ABC’s The Middle has been one of my favorite television shows for many seasons. It has been many years since I have looked forward to watching a television comedy with my children. Most comedy programs are not only lacking in the comedy department, but there is too much sexual innuendo and inappropriate language for my younger children. I found the high fashion wearing actors with their over the top homes and apartments way too unrealistic.
The Middle is an underrated comedy that has been flying under the radar for years. Because it is so realistic, I can also relate to it. The character, Frankie, speaks to me in every episode.
The show stars Patricia Heaton (of Everybody Loves Raymond fame) as Frankie
Heck, a forty-something mother of three who is stuck in the middle. First, she lives in Indiana, in the Midwestern part of the United States. Second, she is a part of the “Sandwich Generation”, as she is responsible for taking care of her two elderly aunts. And third, she is middle class and trying her best to hang onto that status.
Frankie is overwhelmed and overworked. Despite the fact that she works, everything is thrown on her shoulders. Like many women, she did not delegate tasks when everyone was younger, and now when she balks at having to do things, her family revolts. After all, she has always done it for them. Why is she stopping now?
This character is real because she often loses it...like all moms do.
Are We Going to Be Fine?
Frankie tells her family the truth...
Her quiet, sports-loving husband Mike, is played by the understated Neil Flynn. Mike Heck is a hard working man who tries his best to support Frankie, although his support only works about half the time. He is a loving father who tries to understand his brood, but oftentimes does not. He does not like to be demonstrative with his affection. Mike believes that his actions-going to work each day, fixing what is broken and taking on a second job-prove to his family that he loves them.
However, we learned this season that steady as a rock Mike can also let his hair down. Just not in front of his family.
Mike Rocks Out to Boston
The result is hilarious!
Axl Heck-Do You Know a Teenager Like Him?
Axl Heck is played by Charlie McDermott. A guitar playing jock who is into girls and not school, his lack of caring about academia drives his parents insane. He is lazy, messy, and narcissistic and oftentimes is cruel to his younger siblings. Yet, he also has a sweeter, gentler side that he sometimes permits his family see and he seems genuinely remorseful when he realizes the error of his ways.
Axl is treated like the Golden Child because he is a gifted football player who, despite his poor academic performance, earned a college scholarship. His life at college is funny and rings true to anyone who has ever been there or has had a child leave the nest.
He is also a young man who is vulnerable when he is in love. That is a side of him that I do like to see.
Axl in Action
Meet Sue-The Perpetual Optomist
A loveable girl with a heart of gold that fails to succeed at almost everything she attempts, Sue Heck reminds older women of the teenage angst we once went through. Played with wide-eyed innocence by Eden Sher, Sue is the underdog. She does not quite “get” the obvious, which make her all the more loveable. No matter how many times she fails, Sue preserves and tries again.
This season we were treated to Sue's first real love and heartbreak. Then our naive underdog found a new beau with a handsome jock whom she only saw as a friend. Our hearts soared when she got into the college of her choice-the same one her brother Axl attends.
The Sweetest and Funniest Prom Night Ever
Portraying Brick, the oddball youngest son lacking in social skills, is Atticus Schaeffer. Brick is a voracious reader who has an odd habit of whispering what he just said to himself with head bent down. A perpetual puzzle to both of his parents, Brick is the one who sees through the craziness.
In fact, Brick is often the voice of reason in this at times dysfunctional family. He sees the obvious, and Frankie tries to explain it away in her twisted Mom logic.
Brick at His Best
What makes this show so appealing is that it is real. Unlike Carol and Mike Brady, Frankie and Mike have flaws. Brick is usually forgotten, being that he is the youngest. School projects are done at the last minute and dinner can be found in a box. Their house is messy and they are too tired to care. But, their parenting is done with much love, despite the stresses and frustrations they feel.
When I sit down to watch The Middle with my children, I do not worry about inappropriate situations that need to be explained or crass language. Even though Sue’s first boyfriend is obviously gay, my kids did not get it when they were younger (like Sue). It is implied, and no explanation is necessary. Axl may walk around the house in his underwear, but we see that as funny and there is nothing sexual about it.
Frankie is any middle class woman who is in her forties. She craves respect and recognition from her family for all that she does. In one hilarious episode, she comes home late from work one night and accidentally eats Axl’s toenail clippings that he left in the cheese curls bag! She freaks out and runs back home to her mother. As the episode unfurls, each character tries to make sense of why this happened and how to get her to come back home. What mom has not dreamed of running away from it all because she feels under appreciated (no toenail eating required).
Overall, The Middle is one of favorite television shows because it is real, and real life can be very funny.