It's Thanksgiving and for the first time Mike and Annie have decided to celebrate the holiday in New York. They usually visit his parents, but this year, the in-laws are flying in to the Big Apple. When Leigh finds out about this, she immediately panics. Her mother has always been ridiculously critical about the way she lives her life; to escape her wrath, Leigh actually convinced her folks some years back that she moved to Portland with an old boyfriend. Now, unable to stand the extra burden of criticism and awkwardness that her mother brings, Leigh plans a last-minute trip to Barbados as a means of escape.
recap_imagesMike's mom, Beth, is a battle-axe. Like most women her age, she's gotten to the point where propriety has given way to good old-fashioned tough love. Beth and her husband Steve show up at Mike and Annie's six hours early, just as Leigh is trying to leave for Barbados. Caught in the act, Leigh feigns that she's just arriving; she'll have to stick around now. Privately, Leigh complains to Annie about a holiday that will surely be full of motherly criticism. Annie thinks Leigh is overreacting, so to prove her point, Leigh tells Beth she should help Annie cook. Beth happily agrees but says they can't do anything until the kitchen is cleaned. Annie looks around at her pristine kitchen, totally confused. The wrath of Beth cannot be stopped...
It's a Henry tradition every Thanksgiving to pull out the old pigskin and play a game of touch football. Mike is determined to make his dad happy by participating, but Annie doesn't want him to. Last year, Mike was so exhausted after the game that he fell asleep before the turkey was served. Annie tells him it's not an admission of weakness to just sit this one out. He has Parkinson's; there are some things he just shouldn't do anymore. Mike agrees to not play, but when his dad shows up all excited to play, Mike doesn't have the strength to say no. The boys head off for Central Park, ready to continue the family tradition.
When Eve finds out about the change in plans, she blames Annie for "ruining Thanksgiving." They always go to their grandparents' house for the holidays, so staying in NYC is literally torture! Annie's decision to substitute the traditional canned cranberry sauce for an original recipe causes Eve to freak out even more. Harris agrees to go with Eve to save the holiday by buying the traditional canned sauce. The only problem is, when they get to the grocery store, there are no more cans left. You can't buy cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving, are you crazy?! On their way home, Eve and Harris notice a cranberry sauce can in a canned food donation box and bribe a priest with a $300 donation to "take it off his hands."
In Central Park, Steve challenges three strapping young men to a pick-up game, and Mike is forced to exert far more energy than he had hoped. Ian plays quarterback for the Henry team, and is quietly praying his weeks of research into throwing a proper spiral will pay off. Alas, it's easier in theory than practice. Ian is just terrible at football, and Steve decides to take over at QB. But the game abruptly ends when Steve has a rush of chest pains after a particularly long touchdown throw to Mike. Insisting that he is fine and that the chest pains are just minor, Steve tells the boys not to not tell the ladies lest they worry them. Ian offers to get a cab, but Mike doesn't want to baby his father. If Steve wants to walk home, they'll walk home.
It doesn't take long before Annie is completely demoralized by Beth. Every single thing Annie's done has been met with criticism, and she can't take it anymore. Annie hides out in the apartment building's trash room and is only coaxed back up into her home by Leigh and her surprisingly inspirational speech. When Mike and the boys return home, Beth asks that they move the dinner table away from the window, since there is a terrible draft. But as Mike, Ian and Steve move the table - plates and all - a miscommunication causes them to drop it, shattering all of the glass and china! Steve sits down, and Beth reveals he recently had heart surgery. She ushers her husband into a bedroom so that he can lie down and rest. Annie asks Mike to go have a word with him.
Mike checks in on his dad. He realizes that because Steve has been so unwilling to accept the limitations of Mike's Parkinson's and has desperately wanted to treat him as if nothing has changed, Mike has effectively done the same thing with his father's heart problems. Neither man wants to let the other down, but Mike tells his dad there's a big difference between underestimating someone and simply coming to terms with reality. The truth is, both of their ailments suck, there's no getting around that, but ultimately, it's okay! It's all part of life, and it's better to make the best of your situation than to let it take you down.
The family gathers around the dinner table at last. As Eve and Harris remark that they actually enjoy Annie's original cranberry sauce, Mike realizes the true importance of the holiday: every family has its own playbook, and some of those plays are run over and over again. Plays that families like the most are called "traditions." But eventually you come up against a new situation and are forced to call an audible. The trick is to let the playbook change over time and just be thankful for your wins!