The Middle: “Birds of a Feather”

What a difference a week makes: when we last saw Axl, he might as well have been singing “We Are the Champions,” given all of his victories, but all it took was eight hours at his new internship to send him into an emotional tailspin.

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Pardon me while I stifle a chuckle.

When Axl emerged from his room in his coat and tie, he earned a “lookin’ sharp” from his parents, but it didn’t take him long to counter the compliment with an insulting assurance that the biggest thing that he hoped to get out of his internship was an opportunity to avoid following in their footsteps. Frankie and Mike are amused to learn that their perceived failures were actually cautionary tales, as any parent would be, but Axl’s cocky workplace attitude lasts only about as long as it takes for him to be introduced to his new boss, Mr. Kershaw, played by Alan Ruck. (Now there’s a Random Roles interview waiting to happen…) In mere minutes, Axl finds his big plans of pitching new ideas for snack cakes replaced in favor of getting coffee, taking out the trash, and any number of other menial tasks. By the time he gets home, he’s utterly exhausted, convinced that the world sucks, and ready for his parents to step up their game as far as taking care of him.

(As a side note, I can’t even begin to wrap my head around why even Axl would’ve thought it was a good plan on the first day of his internship – or at all, for that matter – to write people’s coffee orders all over his chest, nor can I readily come up with the logistics of how he managed to get some of those orders written down, but it was a pretty funny visual gag until I actually started to think about it for more than a few seconds.)

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Naturally, Axl has no sympathy when he’s reminded that his parents both work eight hours a day and that his mother went to school while simultaneously raising three kids, but as the week progresses, things aren’t getting any better. Indeed, he likens it to a Turkish prison, albeit one with a delicious assortment of pastries, and is dumbfounded by the monotony, but his dread of a life spent doing the same thing day in and dead out results in a great moment from Mike, who admits that it sounds like the kind of thing that could make a man drink…and then takes a sip of his beer.

Eventually, it reaches a point of absurdity, with Axl not only picking up dry cleaning but also taking care of a pet cockatoo that requires medication that needs to be applied to its butt, and he finally snaps, shifting the blame for his plight not on himself but on his parents, having optimistically told him that he could be anything he wanted to be. Ouch.

Meanwhile, Frankie’s got her own work woes, learning that Dr. Goodwin’s methods don’t mesh well with the standard procedures of their new owners, Smile Superstars International, due to his desire to have cheery chats with the customers and their desire make the practice more or less like a conveyer belt, moving people in and out at a rapid clip. The end result is a very exhausted Frankie, but she attempts to keep Axl remaining in as positive a mood as possible by waiting until he’s not around to complain to Mike, who – in a move that puts Daredevil to shame in the “man without fear” department – makes the observation that she and Axl are basically the same person, and that person is someone who dreams big but is a whiny baby about work.

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Unsurprisingly, Frankie gets a little huffy at Mike’s accusation, but she blows it off to the best of her ability, saying that she takes her comparison to Axl as a compliment and says she’s going to hang out with the dreamers. Indeed, she does: she sets up camp next to Axl on the couch, briefly vent about their respective days, and then quickly drift into discussing dreams of opening an ice cream shop that will almost certainly never come to pass. Still, it’s nice to see them finding common ground.

As for the other aspects of the episode, there’s not really a whole lot that needs to be said about Sue’s storyline, which basically serves to show Sue’s tendency toward naiveté being challenged by a college professor. By the end, it seems like she’s grown up a little bit, philosophically speaking, which is a thread that can be picked up in another episode. Regarding the Mike and Brick storyline, though, there’s some funny stuff there, obviously, since just the idea of Mike and Cindy interacting with each other is funny in and of itself, but the best parts were the father-son conversations between Mike and Brick. I run hot and cold on jokes tied to Brick being the forgotten child, but as someone who just the other day accidentally referred to his daughter being in 4th grade when she’s actually in 5th, I appreciated that recurring bit the most. It was sweet, though, seeing Mike get a chance to actually have a chat with his son about women. Not that Brick actually took any of his father’s advice, but that doesn’t make it any less sweet.

Stray observations:

  • Sue’s refusal to wrap her head around the complete dismissal of her recipe format kept being funny.
  • “Work is work. Listen to your mother.”
  • The Smiles Superstars dance break made me laugh and cringe at the same time, which is much how it makes me feel when I go someplace like that and have to endure it.
  • Cindy’s a little scarier than I thought she was. I guess Brick’s into dangerous women.
  • I loved Brick’s seething anger about Cindy having guessed another guy. “Was it Seymour? Him and his big shiny orthopedic shoe, he thinks he’s just a ladies man.”
  • Speaking of picking up Sue’s threads in future episodes, I could be wrong, but I feel like this isn’t the last time we’re going to see bearded megaphone man.
  • I didn’t realize that all you really need to do to wrap your head around the college experience is watch an Anderson Cooper marathon and listen to joni Mitchell albums.
  • The running foot-rubbing joke was so very close to the reality that I live every day with my wife that it was like they had a hidden camera.
  • “Would you prefer if I didn’t share my day with you?” “I didn’t know that was an option!”
  • “Who are your heroes? ‘Mommy, Daddy, and SpongeBob.’ Guess it’s just Spongebob now…”

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The Goldbergs: “Baio and Switch”

I honestly thought the first words I was going to hear from my daughter either after or possibly even during tonight’s episode were going to be a question about Hands Across America, probably something like, “Was that really a thing?” In the end, the only thing I heard from her during the episode was her reaction to Ben Franklin being the celebrity guest: “That’s cool!” (Did I mention that my kid’s kind of a loveable dork?) But if she’d been incredulous about the idea of trying to fight hunger and homelessness by holding hands, I wouldn’t have blamed her: not only did the concept not sound any less ridiculous in the ‘80s, but it had a really terrible theme song featuring no famous names or voices, and for a charitable endeavor in the ’80s, that was simply unacceptable.

