The Middle: “Homecoming II: The Tailgate”

We live in a world where our family members are just as likely to live on the other side of the country as they are on the other side of town, and with communication technology being what it is in this day and age, there’s generally precious little difference in the level of ease in which we can keep in touch with them. Unfortunately, this can be a blessing and a curse, as it means that an act as simple as phoning your mother to ask whether she gets her onion dip mix from the back of the chip bag or the back of the onion soup box can set into motion a series of events that can ruin your entire homecoming weekend…or possibly strengthen the bond between a mother and a child by defining the concept of—wait for it—The Circle of Embarrassment.

Advertisement

With homecoming on the horizon, Frankie is busy whipping up her very own signature cocktail, a concoction she calls the Frankie-tini, while Sue is busy whipping up everything she needs for the Class of 2015 alumni table, as she’s managed to find herself in charge of it by default. Mike, meanwhile, is obsessed with trying to win the ceremonial giant spatula that’s awarded to the winner of the annual cornhole tournament, and Axl…well, he’s in a bad way, having picked up a stomach bug that’s completely kicking his ass. How do we know this? Because first he acknowledges that he only likes to barf in the bosom of his family, and then after he says “bosom,” he doesn’t laugh.

Although Axl is desperately trying to put himself out of commission, to the point of burrowing into the blankets on his parents’ bed, Mike refuses to let him off the hook for the cornhole tournament…at first. In short order, we discover that Brick is, amazingly enough, a whiz at cornhole, and to such a degree that Mike giddily invites him to be his new partner. This thrills Brick to no end—he’s ready to throw on a jersey and go buy himself a cup, “to protect my area”—but we later discover that it actually bothers Axl. In fact, the unexpected shock of being suddenly supplanted as the athletic person of the family results in Axl acknowledging something that most viewers have probably already figured out: he might be on a football scholarship, but he’s playing precious little football. It’s not the first time the show has given viewers this impression, but it is the first time we’ve really heard Axl acknowledge that it’s actually having a psychological effect on him. As for the cornhole game, Brick bombs out in a big way, having not reckoned on how much he’d be bothered by having to play the game in front of an audience, but given the back and forth between Brick and Axl about which one of them has the most pathetic life, it seems likely that the end result of this episode is that the two brothers have discovered that, for better or worse, they have way more in common than either of them would probably like to admit. Sadly, Mike gets the shaft in regards to the spatula, but—as Frankie observes in her narration—at least the universe is consistent, doling out disappointment across the board…and, yes, of course it’s this discussion of disappointment that brings us back to Frankie.

We’ve long seen that the relationship between Frankie and her parents, Pat (Marsha Mason) and Tag (Jerry Van Dyke), is one that seems to thrive when there’s several hours of driving between them, hence Frankie’s freak-out when Pat takes her call about the dip recipe as an invitation for a road trip. Thankfully for Frankie, Tag ends up not tagging along, which you can chalk up to the good fortune that it takes an act of Congress to even get him to put on pants, but all things being equal, Frankie doesn’t particularly want Pat there, either. It’s a great recurring gag to have Frankie constantly saying, “I feel so bad, I’m so lucky to still have them,” one that anyone with older parents can appreciate and that they can tell their parents that they didn’t laugh at. It’s true, though: for better or worse, you’re almost never completely relaxed when you’re around your parents.

Advertisement

It’s also true that parents can be accidentally embarrassing simply by being themselves, and it puts you in an awkward position sometimes, because you know they’re not doing it on purpose, but just because they’re only acting how they always act doesn’t make their behavior any less embarrassing. Pat’s presence at Homecoming causes Frankie’s earlier concerns into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and she quickly gets so wound up that she declares her mother to be embarrassing, after which she immediately feels terrible, but just to make sure that she feels even worse, it’s only a few minutes later that Frankie abruptly realizes that she’s capable of being just as embarrassing to Sue as Pat is to her. From there, it’s back to square one, which in this case means the stomach flu: both Frankie and Sue abruptly start suffering from its effects, and while this leads to a truly horrifying off-screen moment (thank God we never see inside Sue’s mascot helmet), it also leads to that mother and child bond-strengthening moment mentioned way back in the first paragraph: Frankie may be puking her guts out as the credits roll, but her mother is there to hold her hair while she’s doing so. If that’s not a case of unconditional love, what is?

Stray observations:

  • This really was a great episode in terms of every single cast member getting a couple of laugh-out-loud lines, and Marsha Mason had a number of stellar moments, too, but it’s particularly worth mentioning that Jen Ray really got a chance to shine as Nancy Donahue this week. Not that she isn’t always good for a smile whenever she turns up on the show, but the stuff where she tried to deal with Sean’s new look and mindset was fantastic.
  • Speaking of that new look, it was great to see Beau Wirick again, even with that facial hair and wardrobe. Funny stuff.
  • Watching Frankie and Mike make their bed from whatever free swaths of cloth were available to them hit a little too close for comfort. But I still laughed. Not as hard as I did at Frankie’s time-machine remark, though, because that shit was hilarious.
  • The mental picture of Frankie as a bomb-defusing Batman villain was pretty great, too.
  • Funny how The Goldbergs got a dog this week even as poor Doris has reached a point where she has no mandibles. I’m not vet, but that just does not sound good.
  • I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to look up the word “glamping.”
  • Costco sure got some promo out of this episode.
  • The only thing that made me go “really?” in the whole episode was Pat’s attempt to collect money from her fellow tailgaters for the money they probably haven’t paid up for parking tickets. I understand that she’s not what you’d call a regular attendee at tailgate parties, but c’mon: even for a newbie, she’s a little ridiculous.

