Family Mashup: Road Trips, Office Politics and Haunted Houses

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This week, “Modern Family” shined a light on the competitive world of the closet-making business, while “Young Sheldon” played up its central father-son relationship for another poignant half-hour of television.

‘This Is Us’

New episodes of “This Is Us” will premiere Jan. 2, 2018.

‘Modern Family’

“No Small Feet” is somewhat of a mixed bag. Some character pairings do not get enough screen time, while others take up far more than they deserve. The gags, too, sometimes come off as unoriginal and trite. The saving grace of this episode, ultimately, is that all of the central story arcs, for better or for worse, land squarely in the mediocre-serviceable range.

Jay (Ed O’Neill) and Claire (Julie Bowen) are both delighted to learn that their company is going to be featured in some sort of French convention for closets. The feat is a lifetime in the making for Jay, and he tries to hog the limelight from Claire, who is the current head of the company. They both passive-aggressively try to address the tension until Claire finally calls out Jay for not giving her enough credit behind their landmark achievement. Jay, too, airs his frustrations over Claire not acknowledging him in her celebratory remarks to the company, and the two promptly make up.

While Jay and Claire are sorting out their issues, Phil (Ty Burrell) is trying to sell his first house as an independent realtor. That proves to be easier said than done, mostly because his client is plagued by superstitions and is worried that something is haunting the house. To alleviate her worries, Phil brings in the exorcism/ghost-hunting expert: Gloria (Sofía Vergara). Gloria begins to get rid of the alleged ghost but claims that the house is more haunted than Phil realizes. Phil’s client starts to get scared off, but Phil and Claire, in a good use of slapstick, discover that the house isn’t haunted by ghosts. Rather, it’s haunted by bees. Problem solved!

Elsewhere, Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) are busy sorting out some Pam (Dana Powell)-related issues. She has been living upstairs rent-free for a year now, and Mitch is worried about the financial stress she is causing on his family. When Bo (James Van Der Beek), Pam’s ex-husband, comes back for her and his child, Mitch obviously jumps at the chance to make Pam go away. Cam, who is familiar with Bo’s dubious history, is not convinced, and the two spend the rest of the episode warming up to Bo. At the end, Cam advises Pam to give Bo the benefit of the doubt, but Mitch learns that Bo really has not judged. How does he learn that? Well, a stolen gift for Cam and a girlfriend waiting in Bo’s car are enough pieces of evidences for Mitch to figure out that Bo is bad news. Mitch, acting on his conscience, tells Pam the truth about Bo and asks her to continue staying upstairs.

It seems that Mitch is okay with letting Pam stay for a little while more. Whether that is a necessarily good storytelling choice, especially given the annoying story arcs that readily involve Pam, remains to be seen.

There’s also a minor plot involving Alex (Ariel Winter) and Luke (Nolan Gould) trying to make a fledgling startup for smelly shoes. As downright disgusting as that sounds, it still would have been a great opportunity for the two kids to get some much-needed face time. Why “Modern Family” didn’t capitalize on this opportunity to bring together two characters that traditionally don’t have stories together remains anyone’s guess.

‘Young Sheldon’

"Young Sheldon" played up its central father-son relationship, as the main characters go on a road trip.

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“Cape Canaveral, Schrödinger’s Cat, and Cyndi Lauper’s Hair” is another confident addition to the freshman season of “Young Sheldon.” Sheldon’s (Iain Armitage) relationship with George Sr. (Lance Barber) continues to get the focus it deserves, and we also get added depth to the dynamic between Meemaw (Annie Potts) and Mary (Zoe Perry). Sheldon’s sister Missy (Raegan Revord), too, turns out to be surprisingly delightful in this episode.

The central storyline involves George Sr. taking his children to Cape Canaveral to see the impending shuttle launch. The road trip involves discussions of Schrödinger’s cat and existential questions about why George Sr. decided to become a football coach and whether his ambitions to become a football player would have truly turned into something fruitful. You know, prime road trip material.

Once the group reaches the motel, a protracted argument ensues over who has to share a bed. George Sr., through the use of a biased coin toss, decides that he should be the one to have his own bed. Sheldon, though, gets up in the middle of the night because Georgie (Montana Jordan) keeps kicking him in his sleep. He asks to sleep in George Sr.’s bed, and George Sr. immediately agrees.

The two continue to bond in the morning as well. After a storm washes away their chances of seeing the shuttle launch, George Sr. comforts Sheldon by getting him to talk about science-related stuff. Via voice-over, present Sheldon (Jim Parsons) explains that his father used to frequently ask him dumb questions to distract him when something went wrong.

When they are going back, present Sheldon remarks that the road trip was the best trip he ever took and laments not being able to tell his late father that.

It’s here that the increasing utility of the voice-overs presents itself. While a bit jarring in the earlier episodes, they have now become a necessary bridge to connect Sheldon’s past with his present.

Meanwhile, Missy, Mary and Meemaw are having a girls’ weekend, which predictably involves them going to the salon. At the salon, Missy decides that she wants Cyndi Lauper’s hair, but Mary firmly puts her foot down. Meemaw calls out her daughter for being a killjoy, which upsets Mary. The two later have a revealing conversation on Meemaw’s shortcomings as a mother and how she never really was there for her children.

It’s nice to see that “Young Sheldon” is taking its time to flesh out the supporting character dynamics as well. It is becoming increasingly evident that, rather than existing as a strict prequel to “The Big Bang Theory,” “Young Sheldon” wants to stand on its own two feet as a separate show.

Contact Arjun Sarup at [email protected].