In Movies & TV Reviews

Don't look so mad, Randall; it was a good episode Tuesday night!

5 takeaways from a charming episode of "This Is Us"

While "This Is Us" may be low on dramatics and assaults on the tear ducts thus far this season, it's been rich in thoughtful storytelling and just overall charming and pleasant interactions. And "Flip a Coin" was no different, delivering a lot of story effectively in a little time with the help of a few lovely performances and some A-grade writing that was funny and deft in equal measure. In short: It was an episode of "This Is Us" – and here are our five major takeaways from it, after we get a selfie from this huge "The Manny" fan.

1. Phylicia Rashad is a national treasure

Randall may not have been thrilled to see Beth's mom return to "This Is Us," but I sure was thanks to guest star Phylicia Rashad, who again makes a meal out of a small role. Last we checked, Beth's mom was on the overbearing side – butthanks to Rashad, it wasn't some one-note villain parent but instead somebody caring so much about steering their child right on the path they want that they don't realize they might be steering them wrong in the process.

That deft touch was back as, in the past, we see Rebecca introduce herself to Beth and her mom during parents weekend on campus with teen Randall – and considering the two teens already went on their not-great date, I could feel a full-body cringe coming on. But somehow it works perfectly as the parents give Beth and Randall an excuse to scamper off to class together, while the two of them talk about their changed lives as widows. Rebecca is still obviously coping from the stunning loss, not even sure what to do with her wedding band anymore – something Carol picks up on and is wary of with Beth, concerned that the Pearsons as a whole are too broken to be getting involved in relationships. Carol, on the other hand, has herself together, telling Becca a story about literally deciding to open a new chapter in her life after her husband died – though Rashad adds a nice performance detail with her hands, gripping her knuckles a bit during her speech as if, even with her pride, she's still having to knead these painful memories and feelings back out.

It's a great little detail in a great performance that makes so much out of mere silence and listening, Rashad wonderful to watch as you see her quietly reading and processing those she interacts with. Plus, how often do you see two widows on TV real-talking about their altered lives?

Of course, the meatiest part of Rashad's performance comes more in the present, with her perfectly judgmental – or not! – asides as she arrives for Beth's big dance studio opening. Merely commenting "that's a nice shirt, Randall" or noting the good amount of parking, you're not sure if she means these statements as compliments or digs – but you do know they're deliciously delivered, landing somewhere in the middle of sugary sweet and meltingly acidic, adding tension to an already tense day that's only getting worse as the Pearsons discover a dead possum stinking up the new place. At least it's not a family of dead rodents though!

Carol recommends cancelling the opening, but Randall cuts in aggressively – and then apologetically, for a good laugh – to note that they're not shutting down Beth's big moment, before moving all the tables outside and hosting the event in the parking lot. And it works – so much so that Carol can't help but appreciate the strength she saw in Randall, the strength she wasn't sure that she saw all those years ago back in college. She respects him so much, she doesn't even say anything about his awkward dad dance at the end of the episode.

It's admittedly a lot of emotional lifting done in a short amount of time – even without Jack, there's a lot of subplots in this episode, and as usual, I could've done with a little more time in each to make them feel more lived in and build the feelings out more – but it's still effective, mainly because Rashad and her sharp yet thoughtful performance.

2. No one cried watching "The Manny"

I don't buy for one single second that people cried watching "The Manny," a sitcom about a handsome guy talking care of a baby while possibly not owning an actual shirt. Even people who loved "The Big Bang Theory" think this show sounds like trash – and now you're trying to convince me that "The Manny" was not only good but good enough to make people cry? Maybe out of joy and relief when it rolled the credits each week.

Anyways, we return to "The Manny" this week because Kevin discovers the show – now starring Morris Chestnut, which is truly too perfect – is getting cancelled, and even though he's been long replaced, the news hits him rather hard, sending his mind back to where it all started: filming a pilot episode so bad that Kevin was thinking about giving up on acting altogether and instead having a quiet small town family life. Obviously, that didn't happen; Kevin salvages the show in this supposedly legendary emotional final scene where he breaks from the script to coo his noisy and irritable months-old co-star into sweet silence. The moment convinces Kevin that maybe this acting thing might just work out, convinces his producers to go sweet rather than silly for the show and somehow convinces audiences to watch the show for several seasons.

