student joke here).
What’s the wisest decision that Kevin could make, given his current situation? Attend a high school alumni event, of course. Not just any alumni event, though — a reunion where he is being honored.
Upon flying to Pittsburgh for the event, Kevin starts remembering his teenage years, at which point we are swiftly transported to the “Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) Has a Goatee” time period in the past.
Apparently, teenage Kevin (Logan Shroyer) is a bit of a handful. He is arrogant, overconfident and downright rude, especially to his well-meaning father. Kevin takes Jack’s struggles with alcoholism as a sign of weakness and treats him with disrespect as a result. Tensions between the two reach a fever pitch after Kevin misbehaves in front of a college football scout during dinner. Jack scolds Kevin and reminds him that he should be thankful for the privileges he has in life. Kevin dismisses Jack and continues to treat him nonchalantly — until he sees Jack praying for strength and for the will to keep moving forward. After witnessing firsthand the turmoil that Jack is going through, Kevin begins to soften somewhat.
In the present, adult Kevin drunkenly catches up with a few of his classmates from high school. When he is honored at the event by his former coach, Kevin begins to hallucinate and thinks that Jack is the one who is presenting him with the award. He spirals out of control, and he seemingly bungles the ensuing acceptance speech by saying that he does not deserve any honor. The audience lap it up, thinking he is just being humble.
Confused and broken, Kevin hobbles over to the football field, where we are treated to a signature “This is Us” montage. Only this time, the montage is not tear-inducing and warm and cuddly. No, it is just sad. As Kevin gives a heart-wrenching play-by-play account of his life in the present, we cut between him in the past and him in the present. At his last football game, teenage Kevin was about to make a play that would have secured his spot at any college in the country. However, he gets tackled and ends up with an extreme injury to his knee. Present Kevin tearfully recounts this incident and talks about how he was able to walk again, only to then bury “his beloved father.” We then get highlights of Kevin’s journey throughout the years, in tandem with present Kevin’s narration.
By the time the montage ends, “This Is Us” has laid bare the demons fueling Kevin’s addiction — the raw fear, rage and grief that he has buried deep within himself. For a while, Kevin’s Vicodin storyline was spinning in its tracks and did not appear to have a purpose to it. Here, we get to see the reasons why Kevin would succumb to his worst impulses in the first place and why his addiction arc has been given so much screen-time in prior episodes.
Kudos to Justin Hartley for acting the heck out of this scene. Normally, when actors cry, there is a degree of artificiality to their emotions. Here, Hartley cries like a Berkeley student — he loses his voice and everything — so you know that his crying feels real.
Kevin’s visit to his old high school ends with him hooking up with his old classmate, Charlotte (Stefanie Black). His reasons for the hook-up are far more concerning than they first appear, though. Since Charlotte is a plastic surgeon, Kevin just needed a way to get access to her prescription pad.
While Charlotte goes to make a snack, Kevin steals a prescription slip and goes to the local pharmacy to get a fresh batch of drugs for himself. Before he can use the slip, Kevin realizes that he lost the necklace that Jack gave him and rushes back to Charlotte’s house.
What necklace, you ask? Well, to answer that, we need to go back to the “Jack Has a Goatee” time period. After Kevin suffers his football-career-ending injury, Jack tells him that football is not the only talent he will have and gives him his necklace, which is a Buddhist symbol for purpose. Jack explains to Kevin that he found his purpose the moment his son was born and that Kevin will too find his own purpose sooner or later. Kevin tears up and apologizes to Jack for his recent behavior.
In the present, Charlotte is mad at Kevin for leaving, and refuses to help him find the necklace. Shattered, Kevin breaks down because he has lost the only physical memory of Jack that he had left.
Finally, Kevin decides that he needs some help and goes over to Randall (Sterling K. Brown). But Randall thinks that Kevin came over because Kate (Chrissy Metz) lost her baby.
Wait, what? Kate lost her baby?!
To answer that, we unfortunately have to wait for next week’s episode.
