The Middle: “Thanksgiving VII”
It’s been awhile since we last saw Frankie working at the dentist’s office, but now we won’t see her there again until January at the earliest: it’s closed while they remodel the place to fit in with its new corporate owners, Smile Superstars International. This means that Frankie’s going to be out of a paycheck until the beginning of the year unless she can find a temporary job to fill the void in the meantime, and since she’s too old to be flipping burgers and—despite what Mike thinks—too young to be a greeter at Wal-Mart…well, when in doubt, there’s always Heritage Village, Frankie’s fallback position since The Middle’s second season.
Unfortunately, to take the position, she’s got to commit to working on Thanksgiving Day, but as it turns out, no one else in the Heck family is terribly upset to hear the news: Sue’s going to be working, Axl’s happy to hit the bar with his friends, Mike’s got a day’s worth of football to keep him occupied, and Brick has no problem filling those hours with more reading. Done and done, right? Wrong! (As if you would’ve expected the answer to be anything else.)
In fact, no one’s plans for the day end up playing out as anticipated, but let’s start out by discussing Sue, who takes on extra shifts selling potatoes with an ulterior motive: she’s been thinking about Logan ever since his visit to the campus, and she’s hoping he’ll be taking on shifts at Abercrombie at the same time she’s busy slinging potatoes at Spudsy Malone’s. In fact, he isn’t, but on the other hand, Brad’s doing time at his shop, and seeing Brad is never a bad thing. The best bit about Sue’s storyline, aside from the fact that it reveals that she won’t be letting this Logan thing drop, is Eden Sher’s performance when Sue visits Brad after she’s worked three shifts in a row, where she’s not so much Sue-ing it up as she’s just portraying someone who’s so sleep-deprived that she’s getting downright loopy. It’s great stuff that once again underlines what a great physical comedienne Sher is.
Axl’s evening goes in a direction that was hinted at last week, when he acknowledged that things weren’t exactly the greatest for him, but this week we see his depression in full bloom. Sean unwittingly starts the ball rolling when he’s talking about how his mom is reacting to all of his changes in appearance, attitude, and future career plans, which leads Axl to acknowledge that no one’s expecting much from him, “so I guess I’m delivering.” It’s then that he really begins to open up and vent about the state of things in his life, and the next thing you know, he’s started to cry. It’s very weird for Sean, and it’s maybe a little weirder for Courtney and Debbie, who once again make the most of a brief appearance. (One-note characters or not, they’ll never wear out their welcome for me if their appearances continue to be spaced out and only last long enough for them to get a laugh and go.) I have to admit that this is not a direction I ever would’ve anticipated for Axl, but I’m finding it fascinating thus far, and it’s definitely something you can hold up as an example of how The Middle isn’t phoning it in just because they’re in their seventh season.
We don’t really see all that much of Mike during the course of the episode, but that’s because he spends most of it in the dark. (Ho, ho.) When the power first went out, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one whose first instinct was to think that Frankie had forgotten to pay the bill—it’s certainly the first thing that occurs to Sue when she gets home from work—but, no, the power’s out all over the block, leaving Mike with no plan of action beyond seeing what Brick’s doing. Of course, Brick is doing exactly what he’d planned to do all along: he’s reading. His first reaction to Mike’s query is to throw his own words back in his face and tell him, “You’re welcome to do something right over there,” but when Mike suggests that they play poker, he’s at least mildly intrigued. We don’t really get more than a cursory scene of them playing, but it’s enough. (I admit, though, that I was kind of expecting Brick to be a poker whiz and leave Mike with neither a pretzel nor a peanut to his name.)
Finally, we come to the saga of Frankie at Heritage Village, where we’re treated to a guest spot from Faith Ford, who’s been friends with DeAnne Heline and Eileen Heisler, the co-creators and executive producers of The Middle, since they all worked together on Murphy Brown back in the day. Not that she’s been completely MIA, but it’s a shame we don’t see more from Ford: she’s clearly still got the goods when it comes to delivering the funny. It’s also a shame that she ended up in an Annoying Frankie storyline, one which leaves you wondering why on earth Heritage Village would continue to keep hiring her back, considering how little of a shit she gives about maintaining historical accuracy, not to mention the fact that she apparently never once bothered to open the information packet about her character. Still, Ford’s increasing annoyance makes the whole thing worthwhile and then some.
