In the world of sitcoms, the Thanksgiving holiday provides the ultimate catalyst for conflict. For the Goldberg family, that’s pretty much akin to throwing a match in a barrel of gas that’s already near a big collection of C4.
I kid, of course—“Thanksgiving” is nowhere near as explosive as the previous paragraph would imply. While there are the inevitable arguments, estrangements and reconciliations, it’s all par for the course. What’s ultimately important is quality writing over volume and, in that regard, “A Goldbergs Thanksgiving” delivers.
Most notable, the episode features the return of Dan Fogler as Murray’s wayward brother Marvin. Always chasing the next big thing, Marvin is now sporting a Miami Vice get-up, and pursuing a career as a beeper salesman. While, to Murray, Marvin is still his old annoying self, the Goldberg patriarch can’t help but feel a bit jealous when his brother begins bonding with Adam over video games (my favorite exchange of the night involves Marvin asking Adam how he got so good at video games, to which Adam excitedly responds, “I have a small social circle!”) The situation escalates after Marvin buys his nephew a Power Glove (that glitch-friendly monstrosity forever immortalized by that extended Nintendo commercial The Wizard). When Murrary tries to re-connect with his son by playing games with him, however, he only ends up breaking the Power Glove. Of course, by episode’s end, the two brothers have reconciled (Marvin won’t be successful for much longer) and Adam and Murray end up bonding over “Duck Hunt.”
The other story involves yet another divide between Beverly and Erica. After Erica expresses dismay at the prospect of helping her mother with Thanksgiving, Beverly ends up making a bet—if Erica can survive one of her hardcore Jazzercise classes, she’s exempt from those duties. Erica ends up getting through the class with great ease and Beverly soon finds herself stuck with making Thanksgiving alone. After a heart-to-heart with Albert, however, Erica comes to the realization that she’s now around the age Beverly was when she lost her mother. For Beverly, making Thanksgiving with her mother’s recipes allows her to both feel close to the memories of her mother, and extend the love to her children. It’s definitely cool to see how a show that—just a few minutes prior was getting laughs out of outrageous Jazzercise outfits—can suddenly introduce such a dramatic beat, and have it land with such efficiency (having George Segal to deliver it certainly helps).
While some of Beverly’s manipulative behavior throughout the episode somewhat undermines this message (she fakes a groin injury so her children will help with Thanksgiving), the reiteration of her mother’s premature death certainly goes a long way to underline why the Goldbergs matriarch can sometimes go overboard when it comes to wanting to spend time with her children. Both she and Albert know all too well the fleeting nature of life, and how important it is to make as many great memories as you can.
Even though he’s not heavily featured in the episode at all, the writers also get some great material out of Barry’s newfound fascination with beepers, including his announcement of ”I’m going to page myself for no reason!” The show then goes one step further by having him establish a lawn mowing business by the episode’s end, and advertising himself under the questionable name of “Grass Man” (because, as detailed by The Wire, beepers can provide great tools for certain people who don’t want the law to find them).
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.