That I believe; we live in a "Masked Singer" universe, so I can believe people will watch anything. But a big emotional moment on "The Manny" that viewers still talk about years later? Sure, next you'll tell me they made a TV show about the talking baby from those old internet commercials OH WAIT ...

As for a more believable subplot, Kevin meets back up with Cassidy after he and Nicky arrive for an AA meeting that's been delayed for several hours, so he's on distraction duty. So he takes the gang RV shopping, and while he can't convince Nicky to trade out his leaky and dilapidated trailer, Kevin does convince himself to buy an RV, move out of his hotel room and become next-door neighbors with Nicky – who also opens up for a brief moment about a love that might've been before Vietnam.

I really like this interaction between these three broken individuals trying to heal themselves – reluctantly in Nicky's case – and the interplay between Kevin and Cassidy talking about their disparate but maybe not that completely different lives and struggles is really nice and effortlessly charming. So PLEASE, "This Is Us," don't ruin it by morphing it into a romance.

3. That music class for babies is made of nightmares

You didn't have to be blind to want to cry during that music class for babies in Kate and Toby's storyline. The two want to get Little Jack into music early – well, Kate mainly does, partly because of the benefits of music on growing minds but mostly because music was and is such a key part of her life, something we see as a trip to the record store helps her turn the page at least a little bit after her dad's death.

So they book Little Jack into a baby music class pulled straight out of hell.

The teacher is some annoyingly overzealous singer-songwriter-type who sounds like every awful acoustic performer you've heard on a coffee shop open mic night who thinks she's gonna be the next Regina Spektor. So already Jack is crying and I can relate – and that's before the class gets into the act and just starts banging on every instrument in the orchestra. It's a sensory overload even for an adult with all five senses, much less a newborn who can't see where all of this noise is coming from.

So yeah, the class goes bad – not that it started great since Kate and Toby arrived late thanks to Toby leaving the baby's stuffed monkey in the fridge, as one does – and the two have a tense ride home, including Kate bringing Toby's secret CrossFit up, so clearly that wound's not all healed. Thankfully, the two see the err of their ways – mainly Kate, who gets that she was maybe pushing Jack too hard – and stop off at the beach, where they sweetly introduce Jack to sounds on their own terms (and without a D-list wannabe Zooey Deschanel ukulele-ing around.) Again, it's a subplot that I would've loved just a little more of to really feel like it stuck the landing – plus, it feels a touch disconnected from the rest of the show; this is definitely the subplot you forgot from last night's episode – but it's still lovely.

4. Young love is in the air

Valentine's Day must've come early (or late, depending on how you look at the calendar) but Tuesday night's episode was filled with young love.

Young Randall and Beth had their first kiss thanks to Randall's smooth move of gifting her a lemon slice after noticing on their first date that she drinks Coke with lemon. Kate meets a greasy but nice record store clerk who she has cute flirtations with over CDs. (Or at least as flirty as you can be talking about the fire that destroyed all your possessions and killed your dad.) By the end, she gets a job – and, based on the scenes from the next episode, a boyfriend. And in the closest thing we've had to a twist or surprise this season thus far, Kevin's married – not that we didn't know that before, but I don't think many expected the news to drop as it did: mentioned casually in a phone call after the fact, followed by a money request.

And yet that wasn't even close to the worst young love moment of the episode ...

5. Randall meets Malik

It was all going so well – or at least as well as it could considering Randall's awkward dad routine, announcing Deja's potential new boyfriend as "THE FAMOUS MALIK" (all caps necessary) and pulling out a handshake, a fist bump and I think some combination of the two all within their first few seconds of meeting. So yeah, Randall's got some real dorky dad energy going, but Malik handles it all like a professional and even starts getting comfortable ... a little too comfortable, perhaps, as he lets it slip that he has a daughter, something Deja decided not to tell Randall or Beth about. WELP, IT WAS NICE WHILE IT LASTED!

Who knows, though; Carol didn't think Randall was right for Beth at first too, so maybe Randall will learn from his past and let that inform his present. That happening? On THIS show? Never ...


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