Over in the "TV Shows I Am Binging" thread, I noted that I got hooked on This Is Us, which led to a quick discussion over the show's merits and a pledge to talk about the latest episode. We threw out the idea of having that conversation in the "What Are You Watching Right Now?" thread, but I decided to start one dedicated to the show. Although I titled it "Season 4," I'm not going to limit my observations to that season alone,

So far, it's just been me and Jeff, but I welcome anyone else to join in -- especially Tracy! We've seen too little of you here in the Comics Cave!

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Continuing: 

FEBRUARY 25 EPISODE – "Clouds"

THE PRESENT: 

Kate comes home from the visit to the family cabin in the previous episode. Toby, in the tradition of Pearson Men (even though he's married into the family), makes a Grand Gesture -- he's converting the garage into a music studio for Kate and Baby Jack. Kate, being Kate, shoots him down.

Then Kate goes to brunch with Madison, who is groveling for forgiveness after having slept with Kevin, and both of them act like Kate is supposed to have a veto over Madison's sex life. (As noted above, I don't understand what the problem is.) Madison says it happened because Kevin has seen her as herself and she didn't have to put up a front with him.

Also, Madison likes what Kate and Toby have as a couple, and shouldn't he be free to express his feelings to Kate without being punished for it? Isn't that what being married is? With these wise words, Kate is spurred to forgive Madison -- "but you're still on probation" -- and comes home and tells Toby she wants to drop the fight. "I like it better when it's not us against us." So Toby shows Kate the rest of his plans for the music studio -- a playpen with toy musical instruments for Baby Jack. Then there's a montage of Baby Jack playing the instruments and changing into Toddler Jack and Middle-School Jack and Tween Jack and Teen Jack, rocking out in the garage with a band. Cool beans.

Randall also returns to a warm greeting from Beth. He's going have his first therapy session later in the day, but he's already dismissive. Beth asks about giving Annie an iPhone as a birthday gift, but he complains she's too young. He asks Beth for lip balm, and she makes a point of getting it herself from her purse rather than let him get it. 

At the therapist, Randall is put off by an ugly painting on the wall, and the dripping coffeemaker, which doesn't have a pot in place. He is glib and on edge, and declares he just wants to learn some coping strategies and be on his way. He tells the therapist he has two fathers, because he was left at a firehouse and adopted, and she responds that she knows that already; she's heard it in his stump speech when he ran for city council. Randall is thrown off guard; isn't that against the rules? When he is asked about his relationship with his mother, Randall gets angry. Part of his stress is that today, Rebecca has a follow-up appointment with her doctor about her cognitive issues and he's not there. He asserts, "This family would fall apart if it weren't for me" and the therapist challenges "Would it?" 

Randall stomps out -- but first makes a point of turning off the dripping coffee pot and makes a point of telling the therapist to replace the missing pot. At home, Beth asks how it went and he says he isn't going back and that he doesn't need it. Beth tells him she needs it.

Beth gets her purse and dumps the contents so he can see she's got more than the lip balm. There's the pepper spray she's started to carry; she's usually the last one to lock up the dance studio, plus she's still rattled about that burglar who was not only in the house but in their bedroom. And there's the iPhone she's already bought for Annie; she needs to be able to reach "my baby" at any time. 

And she would have told Randall, but after he broke his hand punching out that mugger she's afraid that if she puts anything more on him, he'll crack. So a contrite Randall makes another visit to the therapist.

As for Kevin, he visits Rebecca ahead of her doctor visit, and Miguel offers to let him hang out with Rebecca and take her to the appointment at 4:30. They go to lunch, and she mentions her love of Joni Mitchell and how she and Jack tried to find her house (complete with a flashback of young lovers Rebecca and Jack trying to find Joni Mitchell's house). Of course, today it's as easy as Kevin pulling out his phone and saying, "Hey, Siri, show me Joni Mitchell's old house." With the address in hand, off they go, and have a magical afternoon as fun as the one when they were in the baseball card shop. So much that Rebecca wants to blow off the doctor's appointment; "I don't want this day to end." But Kevin gently insists they have to go, and they do, and Rebecca and Kevin and Miguel get the bad news: the cognitive impairment is an early sign of Alzheimer's disease. 

