Here’s the thing about Thanksgiving episodes: They lend themselves to the structure that Marry Me has dedicated itself to in its short run. Cooking a large meal with a lot of meaning for many tends to lend to undo, oft hilarious, stress. And if there’s one thing Marry Me has proved adept at in its first five episodes, it’s that Annie is quite good at being stressed. While ostensibly the holiday should have played to Marry Me’s strengths, it really just served to make Annie, played by the incredibly affable Casey Wilson, seem wholly unlikable. She wrestles away her future mother-in-law’s tradition for her own sake, which is a tough proposition because at this point, there’s no real reason to like Annie yet other than general affection for the committed performer who inhabits her. Annie’s main character trait at this point is frazzled, neurotic and self-centered, and it’s to Wilson’s credit that Annie is at all tolerable. The other characters like her and, as an audience, we’re supposed to take their on that. But Annie hasn’t done much to justify that affection other than be the main character of her own show.

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But “Thank Me” doesn’t just rest on the tropes of the seemingly unsuccessful Thanksgiving meal that fails, ultimately leading to a deeper message about family or relationships or some such. Thanksgiving is simply the structure for the show’s other main theme. Mothers loving their sons a little too much is well-worn sitcom territory. Harried sitcom moms have bristled up against their doting mother-in-laws since the beginning of television time (just as sitcom dads have faced a similar disapproving wrath of their own in-laws, usually fathers to perfect daughters). Annie even acknowledges the show’s inherent cliche: “The war between wife and mother-in-law is a tale as old as Everybody Loves Raymond.” There are ways to dress these ideas up and make them seem new again, but that takes a show at a different level than Marry Me is currently operating on (that’s not to say it won’t get there, but it’s certainly not there yet). “Thank Me” didn’t feel like a new take on either of these ideas. In it’s better moments it was Thanksgiving with quippy one-liners, and it’s worst, it was two harpy women fighting over a man who didn’t necessarily deserve their extreme love and devotion. I did appreciate that when Jake figured out his mother’s gambit, he came over to Annie’s dark side. But the level of disaster the dinner became after simply turning up the heat was a cartoonish move that felt out of step with relatively grounded tone of the rest of the episode, and Marry Me in general. Yes, it gets silly, but there’s antics, and then there’s ridiculous.

All that being said, I’m incredibly happy about the return of JoBeth Williams as Jake’s mom, Myrna. She places ice queen to the hilt, puckering up her face and passively aggressively battling Annie in their affection over their beloved shared boy. But Williams does what no other character, or actor, can do for Marry Me. She can temper Wilson’s freneticism. While Jake is supposed to be Annie’s calm counterpart, an everyman that lovingly puts up with his insane wife-to-be, he still comes off as too flat, avoiding playing to Ken Marino’s strength in extremes in character. But Myrna is a set, defined character who can simultaneously wind Annie up, while tempering that energy with her own coolness. The other characters only elevate the whirring wackiness that Annie/Wilson brings to each episode, but Williams counteracts that. The regular “aw, shucks” revelation had an extra oomph delivered by her, rather than Jake once again placating a frazzled Annie.

On the supporting side of the equation, Gil again is allowed to take center stage of the B-plot, attending underground cheese tastings of illegal cheeses for . . . I’m going to be honest, I’m not really sure? For the payoff of a weak joke about human cheese? Jake may be bland but at least he’s playing the straight man. Gil continues to be roundly odd and unfunny, while Dennah and Kay sit around with nothing to do other than bring napkins and ice.

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Stray observations:

  • Note to sitcom writers trying to get me to giggle: I will always thing the Castilian lisp is funny. Exhibit A: Ibi-th-a
  • “It’s casual, but there will be pants.”
  • “Now that’s a painsuit!”
  • “Ooh, and we have grenadine and a half bottle of Pedialyte from that time I tried exercise.”
  • “I think we can all agree this is the worst Thanksgiving in history.” “Well, except for the first one if you’re a Native American.”
  • “Yes, she was a wonderful baker. Let her roast in a lake of fire.”

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