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T.V. Show Review: The Middle
Patricia Heaton in a Different Venue
Patricia Heaton, the actress who played Raymond's wife on Everybody Loves Raymond, has a "new" show, and you won't get it confused with the other one. For one, her hair is different. And of course, she's married to a different man. Like her last show, she also plays a mother with kids and a busy lifestyle. But that's where the similarities end.
The Middle is a gentler show than Everybody Loves Raymond. The humour is sarcastic but gentle and seems to be accepting of all of the characters. The marriage between Ray and his wife seemed to be one of mother and child; whereas Debra doesn't seem to even like her spouse. And when I say it's a new show, I mean new to me. It's actually been on since 2009, but I hadn't taken notice of it until this year.
The sitcom features the Heck family with five people: the mother, Frankie, played by Heaton, the father, Mike, played by Neil Flynn and the three children: Axl, played by Charlie McDermott, Sue played by Eden Sher and precocious Brick, acted by Atticus Shaffer.
The Middle opens with a montage about life in the suburbs, and features vintage footage interspersed with footage from today's life. The premise: things are different now, but they are kind of the same, too. And with this show, we do get a picture of middle class America in the 2000's.
Every week The Middle features dual story lines and ends with a conclusion narrated by Patricia Heaton as Frankie Heck, telling the lessons learned by the family that week in her wry, knowing voice.
Although the show ends with a comforting conclusion, the road there is bumpy, unexpected and absolutely hilarious. The characters end up in the most ridiculous situations. In one episode, Sue believes that she is everyone is throwing a surprise birthday party for her, even going as far as waiting for two hours in the basement because her brother tells her they are coming, and she should hide.
When nothing happens, it is the ultimate anti-climax.The family has forgetten her birthday in the frenzy of dealing with other problems. To make it better, however, Mom insists that everyone get up and eat cake, created from leftover cupcakes from a failed bake sale, with her in the middle of night.
I Recommend This Show
The Characters Have Good Chemistry
Each character of The Middle is unique and as a group, they have excellent chemistry. First, there's the main character-narrator, Frankie, played by Heaton, who has a great sense of humour and manages to see the funny in everything. She is much less strident than her Debra character on her previous show. She nags her kids and gets frustrated with them but seems very patient overall. The relationship she shares with her husband seems playful and equal.
Then, there's Sue, the token girl of the siblings who is at an awkward stage. She is geeky, sincere, earnest and always seeing the best in everything. She gets enthusiastic about whatever she does and has a need to talk everything out incessantly. She typifies the neurotic teen we all once were, and we laugh along with her, while wincing in familarity at the teenage ansgst she battles.
Axl, The Big Brother
Next is Axl, the teenage brother that, like most older brothers, bugs the heck out of his younger siblings, especially Sue. He is almost always mortified to have a sister like her and has a rule that she must ABSOLUTELY NOT TALK TO HIM in school or anywhere that people might see him.
Axl is a jock and not into school or academics. In one hilarious episode, we see his attempts to make a presentation about love for his English class, and he finally ends up pilfering the essay that his younger, much smarter little brother has written. Axl is very real and reminds us of teenage boys that we all know and love: laconic, a bit lazy, and not given to talk or conversation.
Brick the Dysfunctional Genius
Then, there is Brick, the youngest son. Brick is a prodigy genius who is always more interested in a book than anything happening in "real life." He has a distaste for anything physical and in one very funny scene, sits and reads about the fishing at the lake, while they were right in the middle of doing it.
Comparisons have been made to the character in "Malcolm in the Middle" but I find him quite different. For one, it is clear that his intellect has not made him wise, just book smart, and two, he doesn't belong to a gifted class. Instead, we see him as a full fledged member of a social behaviour group for helping kids learn social skills. In other words, being smart is really more an obstacle for him than an asset.
Mike Heck, the Father
I like the character, MIke Heck in The Middle. He's smart and tells it like it is. He's not like some of the men in many sitcoms today that don't know what they want. He's a man's man -- he doesn't talk a lot and he likes to watch television after a hard day's work. He does have a soft side, though and takes the time to love his family and his wife. In one memorable episode, his wife finds out that he has been secretly taking care of a cat at work. He says that it's no big deal but it just shows his style of doing things quietly, without much fuss.
I Would Recommend This Show
With its combination of farcial humour, anecdotal wisdom and Father Knows Best wholesomeness, I would definitely recommend this show. It features very good comedic acting, good writing and a realistic portrayal of middle class America. It's quirky and enjoyable: a little gem. It also shows a family that goes to church on a regular basis, an allusion to Christian values in a subtle manner.
My only complaint about it would be that sometimes the characters are a little too weird, especially Sue. Her earnestness is sometimes so hard to watch because she never seems to learn from her social mistakes. I would give the show a four out of five. If you haven't seen it, I would suggest that you give it a look.