The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Television Collision: Get Stuck in the Middle

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageSo Cougar Town is on hiatus, its replacement Mr Sunshine is only delighting the most hardcore of Matthew Perry fans and Two and a Half Men is running repeats… Slim pickens out there in half-hour comedy world these days, eh? Well, how about you give The Middle a try? I’ve been a fan since its first outing last year. Below are my reasons from last year, all of them still stand.

I haven’t read much in the way of critiques about ABC’s quirky new comedy The Middle, so it is about time I fulfill my duty as “the TV critic who will write about anything and everything” and let you in on the delight I have taken from watching The Middle.

Its greatest strength are the two actors at its center, Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn. Who doesn’t remember Patricia Heaton from Everybody Loves Raymond? For nine years she was the sexy, funny and devoted wife and Ray wouldn’t have been half as loved if it wasn’t for her. And Neil Flynn was a staple on Scrubs for eight seasons, always unexpected, always funny and one of the best “bad guys” to ever serve as comedic relief on a comedy show.

Now those two comedy gems are put together as a married couple in Orson, Indiana in The Middle. Including three kids, all weird in their own way, crappy job situations (she is a car saleswomen, he recently got let go from his job at the quarry after he found a dinosaur bone and the quarry was closed for archaeological digging), the couple truly has a lot to deal with. But nothing “us normal folks” can’t relate to. And this Middle American charm endears The Middle to one’s heart right from the start.

ImageI am fairly certain teenagers of a certain age won’t love The Middle, because they can’t always see the absurdity in their own behavior, but it helps that the adults and parents aren’t flawless either. Patricia Heaton as overwhelmed mom Frankie Heck forgets to pick up her youngest son from school every now and then and more often than not serves hamburgers from the nearest drive-in for dinner. Her husband Mike Heck tries to be authoritative with his kids, but really he knows that when it comes to making big decisions, he best leaves it to his wife.

And then there’s the three kids. Axl, the oldest, is a jocky high school boy who isn’t half as cool as he thinks he is, slouching around the house in nothing but his boxers all day and expecting life to serve him only with the best of the best without ever having to work for it.
Sue is the only girl, a Junior High girl, who fails at every single team try-out she attempts (be it chess club, the swim team or the baton twirling squad). Her braces don’t help her self-esteem and being a dork is tough anyway. And let’s not forget the pet of the family, Brick. He is very smart, he reads all day and everyday and he whispers to himself, making him the most socially awkward of the Heck kids (and yet almost the most lovable, you know, if gun to your head to had to choose your favorite child).

ImageAlso, Atticus Shaffer, the 11-year-old who plays Brick, is spectacularly talented. The fact that he suffers from Osteogenesis Imperfecta (Brittle Bone Disease) makes it all the more astonishing how far he has come already, starring in a weekly show that will surely get picked up for another season. He is also the only one of the current cast who starred in the pilot for The Middle that was shot all the way back in 2007. Man, the LaLa Land of TV can take a hell of a long time to deliver on its promises.

You might think the field of “family comedy” has been plowed one too many times to still find a seed that may flourish into something good, and yet The Middle finds plenty. There’s no cheesy laugh track, rest assured, but all the more situational comedy and off-the-beaten-track humor. Twenty-two minutes packed chock-full of the familiar craziness we all experience every day. Family drives us nuts and yet they are the best remedy for the nuttiness they cause. This is precisely what The Middle does. You can’t believe how insane the Heck family can be and at the same time you love them just for that. Yes, sometimes it is good to get stuck in The Middle.