“Mom and Dad promised him $5 for each A”

(This response doesn’t have anything to do with the show, so feel free to skip it.)

When I was a teacher, my landlady had an arrangement with her son (grandson, actually) that she pay him $5 for each A, $4 for each B, $3 for each C and $2 for each D and she asked me what I thought of it. (I’m thankful the kid wasn’t one of my students.) “Wait a minute,” I said. “You’re paying him for a D?” If she insisted on paying for grades, I suggested an alternative. Because a “C” is “average,” there would be no payment for that. An A would be $2 and a B would be $1. Beyond that, if he earned a D he would pay her $1 and he would pay $2 for each F. I don’t think they took me up on it. Paying children for the grades they earn? Don’t even get me started.

“Kevin nags and wheedles his way into tagging along so she'll take him to the card store…

That would have been my grandmother and the newsstand or drugstore for me (pre-comics shop days).

…but they spend a happy afternoon cracking open pack after pack of cards”

I remember my 10th birthday. I collected baseball cards (in addition to comic books) back then, and the new cards would come out right around my birthday. Each year, to get me started, my mom would buy me an entire box, but I wasn’t allowed to open them until the morning of my birthday. Before my parents went to bed, my mom set up my gifts in the living room. That year I set my alarm for 12:05A and began opening cards, following the letter if not the spirit of the rule. She got up and caught me at about 12:10 and sent me back to bed, but I was happy because I already got a Lou Brock and a Bob Gibson!

“Then there's a montage…”

Very cool beans.

“But Kevin gently insists they have to go, and they do”

A surprising good decision for Kevin.

“They go to lunch, and she mentions her love of Joni Mitchell and how she and Jack tried to find her house (complete with a flashback of young lovers Rebecca and Jack trying to find Joni Mitchell's house).”

I’ve never been all that interested in celebrities’ houses, but I do like behind-the-scenes trivia about songs. Since watching last week’s episode I’ve been listening to Déjà Vu, the second CSN (or the first CSN&Y) album on CD in my car.

I also liked the scene in the record shop. Tracy can tell you I pointed out all of the albums on display I own, which on vinyl and which on CD. (The only one of the records shown I own on both vinyl and CD is The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles’ Hit.)

I didn't mention that the very last scene was adult Kevin buying another John Candelaria baseball card and sticking it into his wallet. I didn't get why he did that, but someone pointed out on an online recap that he probably lost all of his cards in the house fire.

Curiously, the scene with Randall at the therapist's office was framed so that you never saw the therapist's face. Entertainment (12 Times a Year Instead of) Weekly has a cool Q and A that goes into why: "This Is Us Producers Break Down Randall's Tense Therapy Session, Rebecca's Diagnosis"

ELIZABETH BERGER, "THIS IS US" EXECUTIVE PRODUCER:

A lot of that had to do with what Sterling can do as a performer. As we were talking about this, we started realizing that it would just be absolutely incredible to stay in these long takes with Sterling where you’re getting into his psychology and you’re watching him turn her words over and over again in his mind. And because Sterling is the type of actor that can do that and to live in those minutes-long takes, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do it that way.

 
ClarkKent_DC said:

Entertainment (12 Times a Year Instead of) Weekly 

Ha! Is that like “Ron Troupe James (Not Jimmy) Olsen”?

ClarkKent_DC said:

Entertainment (12 Times a Year Instead of) Weekly 

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Ha! Is that like “Ron Troupe James (Not Jimmy) Olsen”?

Sure. (It irritates me that they kept the name after changing the frequency of publication.)

We've talked about our dislike of Kate, but (for me, anyway), it's limited to her adult persona. After watching this week's episode, I discovered I don't much care for Kevin, either... except his adult persona (most of the time). He was horrible to Randall while growing up, and he still has his moments in the present. I look to Lost in Space (Netflix) for an example of how to truly accept and adopted sibling into the family.

