Michael J. Fox has new television “parents,” and they probably look pretty familiar.
Almost 40 years after they starred in the movie “11 Harrowhouse,” Candice Bergen and Charles Grodin reunited as Beth and Steve Henry in “Thanksgiving,” Thursday’s (Nov. 21) seasonal episode of NBC’s “The Michael J. Fox Show.” And the couple’s presence made things … well, interesting for Mike (Fox) and others.
His sister Leigh (Katie Finneran) is especially on edge, feeling she’s the target of her mother’s constant criticism. To save humiliation, she never revealed she didn’t go to Portland with a boyfriend as planned, since they’d broken up before the move — and she decides to fly to Atlanta before her parents arrive.
Oops: The parents show up six hours earlier than scheduled. The bear hug Mike gets from his overenthusiastic dad is offset by his more reserved mom’s dry greeting to Leigh, who doesn’t quite make it as she tries to sneak out the front door.
Caught, she pretends she’s traveled to New York from Portland and is just coming in. “How many layovers did you have?,” Mom asks. “Because you look a little tired.” Beth is then perplexed to spot a bikini in Leigh’s carry bag, wondering how that fits a November in the Big Apple. “I’m an optimist,” Leigh explains. “Really?,” her mother replies. “Even after everything. Good for you.”
Meanwhile, Mike does his best to maneuver the packed, heavy duffel bag his energetic dad throws to him. As he barely catches it and stumbles away with it, Steve advises, “Try to keep up, Mikey!”
Dad wants to go play football before dinner, so he, Mike and Ian (Conor Romero) — who’s eager to “throw a perfect spiral,” as he thinks he learned to online — head for Central Park, where a couple of fit young men are willing to play against them. “We are in so much trouble,” Mike declares.
Back at the apartment, Leigh decides to show Annie (Betsy Brandt) Beth’s true, commanding colors by pairing the ladies to prepare Thanksgiving dinner. Everything Annie proposes, Beth counters with a dismissive comment or action, right down to Beth pulling out her own cutting board that she brought with her. “She has some boundary issues,” Annie allows to Leigh.
Ultimately, Annie hides in the apartment building’s trash room, where Leigh finds her and knowingly says, “She broke you. I was so looking forward to saying, ‘I told you so.’ Now I just want to give you a hug.” Proving she’s seen the light about Beth, Annie responds, “You can fake-live in Portland as long as you want to.”
On the football field, Ian’s throws don’t go as planned, but Mike ends up scoring a touchdown anyway — only to turn and see his father down on one knee, clutching his chest. “Let’s keep it between us,” Steve requests. Ian proposes they call a cab, but Mike is determined not to treat his dad “with kid gloves,” the same way Steve always has treated Mike’s handling of his Parkinson’s disease.
As Mike, Steve and Ian return to the apartment, Beth asks them to relocate the meal-laden table from the kitchen area into the living room. Ian cautions they should empty it first, but the other men proceed … with Mike steered directly into and onto the couch, thus tilting the table.
You know what happens next: Thanksgiving meal on floor.
As the men argue over the mishap, Ian blurts out that “Grandpa keeled over playing football.” And Beth reveals Steve had a heart procedure, rattling Mike, who’s advised by Annie of the “difference between underestimating someone and coming to terms with reality.”
A touching father-son chat about Steve’s condition follows, with the two men lamenting the dad’s more-fragile condition … but on an up note, Mike says they “can both take solace” that they’re still better at football than Ian.
Beth is determined to help Annie start reorganizing her closets the next day, but Leigh comes to the rescue by claiming Annie has to take her to Boston to fly back to Portland. And once everyone finally sits down to dinner, Beth smiles approvingly as Steve turns down an offer of gravy.
Likening life to football, Mike concludes, “The thing is, the playbook changes over time. That, and be thankful for your wins.”
What did you think of Candice Bergen and Charles Grodin as Mike’s parents on “The Michael J. Fox Show”?