As her Thanksgiving evening begins to wrap up, Frankie—whose mashed potato fight with Ford’s character earns her a demotion to cinder girl—has a burst of sentimentality and heads home with excitement about how much she and her family have to be thankful for. Before she can make it home, however, her car breaks down, and because her phone was confiscated at work, she has to hoof it home in the snow. Rather than bitch and moan, though, Frankie’s heart soars when she walks in the door to find everyone happy and playing poker together. It’s been a long day for everyone, and a particularly cold one for Frankie, but there’s nothing like family to warm your spirit.
- “Your hair looks pretty.”
- If it wasn’t so late, I’d stay up late to figure out ‘80s artists to fill out the rest of the calendar beyond Duran Duranuary.
- “You don’t have to be Benedict Cumberbatch to figure it out!”
- Nothing says, “I don’t know anything about history at all” quite as quickly as the line, “Paul Bunyan ate the soup and declared, ‘Soup is good food!’”
- I laughed a lot, but certainly one of the moments when I laughed hardest was when Brick whispered, “I’m bluffing.”
- “Déjà Sue!” Did I mention I love Brad?
- The closing tag with Sue reminding Frankie in June that Thanksgiving had finally arrived and Frankie instantly saying, “No way we’re doing that,” was the perfect ending.
The Goldbergs: “In Conclusion, Thanksgiving”
They might not be numbering them like The Middle, but this is indeed the third Thanksgiving episode that The Goldbergs has delivered since its inception, and—as is only appropriate for such a family-centric holiday—all three episodes have maintained a particular tradition: each one has featured a guest appearance by Dan Fogler as Murray’s brother, Marvin. This time, however, there’s an additional Goldberg at the dinner table, even if he looks a little bit different than he did the last time we saw him.
I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way now rather than leave you waiting for the other shoe to drop: Paul Sorvino is a fine actor, and there’s no question that he looked more like Jeff Garlin, but if you asked me to cast an older Jewish actor in a sitcom and my choices were either Sorvino or Judd Hirsch, I’d pick Hirsch every single time without the slightest hesitation. Plus, he’s no slouch in the acting department, either: otherwise, how else could he have pulled off playing father not only to Garlin, but also to Eric Roberts, River Phoenix, Ben Savage, Robin Lively, Jeff Goldblum, Daniel Stern, Rob Morrow, David Krumholtz, and Marc Maron? Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen: we’re talking about a true master thespian here.
We’ve already seen the importance of proper food preparation in Bev’s life, but nothing compares to her obsession with Thanksgiving, where she whips up practice turkeys ahead of the big day in order to make sure she’s absolutely nailed the preparation method. If it’s not up to snuff, then into the trash it goes. That’s devotion. (It’s also incredibly wasteful, but let’s spin this positively, shall we?) For as much as Murray loves the end result, however, the process of shopping for the requisite ingredients for the perfect Thanksgiving dinner is nothing but a total pain in the tuchus as far as he’s concerned, and it becomes a stabbing pain when he realizes that Bev has switched up stores in order to just happen to run into Pop-Pop.
Even with a new actor stepping into Pop-Pop’s shoes, the characterization is still approximately the same—the conversation starts off stilted, turns awkward, and ends abruptly—but there’s a reason for it this time, one which causes Bev’s meet-cute for Murray and his dad to make more sense: Pop-Pop is still haunted by memories of the last Thanksgiving dinner Bev fixed him, an experience which he describes as being “like eating the inside of a vacuum bag filled with pencil shavings,” and Bev is hankering for a rematch so that she can prove to him that she really is a good cook. Also, family is important. Just not as important as proving that she can cook.
While Bev is working out how to get Murray to invite his father to Thanksgiving dinner, Adam is busy manipulating Murray, even if he doesn’t start out trying to do that. It happens by accident, when Adam is in the middle of his pitch to get Murray to donate money to help up the production values of a video he’s putting together that’s scored to—and features him lip-synching—“Cat’s in the Cradle,” by Harry Chapin. Like any father with an ounce of sentimentality, Murray is instantly moved by the song and promptly offers Adam the funding he needs, and like any child who recognizes a moment of weakness in their parent, Adam pounces on Murray’s vulnerability and starts subliminally using the song to get stuff he wants, from a new Dungeons & Dragons module to a malt. It’s a beautiful thing, too, until Bev notices that something’s up, and once Adam reveals what he’s been doing, Bev demands that he use his powers for evil and—you guessed it—get Murray to invite his father to Thanksgiving dinner.