Then i started thinking about which charater(s) I do releate to. Usually (well, quite often) when watching something with an ensemble cast (the movie Diner, for example), I find myself identifying with certain aspects of all the characters to one degree or another. But with This Is Us, I can't really thing=k of a single character I releate to. Love them, though.

Next week's episode should be interesting.

I was out of town last week, so I saw that one -- "New York, New York, New York" only yesterday and wasn't free to discuss it until now ... while this week's episode is on. But whaddaya gonna do, huh?

Anyway, let's sally forth:

As the title suggests, the Pearsons take three trips to New York in different eras. The middle-school Pearsons go with Mom Rebecca and Dad Jack because Randall has a debate club contest. Since they're going a day early, Jack asks each kid what they want to do.

Kevin wants to go to all the places Kevin McAllister went in Home Alone 2; Jack objects and Kevin pares it back to the giant toys at F.A.O. Schwartz. Randall, being Randall, wants to see the Museum of Natural History. Kate want to have high tea at the Plaza Hotel. Rebecca wants to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, because when she was a little girl, she used to go there and was fascinated by a woman who would stare for hours at the painting "Madame X." Jack can't decide what he wants.

They map out time for each wish, but Jack screws up; he looks at a subway map and figures if they go two stops past their destination, they'll come out closer to one of those museums. Unfortunately, the map doesn't tell him that the stop he chose is closed ... and the next one is in Queens. They wander around for a bit, and Rebecca insists Jack recognize she's been to New York before and knows her way around. Jack is embarrassed about exactly that; her rich family. But Rebecca wants the happy memories she's making with Jack and the kids, not the bad memories of her parents boozing and bickering.

The family makes it back to Manhattan and races through most of their stops, but Rebecca gets to the Met right at closing time. To make it up to her, Jack figures out what he wants, and takes them all for a ride in one of those horse-drawn carriages.

Jump ahead to the post-high school Pearsons. Kevin has an acting showcase, so Rebecca and Randall and Beth head to the City. Kate declines. As this is about a month after the breakup with jerk boyfriend Marc, Rebecca is concerned, but Kate says she'll have girlfriends over and will be fine.

After Kevin's event, he introduces Rebecca to his drama teacher, and it's clear he's trying to hook them up. Randall objects; it's only been a year since Jack died. Kevin says she's a grown woman and do you want Mom to be sad forever? For her part, Rebecca strikes up a conversation with the teacher while she tries to catch a cab ... she mentions wanting to go to the Met to see the painting and he suggests it's better to walk ... they get to know each other a little bit, and he blows it: He says those horse-drawn carriages are cheesy and he doesn't get why tourists even want to bother. With that, Rebecca cuts him off and goes back to her hotel.

In the present, the show has finally remembered Kevin is a famous actor; he's at Kate's house, about to go to New York for the premiere of his movie with M. Night Shymalan. But Randall has called a Big Three meeting; he's studied and scoured the universe for a cure for Rebecca's cognitive impairment, and found a nine-month clinical trial in St. Louis. He wants to the other two to join him on selling Rebecca on it. Kate and Kevin agree, reluctantly. (Kate doesn't go to the premiere, and we don't see her in the rest of the story.)

In New York, Kevin treats Rebecca like Cinderella. He puts her up in a suite at the Plaza, and gives her a fabulous purple sequined gown that makes her look like a million bucks. He pulls Randall aside and asks that they table the conversation about the clinical trial until tomorrow at breakfast; let her enjoy the day, hey? Randall agrees, but you see in his face he doesn't want to. 

Rebecca is on Kevin's arm at the red carpet, all smiles, and at the afterparty, she's on Cloud Nine. Until someone asks where she's staying and she draws a blank. At that moment, Kevin is schmoozing with somebody, so Randall brings up the clinical trial, which angers Kevin when he returns. They go at it, and it's ugly. Randall snipes that he knows what's best, that Kevin wasn't around for Rebecca, and how dare he think he's got it figured because he's spent a few days with her when I've been caring for her my whole life. Kevin shoots back that Randall never lets anybody help him, and that his acting job, which you've never taken seriously, is paying for the best care money can buy; were you going to do it on your city councilman's salary?

