The Middle: The Complete First Season
by Laura Tucker
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I was resisting watching The Middle for reasons I don’t even know if I can explain. Most likely it was because it was simply time management. I had already fallen in love with the series Modern Family, and it was just easier to record that whole Wednesday night hour of that and Cougar Town, and once I started to do that, I started to really enjoy the latter as well, and I seemed to just conveniently forget about The Middle. Yet everyone kept telling me how wonderful a show it was and was making comparisons between their life and that of the Heck family’s.
I was barely even through the first episode before I was soon doing the same, comparing the Heck family to my own. Most of it was the same thing that either one of my kids were going through, or my husband and I were going through. That’s much of the draw of this series. Once I shared the show with my family, they felt the same way too.
The character of Frankie Heck (Patricia Heaton) was very identifiable to this mom, especially that harried, busy mom type of thing. She’s always trying to manage everything in the family and feeling like she’s just never going to make it. The first episode of the season she was trying to be everything to everyone, trying to help all three of her kids with different things, as well as holding down her job at a car dealership. Her life keeps interfering with her job, as while she’s showing cars to customers, she keeps getting messages from her family and the school via whoever it is answering the phone at the dealership. While just hearing his droll voice, at times he reminds me of Carlton the Doorman from Rhoda.
Frankie’s no-nonsense husband is a direct reflection of a lot of dads out there too. They’re just as stressed out as the moms, yet look at things much more simply, where it becomes, “If it bothers you, don’t do it,” whereas a mother’s response is more, “Well, let’s try to do it this way instead.”
Frankie throws the additional responsibility onto her husband Mike (Neil Flynn) to try and fix the clothes dryer. This is after teenage daughter Sue (Eden Sher) complains to Frankie that the dryer ate her leg warmers again. Frankie retorts, “What have I told you about not putting wet clothes in the dryer?” then tells her it’s just until her dad gets a chance to work on the dryer and fix it. The look Mike throws Frankie, at the mere mention of him fixing the dryer, is priceless.
It just really hit home here, as we had the same exact problem with our old clothes dryer. The choices are either buy a new dryer or buy all new clothes, and my teenage son was embarrassed that I would hang laundry up outside. He didn’t like being the only person in the neighborhood with laundry hanging up outside.
On Valentine’s Day, Frankie and Mike realize all of their kids have other plans for the night. For the first time in a long time, they’re all alone. They decide to go out to dinner, and once there, all the kids come crawling back to them. Their plans have all collapsed on them, and soon it’s Frankie and Mike, along with their kids, and their kids’ friends, at the restaurant. They’re … in the middle. Every single parent out there can relate to that.
The 16-year-old son, Axl (Charlie McDermott), was probably the biggest connection I saw to my own family. A teenage boy is a teenager boy is a teenage boy. Not to say that they’re all the same, but they certainly all go by the same M.O. it seems. The want to drive, aren’t always respectful, expect moms to do everything for them, etc. In the first two minutes of the series, Axl gets up in the morning and enters the kitchen in his boxer shorts, looks in the cupboard, then gets upset with his mom because there aren’t any chips. Yep, that’s a teenage boy. Luckily, my son isn’t walking around in his boxer shorts, but I can guarantee you that if he had his druthers, he would be.
Axl’s perfect foil is Sue, a 7th grader. She’s not as direct of a comparison to my own daughter, but there were certainly some times where I couldn’t help to compare them, especially Sue’s many freakouts about things that happen at school or how nothing is ever going to work out for her. Sue is just always trying so hard to fit in, and it just never works out quite so well for her.
Happy with not fitting in is the youngest son, Brick (Atticus Shaffer). He seems to be the smartest one in the family, yet he definitely has his psychological issues. I couldn’t really make a good comparison to anyone in my family, but he’s nevertheless a great character. After every thing he says, he looks down and whispers the last few words to himself, or confirms what everyone must be thinking, like, “I lied.”
Something about it, while funny, is also somehow seemingly real, and watching the extras on the DVD, it was mentioned that it was the actor himself that came up with that. The whispering was part of the character, but he’s the one that furthered it to be looking down every time he says that.
Some of the characters are a little over the top, but you need that comedy, otherwise you would have families just like mine or yours, and at some point it would be a little to sad to realize this is your life. We need that disconnect. With as much fun as I had watching The Middle, it’s definitely programmed into the DVR to catch every episode of the second season. It’ll be interesting to see how they deal with the kids aging, if they become the Welcome Back Kotter kids who never age, or are like the Happy Days kids who just have newer kids brought in to keep the show young. Regardless of how they do it, I’ll be watching.
The Middle: The Complete First Season is available now on DVD.
Laura Tucker is the webmaster of Reality Shack and its accompanying Reality Shack Blog, provides reviews at Viewpoints, and provides entertainment news pieces at Gather. She is also an Instructor and 2nd dan black belt in tae kwon do with South Elgin Martial Arts. Laura can be reached at LauraBelle@realityshack.com.
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