Of course, by this point, Marvin has already arrived and has been making himself far more comfortable than Murray would prefer, trying to get everyone to help him with his latest scam—sorry, I meant to type “career plan”—by letting him do a little unlicensed chiropractic work on them. For the most part, it seems as though Marvin has little to no aptitude in the chiropractic sciences (if that’s even a thing), but that doesn’t stop him from interrupting everyone constantly, hoping that someone will let him secure the last six hours of therapeutic massage that he needs to complete his training…or something like that. He’s also not in any way looking forward to his father being at Thanksgiving dinner, which is why—after hearing and completely misinterpreting the meaning of “Cat’s in the Cradle” —he responds to the news of Pop-Pop’s impending presence by telling him that he’ll swing by to pick him up…and never does. (Needless to say, Pop-Pop’s mood is less than stellar when Murray finally shows up to give him a ride.)
To kill time while waiting for Pop-Pop’s arrival, Pops decides that it’s the perfect time for a toast. This is because he’s decided that the time has come to pass on the honor of delivering the annual Thanksgiving toast, a duty which he’s effectively decided that he’s giving to Erica. Still, Barry can’t resist the chance to enter into competition over anything, so he decides that he’s going to compose the best damned toast ever. He fails miserably in his attempts to do so, but just when it looks like all hope is lost, Barry gets an unintentional bit of inspiration from his uncle in the midst of a major realignment and decides to add a bit of flash to his toast…and by “flash,” I mean that he has a smoke machine, a Pilgrim costume, and a Stan Bush soundtrack coupled with baby pictures, basketball, karate, pyrotechnics, and some woefully inaccurate historical data. In other words, it’s awesome, leaving Erica—who’d just been planning to speak off the cuff and from the heart—up the creek without a speech.
Once Pop-Pop arrives, Marvin refuses to set foot in the house, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to be involved in the conversation when it gets out that Adam has been using “Cat’s in the Cradle” to manipulate his father, and when Pop-Pop offers yet another interpretation of the lyrics, all hell breaks loose. Actually, that’s not true: hell doesn’t really break loose until Erica comes downstairs in a Phillies uniform, brandishing a bat and basically aping Barry’s speech, after which Murray decides to lay down the law and end the family dinner in its tracks by removing the leaf from the table, damaging his back in the process. Yes, this gives Marvin the opportunity to utilize his chiropractic skills and save the day, after which the family has a lovely dinner, with Pop-Pop finally realizing that Bev is indeed one heck of a cook. But that’s not what moment that tugged at my heartstrings the most.
No, that moment came when Murray spotted his name on the “Cat’s in the Cradle” video as a producer and confronts Adam about it. You just never know when Jeff Garlin is going to bring the goods and surprise you with a beautifully dramatic performance, but Murray’s realization that he and his son had successfully shared a moment and the look on his face as he walks away from Adam… That’s Emmy-worth stuff.
Did I say this was my favorite Thanksgiving episode? I’ll even kick it up a notch: it’s my favorite episode of the season to date.
- “Nice seeing you, Dad.” “Eh. It was okay.”
- One of Marvin’s past money-making schemes involved a rapid shift from breeding alpacas to selling alpaca wool to hawking alpaca burgers. His excuse for that last one: “What was I supposed to do with a dozen dead alpacas?”
- It’s nice to see Adam evolving away from robot movies and fart-based comedy skits.
- “L is for LL Cool J, who probably celebrates thanksgiving just like us.”
- There’s really never an occasion when Adam’s cluelessness about sports isn’t funny to me, but his identifying a baseball as “the hard one with sewing on it” was downright hilarious.
- I want to believe that no one has ever really thought that Harry Chapin sang, “And the cat eats the baby with a silver spoon.”
- “Three points for family, the nuclear weapons are disarmed, and the Goldbergs save the world!”
- “It’s Thanks-f***ing-giving!”
- “Give it a shot, Marv!” A beat. “I’m a little drunk.”
- Lastly, since the show is set in 1980-something, here’s a cover of the song that would’ve qualified for inclusion. Not that it comes anywhere near touching Chapin’s version, but it’s Johnny Cash: even if it was from the era just before he rebooted his sound with American Recordings, you know it’s still going to be worth three minutes and 18 seconds of your time.