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Thankfully, The Goldbergs looked back on Hands Across America by acknowledging the ridiculousness of it all while also teaming the event with a few additional storylines.

It’s always good to see Bryan Callen as Mr. Meller, who in this instance started out sounding excited about the honor of being in charge of the Jenkintown Hands Across America event, even getting his gym class excited about it. (It’s probably the visor. It lends a hint of respect.) Being the socially conscious member of the family, Erica is particularly excited, but Barry’s pretty giddy about it himself, even going so far as to help her spread the word by making posters and flyers. The realization that her kids are “crafting,” as Bev prefers to call it (even as the kids themselves deny doing any such thing), is enough to get her excited, and then when she realizes that the Hands Across America event is going to be newsworthy, she spies her chance to potentially end up on the front page with her family and thereby keep up with the Kremps.

Bev immediately rushes to the school, takes over for Mr. Mellen, who’s in over his head anyway, and enters into a war of words with her kids, who are ready to bail as soon as they realize that she’s in charge. In an effort sway them to say, she tells a little white lie: that she’s managed to convince Scott Baio to shift his Hands Across America spot from Philadelphia to Jenkintown. She hasn’t, of course, and she never will, but the mere thought of such a star coming to Jenkintown is enough to get everyone excited…perhaps a little too excited. Both Barry and Erica begin all but throwing themselves at Bev, promising her the world in the hopes that they’ll end up being the lucky individual who gets to hold Scott Baio’s hand.

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They don’t, of course.

Meanwhile, over in Adam’s neck of the woods, he finds himself playing a dangerous game when, after offering to take Emmy to the dance, Dana miraculously shows up and is in a position to go to the dance, too. Trying to successfully take two girls to the same dance is an unfortunate situation, a failure which sitcoms have shown time and time again, which is why Adam tries to screen as many possible permutations of what might happen. In none of them does the guy come out the victor, which is why Adam calls in the big guns for assistance…and by that, of course, I mean Pops.

Naturally, Pops has an anecdote about how he managed to pull off two girls at the same time, but it’s one that Adam can’t readily pull off. Instead, he and Dave Kim put together an incredibly elaborate but seemingly foolproof plan of action, and it probably would’ve worked, too, if both Emmy and Dana hadn’t shown up at the front door. Because they do, however, it puts them in an incredibly sour mood the next day when they show up at the big Hands Across America event.

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That’s when Bev has to admit that she has failed utterly in her attempts to secure Scott Baio, which puts Erica and Barry into crappy moods, and neither of the kids are particularly thrilled to learn that the closest thing to a celebrity that she’s been able to find is a Ben Franklin impersonator. (Hey, my daughter was excited!) In a desperate attempt to get the picture of herself and the kids taken by a news photographer that she so badly wants, she demands that the kids hold hands, but things soon descend into loud fisticuffs, Bev tells Ben Franklin to fuck off, and nobody gets what they want…at first.

When Adam goes home, distraught by the goings-on with Emmy and Dana, Murray actually manages to give Adam some good advice: don’t be a moron. In turn, he goes over to Emmy’s house, where Dana is staying, and asks them if they’ll both be his date to the dance. They agree, and a splendid time seems to have been had by all. As for Bev, she’s distraught when Erica and Barry show up to talk to her, but they concede that they’ve made their own mistakes,and Erica present her with the photo of them that’s made the paper, with the headline “Loud Family Breaks American Chain.” It’s not exactly a compliment, no, yet somehow the combination of the headline and the photo makes for sheer perfection

Stray observations:

  • Like many of you, I was ecstatic to hear more details from the story of Barry’s disagreement with a service horse. (“He really did think it was his apple,” explains Bev.)
  • The stuff with Mr. Meller being freaked out and overwhelmed by handling Hands Across America was hysterical.
  • Actually, there was a lot of rapid-fire hysterical stuff going on in the immediate wake of Bev taking over, like Johnny Akins referring to her as Barry and Erica’s “crazy hot mom,” or Barry imagining a world where Scott Baio kicks Willie Aames to the curb .
  • I loved Barry’s realization that he’d screwed up, only to shrug and say,”It’s Future Barry’s problem.”
  • Lastly, Scott Baio is directly responsible for my only talking-head gig to date. Click “play” below, jump to the segment that starts at about 17:00, and thrill to my remarks on Joanie Loves Chachi. (If you can stomach it, stay tuned as I go on to wax nostalgic about the Baio / Aames bond forged by Scott and Willie working on both Zapped! and Charles in Charge together.)

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