Frankie: Mike, does it ever bum you out that I'm not young
and shiny anymore?
Mike: Yeah, sure, honey. It's a huge bummer, but whatcha gonna do?
I have to admit that I don't watch too much network TV. I usually prefer watching movies or waiting
until a show comes out on DVD so I can zip through it at my own rapid
pace. Instead of catching what's new
every season, I let a friend of mine (hi Jeff!) tell me what's worth
and then keep an eye out for a DVD release.
So when he told me to check out The
Middle, I made a mental note and snagged it when it came out on DVD. Turns out he was right. It's
a funny sitcom, a genre that usually
leaves me cool, that manages to be hilarious without being too silly or
removed from reality.
Frankie Heck (Patricia Heaton, Everybody Loves Raymond)
is a typical mother living in Orson,
a place, as she notes in the first episode, that people fly over while
on their way to someplace else. She
recently lost her job and had to take whatever she could find. In this case it is selling cars at Ehlert
Motors, a task she's perfectly unsuited for.
She's married to Mike (Neil Flynn, Scrubs),
the down to earth straight-talking foreman at the local quarry, and has
children: teenage son Axl (Charlie
McDermott), awkward daughter Sue (Eden Sher), and odd, anti-social
The humor comes from typical middle class worries, paying
the bills, raising the kids, and being terribly tired after working all
then dealing with the kids. The premise
of the show is nothing terribly out of the ordinary, but it works so
because it stays close to reality. I
swear that Axl was patterned after my teenage son.
He's a bit of a slacker who finds everything
'lame' and who takes every opportunity to remind his parents that
totally unfair and the worst mom and dad in the world.
Sue is a cheerful optimist who desperately wants to be in a
school club or team. She's tried out for
just about everything and has been soundly rejected by them all,
being ball girl for the tennis team.
That doesn't stop her from trying out for the swim team, though
hardly swim, or the drama club, or whatever else she can find.
My favorite character is easily Brick, the strange young
son. Brick's not very social, his best
friend is his backpack, and he whispers to himself.
He also loves to read, is very smart, and has
a devious streak that comes out every once in a while.
One of my favorite episodes, maybe because I've lived it, is
Valentine's Day. With Brick having a
sleep over at a member of his social-skills class (that Mike refers to
Odd Squad'), Sue at her first 'boy-girl' party, and Axl planning a hot
date with some friends, Frankie and Mike think that they'll have a
at home. (Mike's plan is to 'knock one
off now" while they're still energetic, go out and have dinner, and
back home and do it again. "You really
up for that?" Frankie asks. "I dunno,
but I'd sure like to try?") Unfortunately,
Axl's plans change when the girls he and his friends are supposed to go
with meet some college guys. The girls go off with the older men
they'll ditch them right after dinner, so the boys end up at Axl's
wait. This puts a cramp on Mike and
Frankie's plans, but they can still go out to dinner.
Except that every place they go has an hour
wait. After trying a few places they end
up back at their favorite restaurant where the wait time has doubled. Things go down hill from there.
Every episode has a lot of laughs and a lot of 'that's
happened to me' moments. (The montage of
Brick informing his mother about school projects that are due the
was priceless and had me wondering if I could sue since that's what my
does.) There are only a couple of
aspects to the show that didn't work for me.
The first is Frankie's omnipresent narration.
It's not really needed unless you can't
follow a simple plot. The other is the
happy ending/lesson that wraps up every show where Frankie lets us all
that family is really important, or that everything will work out if
keep trying. The treacle filled
observations just pull viewers out and remind them that they're
sitcom. If they'd cut those out the show
would work a lot better.
The 24 episodes that make up the first season of The Middle
come on three DVDs housed in a single width keepcase.
There is an episode guide insert.
The show comes with a DD 5.1 English audio track (as well as
a Portuguese language track in stereo) and optional subtitles in
Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, and Chinese.
Though it's mainly dialog driven, the show sounded very good
nice, wide front soundstage and some music coming from the rears that
create an immersive feeling. There
weren't any audio problems, no hiss, dropouts, or distortion.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image looked fine.
There was some grain on the first episode,
but that was quickly remedied as the season went on.
Other than that the lines were tight, the
colors were solid, and the level of detail was very good.
There are a few extras included, but none of them are really
exciting. There are several deleted
scenes, most of them pretty minor, a gag reel that was surprisingly
use Axl's favorite term) and a behind the scenes featurette, Raising a Sitcom Family, that's pretty
much fluff. The only other item is Sue's Best Shots, where the cast and
crew recall (get ready for this) their own worst school pictures. I was hoping for a bit more, but you take
what you can get.
Middle of the country, middle of life, middle class. The Middle
is a hilarious and spot-on look at a typical family, and is one
of the more entertaining sitcoms to hit the airwaves of late. Filled with characters that are both familiar
and loveable this show will have you laughing.