How do you make, then keep, a friend?
For Mike (Fox), the process is fairly easy, at least initially — to Annie’s (Betsy Brandt) relief, since she feels he needs a new pal — in “Couples,” Thursday’s (Jan. 16) episode of NBC’s “The Michael J. Fox Show.”
While getting their mail, they encounter a neighbor named Will (guest star Frederick Weller), whose Wi-fi name Annie recognizes. Overhearing them discussing him, he asks Mike, “Wait … you’re not ‘Bobby Hull & Oates,’ are you?” A pleased Mike replies, “He shoots, he scores!”
After they start to go their separate ways, Annie urges her husband to continue the conversation: “You close that. Come on, I’m right behind you.” Annie conspicuously vanishes, though, as they resume their chat.
Returning from a hockey game later with Will, Mike enthuses he’s having “probably the best day of my life” next to the births of his children. He accompanies Will to his apartment and sees an array of musical instruments and gold records on the wall, prompting him to beg off a cell-phone call from Harris (Wendell Pierce) offering tickets to a performance of “La Boheme.”
An offer to “play Joe Strummer’s guitar,” which Will tenders, will do that. He then suggests to Mike that they have dinner along with their wives, but Annie considers that “a terrible idea,” fearing one of them might not like Will’s wife when they meet her.
“Did I mention they have a house in Fiji?” Mike asks. Annie’s response: “What time is dinner?”
Arriving outside the couple’s apartment, Mike advises Annie to “tone it down,” especially if someone says something she doesn’t like. Will’s spouse Trista (guest star Alexandra Wentworth, aka Mrs. George Stephanopoulos) then opens the door to greet them, and merrily tells them Will gave her “a list of subjects not to talk about.”
“She’s perfect,” Annie declares to Mike. “And if I die and you want to marry Trista, I totally understand.”
The wives get along famously as the night goes on — “We hate all the same things,” Annie notes — while Mike appreciates “Will liked me for me. He didn’t even care that I was a local celebrity.”
Before the evening ends, Will and Trista respond to the Henrys’ invitation to an antique-bowl exhibit by inviting them “on a trip somewhere,” namely Fiji. Mike and Annie are so excited by that prospect, they do a jig later. Literally.
The dream starts evaporating soon afterward, though. While Will is visiting Mike’s newsroom, he confesses he and Trista “are having problems. I invited you to dinner as a buffer.” Seeing how “perfect” Mike and Annie are, Will explains, has made him realize how troubled his own marriage is.
“How could you do this to us?,” Mike whines, then covering quickly by claiming the “us” is those who believe in lasting love.
Equally dismayed Will and Trista are on the rocks, Annie schemes with Mike to keep them together, at least long enough to get to Fiji. They plot to re-create a romantic moment in the couple’s life by checking their wedding Web site for tips, even contacting the priest who married them.
Later, while Mike is strolling through Will’s old neighborhood with him, they (ahem) just happen to run into Annie with Trista, right outside the restaurant where Trista and Will had their first date. Mike suggests they all go in for dinner, and Trista is shocked to see the same waiter they had the first time. (“I found him in a retirement home,” Mike informs the show’s viewers.)
Things go downhill quickly as the other couple’s fond memories are replaced by more sour ones. And when Mike seems to know more about their past than he should, the jig is up and they hastily leave, just as their priest shows up. “Stand down, Father,” a chastened Mike says.
At home later, Mike tells Annie that Will called to report he and Trista are giving their marriage “another shot.” And also to express that “they want nothing more to do with us. He called to tell me not to call.”
Still, Mike isn’t ready to give up on making new friends. Spotting a new Wi-fi name that invokes the word “yacht,” he yells to Annie, “How do we feel about boat people?”