Trilogies may be good in theory, but not if the viewers have to slog through three whole weeks to get the whole story.
This year’s Thanksgiving episode of “Modern Family” is a vast improvement over last year’s mediocre “Thanksgiving Jamboree.” We get Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Phil (Ty Burrell) at their clumsy and earnest best, adorable side-plots with Joe (Jeremy Maguire) and the mentions of a fictitious app that is prime meme potential for real life.
The episode picks up with Jay (Ed O’Neill) talking about how proud he is of everybody this year. Gloria (Sofía Vergara) is about to complete 100,000 steps under a week without going to the mall, Phil has been practicing a new trick to make his newly acquired magic shop popular, Mitchell fought off a burglar, Cam (Eric Stonestreet) coached his team through a major football win, and Claire (Julie Bowen) has successfully completed a 10K marathon.
All of this sounds good on paper — except for the fact that nobody has actually done what they say they did.
Gloria is only able to complete her 100,000 steps because she placed her fitness tracking device on Claire during her 10K marathon.
But wait, Claire didn’t fully run the marathon. She accidentally strayed onto another path during the race and covered a lot less distance than the other participants did.
Nor did Mitch fight off a burglar. In reality, he just got hurt while playing around with nunchucks — a moment that is sure to become one of the slapstick highlights of the year.
Cam isn’t any better, either. He only won the game because he overheard the opposing team’s strategy over the walkie-talkie.
Phil claims that he successfully pulled off a trick involving a photo booth but, in actuality, he is afraid of staying in the booth because of his claustrophobia.
These are not the only people who are lying, however. Luke (Nolan Gould) has been using Manny’s (Rico Rodriguez) Photoshop abilities to cover up his inadequate skills as a babysitter for Joe, and Jay has accidentally gotten Joe expelled and is hiding the news from Gloria.
All of these lies finally come to a head in the closing moments of the episode, when everybody finally comes clean and confesses their own shortcomings.
Well, not everybody. Phil gets past his claustrophobia and is able to pull off the magic trick while the rest of the family cheers.
The strength of “Modern Family” nowadays largely comes from just letting Phil be Phil. He doesn’t need to use long-winded emotional speeches and sage words of wisdom to unite everyone when they are feeling down. Through the smallest of actions, Phil just effortlessly becomes the glue that holds the family together
The fourth episode of “Young Sheldon” could certainly have benefited from an additional four or five minutes of runtime. Besides an origin story exploring how Sheldon’s (Iain Armitage) love for comic books began, there isn’t much plot or character development this week.
“A Therapist, a Comic Book, and a Breakfast Sausage” begins with Sheldon accidentally choking on a piece of sausage. A hypochondriac by nature, Sheldon becomes traumatized by the incident and spends the majority of the episode avoiding solid food.
Mary (Zoe Perry) and George (Lance Barber), at their wit’s end, take Sheldon to a therapist so that he can sort out his fears towards food. While Sheldon waits outside the therapist’s office, he starts reading a comic book and is immediately fascinated.
Without notifying his parents, Sheldon wanders out of the office and goes over to the nearest comic book store, where he meets his new friend, Tam (Ryan Phuong). Tam and Sheldon bond over comic books, and Sheldon finally overcomes his fear of solid foods by comparing his struggles to those of a superhero’s.
Meanwhile, George and Mary become worried once they see that Sheldon has left the therapist’s office, and they frantically start searching for them.
This plotline isn’t given the resolution it deserves. Instead of devoting some screen time to how George and Mary react when Sheldon finally comes back home from the comic store, “Young Sheldon” goes to voice-over and wraps things up rather prematurely.
It’s a surprising move for the show, considering how much headway it has made over the past three episodes by actually delving into every conflict instead of brushing past it.
“Young Sheldon” may have figured out how to weave in its voiceovers, but it still has some ways to go before it realizes how to utilize them to achieve the maximum comedic or dramatic effect.
Contact Arjun Sarup at [email protected].