The Middle: “Thanksgiving VI”

When holidays come around, certain traditions must be maintained, and for The Middle, Thanksgiving has always revolved around various members of the family coming to the Heck home for a big meal. This year, though, there are neither parents nor parents-in-law, there are no uncles, no aunts, and no siblings, and apparently even Dr. Goodwin’s already got something else going on: for once, it’s just Frankie, Mike, Axl, Sue, and Brick…except it isn’t, because this is the first year that all three kids have decided to bring a date to Thanksgiving dinner.

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Oh, sorry, it’s actually only Brick and Sue that are bringing dates. Axl’s just been drafted to go pick up Frankie’s hairdresser’s cousin’s niece’s daughter, because Frankie feels obligated to make sure the delightfully-named Devin Levin isn’t alone for Thanksgiving. Not that Axl’s got any interest in his assignment – indeed, he’s been pointedly dodging any and all attempts to even contact the poor girl – but anyone with a passing knowledge of classic sitcom plotlines couldn’t possibly have been surprised when, after all of his refusals to have anything to do with Devin, she turns out to be the perfect girl for him…provided she wants anything to do with him, that is. (It’s evident that he begins to at least slightly contemplate the possibility that he might something to do with her right around the time she proves bold enough to change clothes while he’s driving.)

Beyond the new additions to the dinner table this Thanksgiving, there’s another new wrinkle to the meal: rather than attempting to seat everyone at a tiny table and then do the dishes in either the floor sink or the shower, Frankie decides that the better bet is to take everyone to King Henry’s Feast and take advantage of their $7.99 buffet. Sue, ever the sentimentalist, has immediate misgivings about the loss of such staples as Frugal Hoosier canned corn, Safeway boxed stuffing, and CVS pumpkin pie, but she soon has bigger things to worry about, specifically the fact that Mike is actively displaying a dislike of Darrin, which inspires her to try and tweak her boyfriend’s behavior so that he’s…well, you know, it’s not that he’s bad, but maybe he could try and be just a little bit better, that’s all. Meanwhile, Brick’s trying to impress Cindy by winning her a flounder in the claw machine, and Devin’s apparently just being herself, but in doing so, she’s revealing herself to be more than a match for Axl when it comes to being competitive and, yes, she’s clearly becoming increasingly attractive to him as well.

It’s just a shame that Darrin can’t catch a break: his efforts to hold court during dinner fail miserably – although how convenient is it that he happens to have an air-conditioner story when Sue asks if anyone has one? – and if he thought Mike didn’t like him very much before, he didn’t know how much worse things could get when he unthinkingly took the last of the turkey from the buffet…or when he decided that he could turn the tide back to his favor by telling the staff of the restaurant that it was Mike’s birthday. Even with a back catalog of five previous Thanksgiving episodes, the family’s reaction to Darrin’s miscalculation (“No one can stay mad when someone’s singing to them!”) may well be the funniest scene in the history of The Middle’s turkey-day installments, though special mention must be made to Charlie McDermott’s delivery of the line, “my God! He’s killed us all!”

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You can always count on The Middle to turn in a solid Thanksgiving episode, and they did not disappoint. Granted, Cindy could still use a bit more development – at the moment, she’s more of a collection of weird traits than an actual character – but the fact that her dad is willing to dump her off at her boyfriend’s doorstep and speed away would seem to imply that his temperament may not be too far removed from Mike’s, so hopefully we’ll see him turn up soon. Otherwise, though, we got a new spin on the family meal that we hadn’t gotten before, and you can’t go wrong with an ending that features a good old-fashioned snowball fight, especially one where you get to see those rare glimpses of Mike and Frankie not as a two adults trying to make ends meet or harried parents but just a cute couple.

Stray observations:

  • I can’t imagine that Frankie is the first mother to turn a pair of pregnancy pants into her “holiday pants,” and after this episode, I’m damned sure she won’t be the last.
  • Mike Heck in a nutshell: he likes his family and that’s about it…and sometimes he doesn’t even like them.
  • I hope to God that next week’s episode opens with the revelation that Cindy has been staying with the Hecks since Thanksgiving.
  • Frankie has a number of wonderful little moments that I suspect many of us have seen in our own moms, including taking way too much time to work out people’s connections to each other and having in-depth conversations with random people who may or may not be riding on a Rascal.
  • “How about a five-spot?” “How about a no-spot?”
  • “Don’t tell me how to play Sugar Packet Spoon!”
  • “In my day, I would’ve made sure my girlfriend’s dad got his turkey before I got mine.”
  • I’ve established this before, I believe, but I love Sue’s recurring usage of “and so forth and what have you.”
  • “There’s a reason they didn’t have taquitos at the first thanksgiving. If I can just rally a burp here, I might be able to squeeze in a piece of zebra cake.”
  • I’m not going to try to do it justice, but the closing scene with Axl telling Devin about his girlfriend who just died but gave him her blessing to find someone else was fantastic. brilliant verbal ballet between the two actors really makes me hope that we’re not just being teased this time and that Devin’s going to be a regular part of the show in the near future.

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The Goldbergs: “A Goldbergs Thanksgiving”

Unsurprisingly, traditions also play a big part in tonight’s Thanksgiving episode of The Goldbergs, as does family: like last year, Dan Fogler returns as Murray’s brother, Marvin, the kind of guy who thinks it’s a smooth move to burst through the door and ask, “Did someone call the butcher? ‘Cause the beefcake has arrived!”