Advertisement

The Goldbergs: “Lucky”

Given my recurring complaint about how The Goldbergs has been doing a few too many stories about Bev having to deal with the kids growing up, it would be reasonable to presume that this week’s episode would incur my wrath once again, but it did not. You may blame this on the presence of too many cute puppies if you wish, because it’s very hard to stay grouchy when there are puppies afoot, but the more likely culprit is Hayley Orrantia, who delivers a particularly strong performance this week.

That said, the puppies certainly didn’t hurt.

With the opening narration underlining how pajama parties are effectively a guarantee for a night of epic adventure, it seemed pretty obvious from the get-go that we’d be getting an Erica-centric episode, and yet for a brief moment it seemed like they might’ve pulled a little sleight of hand, instead turning in an Adam-centric episode where he, Dave Kim, and the gang come of age by watching the girls’ pajama party without their knowledge, thanks to the wonders of a well-hidden camera. Despite managing to get the whole thing set up without incident, things go horribly wrong when Bev strolls down to the basement and stumbles into their sordid plan. Funny thing, though: after suffering an emotional blow a few minutes earlier in the episode, when Erica doesn’t want Bev to have anything to do with her party, Bev decides that this hidden-camera thing is the perfect way to be a part of Erica’s life without getting in the way.

Advertisement

Bev watches the chit-chat in Erica’s bedroom and finds herself getting caught up in the conversation, effectively creating an embryonic version CBS’s Big Brother more than a decade ahead of schedule, but the jig is up the moment one of Erica’s friends spots the camera, When Erica realizes that her mother has been spying on her, it’s all over between them as far as Erica’s concerned. Going cold turkey from her mom is a plan that has the potential to go horribly wrong, but she pulls it off successfully right up until she and Lainey attempt to buy concert tickets and get busted by an undercover cop. Thrown in jail and offered only one phone call, Erica - refusing to out herself as a failure to her mother – instead gets Pops on the line and tells him all of the details. Unfortunately, his own failure to get his license renewed results in Pops ending up behind bars, too, making for one hell of a family reunion.

Yes, you know how it goes from here: Bev does indeed come to rescue Pops, and she eventually concedes and rescues both Erica and Lainey from behind bars, after which Erica – having learned a valuable lesson and seen the light – decides to start a new annual tradition: watching Troop Beverly Hills with her mom. Before doing so, however, she offers Bev a heartfelt speech which is wonderfully and emotionally delivered, particularly the line about how “even though I’m grown up and don’t need you, I still do and I always will.” This doesn’t change the fact that I’m growing tired of the plotlines where Bev has trouble dealing with the kids growing up, but what can I say? Orrantia won me over…and so did the puppies.

From a production standpoint, you can very easily understand why it’s such a pain in the ass to add a dog into the recurring cast of a sitcom, but as of this writing, it seems that Lucky is now going to be part of the series. In fairness, though, it was bound to happen once Barry found out that Murray had been lying to him for all these years and that Barry wasn’t actually allergic to dogs at all. Based on the way things go down, however, one wonders if it might’ve had more to do with Murray being allergic to acknowledging a bond of love with an animal, which is probably a pretty scary thing for a grouchy hard-ass like him. If only the dog had as much love in its heart for Barry…or had been the half-bear/half-poodle creature he designed in advance of Murray and Bev bringing home a dog from the pound.

Advertisement

Sadly, Lucky the dog does not care for Barry, to the point where he’s growling and snarling at him, but she does quickly develop an appreciation of Murray, curling up by his feet and looking as happy as all get-out. His feeling hurt and his ego bruised, Barry attempts to challenge Murray to a fight in hopes of winning himself the position of Alpha Male within the house and thereby swaying Lucky to appreciate him. That plan also fails to materialize accordingly, but just as Barry is about ready to call it quits as a dog fancier, Murray steps back into the room and explains that the reason the dog likes him so much is because “there’s so much tasty shrapnel” from the food he invariably drops.

I’m torn as to which storyline in this episode I liked the best – I absolutely appreciated Erica’s tale, but I just found the dog stuff more relatable – but it hardly matters: it was a great spotlight episode for both Erica and Barry…and having said that, here’s hoping we can get more Adam next week!

Stray observations:

  • Everything I know about pajama parties more or less comes from a combination of Grease, Valley Girl, and the video for Billy Joel’s “Tell Her About It,” so I’ve always been led to believe that they generally involve girls doing a lot of hair-brushing and gossiping while wearing satin negligees, and if this is wrong, then so be it. Let an old man in his mid-40s have his sexy misconceptions.
  • I think I am being wholly truthful when I say that not only have I never seen Troop Beverly Hills in its entirety, but I don’t think I’ve seen any more of it than whatever’s in the trailer…and I honestly can’t even remember seeing that! Aside from the fact that I’m not in any way its target demographic, I can’t explain how I’ve managed to make it this long without ever having seen the film, but as I haven’t spent that time feeling as though there’s a hole in my life that I just can’t seem to fill, I’m not planning to rush out and invest in a copy anytime soon.
  • Exactly how many times did Barry get caught in a well?
  • Barry’s constant badgering until Murray got him the damned dog felt like a live-action homage to The Simpsons, and I loved every moment of it. Better yet, now Barry won’t be the only person in the house who has to take his pills wrapped in cheese.
  • Also loved: the way Murray’s default setting is to just abruptly say, “Ask your mother,” no matter whether it’s appropriate or not.
  • The sight of the dog in a Eagles jersey didn’t even require a joke, but it was funny nonetheless, as was the sight of Barry pulling on his Mexican wrestlers mask.
  • Luck Tin Tin. That is all.

Advertisement