Meanwhile, an upset Rebecca leaves -- and goes to the Met to look at that painting. She tells them how she was fascinated by a woman who could just spend hours looking at it, fascinated that someone could spend so much time doing nothing else. How she's missed her chances to come and see it; that's she's been back to New York several times but never made it to see the painting, but always figured she'll do it next time -- and she's running out of "next times." She wants to live her life now. So she's not doing the clinical trial. Before Randall can press her on it, Kevin says, "Yes, Mom, whatever you want."

Pissed, Randall has it out with Kevin again. I couldn't save Dad, but I have the chance to save Mom. He muses, do you ever wonder how things would have been if Dad had lived? I do, every day. 

Flashback to the night of the fire. Jack is on the porch roof, about to go back into the house and save the dog because he just can't disappoint his li'l girl. Randall yells to him, "If you go back inside, I'll go through the front door and bring you out myself!" Chastened, Jack comes down and the Pearsons, arm in arm, watch their house go up in flames, together.

Which leads to the next episode: "What If Jack Had Lived?"

We've talked a lot about Kate being dislikable, but this season seems to be trying very very hard to give the title to Randall. From the ill-considered run for city council, to his going back on his word to drop out if the run was too much of a strain on his family, to his dig at Beth about the worth of her enterprise as a dance teacher, to his lifelong disdain for Kevin's acting career, and now this, his insistence that he alone knows what's "best" for Rebecca to the point of dismissing what anyone else thinks ... dude's got it bad.

Starting with the conference call to Kevin and Kate, when he asserts the clinical trial is what's "best" for Rebecca, in a tone that makes clear he will brook no discussion ... as if Rebecca would want to be away from everyone for nine months. And none of them mention Miguel -- her husband, y'know? Wouldn't he have some say in this? Actually, as her husband, more say than they do? It's almost as if Randall thinks he's the husband.

The fight between Randall and Kevin was painful to see because they both were right about some of the points they made. Yes, Randall has watched over Rebecca, even sacrificing his shot at Howard University. But Kevin is right to note that Randall kept the others from helping. Yes, Kevin's acting gigs can take him away for weeks and months at a time, but Rebecca's getting something out of the time he's spending with her now.

And Kevin respects Rebecca's wishes -- and on a fundamental level, respects her in a way that Randall, on a fundamental level, does not. Like when Randall objected to Rebecca being interested in someone because "it's been only a year since Dad died." Kevin was right; she should be sad about it forever? She shouldn't have a second chance at love? And who asked Randall to stay at home and not go to Howard? Why doesn't he think she can make it without him? 

One more thing: In the middle story, when the family goes to see Kevin in the acting showcase and Kate stays behind, did anyone think she might have hooked up with Jerk Boyfriend Marc while everyone was out of town? She strikes me as needy/dumb/under his thrall enough to do that.

"Which leads to the next episode: 'What If Jack Had Lived?'"

I'm ambivalent about this one. It was enjoyable, I'll even go so far as to say it was good. But I'll stop short of calling it "untimately pointless" (which is how I was leaning) because we did gain insight into Randall's character.

The actual title of the episode that explored "What If Jack Had Lived?" is "After the Fire."

I don't get the "ultimately pointless" plaint, although I have seen it said by people in comments elsewhere. It gave us a lot of insight into Randall's character.

Like I said, Randall's belief that his mother needs protecting and that he is the only one who should do it shows that on a fundamental level, he doesn't respect her. That conversation with the therapist, when he described why he was okay with William dropping his cancer treatment, was telling -- he basically said I can accept your choices on how to live your life if you don't cave when I bully you into doing what I want.

Also telling: he's still bickering with Kevin in his fantasy scenarios. And Kate is unimportant to him (and still fat, even absent the trauma of guilting Jack into going back into the fire to save the dog).

And Randall is definitely worse off without Beth in his life.

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