Yes, it’s probably best that Marvin only shows up for Thanksgiving, because he’s clearly a character for whom the phrase “a little goes a long way” was invented, but he’s certainly good for a few solid laughs when he visits, whether it’s the visual gag of his threads from the Crockett & Tubbs Collection, the it’s-funny-because-we-know-there’s-no-future-in-it joke about his stint as a beeper salesman (which, as it happens, was so short that he never had to worry about the bottom falling out of the industry), or just the completely outlandish and/or dunderheaded statements he doles out during his stay.

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In this instance, most of those statements take place in the midst of Marvin’s interactions with Adam, during which time he bonds with his nephew over video games – including giving him the gift of the much vaunted (in the ‘80s, and only briefly at that) Nintendo Glove and, after they go see The Wizard together, attempts to convince our hero that there’s money to be made in his skills as a player. There’s not, of course, and even young, naïve Adam knows that the world of high-stakes Nintendo only exists in the movies, but it’s such a unique and wonderful experience for him to be around someone who gets him that he’s willing to listen to his uncle talk a load of crap while he’s enjoying it. Not knowing that Adam’s aware of his uncle’s inanity, Murray’s being driven crazy by the fact that his do-wrong brother seems to be succeeded where he’s failed at bonding with the boy, so he decides to try playing video games with him, too, but given that he manages to destroy the aforementioned glove and cause Adam to declare, “You broke my favorite thing in the world, you ruin everything,” it’s probably fair to call it a failed attempt. In the end, though, Murray reconciles with Marvin and, perhaps more importantly (mostly because there’s no doubt that Marvin is an eternal fuck-up who’s destined for a lifetime of squabbles with his brother), Adam reconciles with Murray, with the two playing “Duck Hunt” as we shift over to the footage of the real Goldbergs celebrating Thanksgiving.

The other major storyline involves the battle between Bev and Erica, which begins when Erica decides to rebel against the annual tradition of helping her mother prepare and cook Thanksgiving dinner. Bev, of course, rebels right back and tells her that as long as she’s destroying things that her grandmother loves, she should go ahead and just whack her in the face with the fireplace poker along with her figurine collection. For better or worse, Erica opts out of accepting that offer, but she soon finds herself in the midst of a wager with her mother: if she fails to keep up with Bev at her Jazzercise class, she has to help with the Thanksgiving dinner, but if she succeeds, then she’s absolved of her duties. Maybe I’m the only one, but I was successfully faked out: I figured Erica would bomb out, but instead she kicks ass, breaking Bev’s heart in the process.

Not that she’s giving up that easily. When Thanksgiving morning arrives and Bev is feeling overwhelmed and alone in the kitchen, she throws a double-or-nothing speed-walking challenge at Erica, which promptly blows up in her face as well, resulting in a victory for Erica and a pulled groin muscle for Bev. Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to get all technical there: of course, what I meant to say was that something happened in her downstairs, just north of her bajingo. Except it didn’t, because it’s all a fraud she’s perpetuating – not just on Erica, but on the whole blessed Goldberg family – in order to get some sort of family bonding going on in the kitchen. Unfortunately, Erica’s still playing hard to get, leaving Barry to step in and try to save the day, only to bomb out in a big way and lead Bev to accidentally reveal her lack of injury.

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Yes, Bev’s actions are crazed and seem somewhat inexcusable, but just as Erica tries to make her escape, Pops catches her and delivers an adorable, wise lecture that makes her a better person, revealing that she’s at the age that Bev lost her own mother, which is what she finds herself thinking about every Thanksgiving. It’s another unexpected twist to the story, but if you’re of a mind to accept that serious a revelation in the midst of this sitcom, it explains a lot about Bev and why she’s particularly adoring of her children: she wants to make sure they know how much she loves them, just in case –like her mother – she’s suddenly gone from their lives. Maybe it’s just me, but as someone whose grandmother had Alzheimer’s Disease and, in turn, whose mother has often said how happy she is to have seen and been aware of my personal and professional successes because of what happened to her mom, I can appreciate this. But that doesn’t mean I don’t generally prefer Bev when she’s a little less crazed. Just sayin’.

Stray observations:

  • Given that I found the sight of Wendi McLendon-Covey in full Jazzercise gear decidedly stirring, I can’t even begin to imagine how weird it must’ve been for the real Adam Goldberg.
  • “Look at me! I’m a sad mom with no shame!”
  • Why do I feel like the real Adam Goldberg and I are brothers from another mother? Because I flew the Intellivision flag, too. I wasn’t much for the skiing, but I played the shit out of some Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
  • TV’s Adam Goldberg’s giddy delivery of the line “It’s so impractical for a child!” was fab, as was Barry’s excited declaration, “I’m gonna go page myself for no reason!”
  • I see a clip from The Wizard, I think, “I can’t believe I still haven’t gotten Christian Slater for Random Roles.” And I guess I probably always will.
  • “It’s an early birthday present…or a late one, depending on when your birthday is.”
  • I would totally play Froggerman or Donkey Kid.
  • “For my wife Irene, the most beautiful dame who ever lived.” Dammit, Pops, why’d you have to go and make me tear up like that? (Seriously, George Segal can sell a line like nobody’s business.)
  • “Barry the Grass King: For All Your Grass Needs.” Classic.

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