The Middle: The Complete First Season
Warner Bros. // Unrated // $44.98 // August 31, 2010
Review by John Sinnott | posted September 5, 2010
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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Graphical Version
The Show:
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 watching 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 far removed from reality.

Frankie Heck (Patricia Heaton, Everybody Loves Raymond) is a typical mother living in Orson, Indiana a place, as she notes in the first episode, that people fly over while they're 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 three children:  teenage son Axl (Charlie McDermott), awkward daughter Sue (Eden Sher), and odd, anti-social Brick (Atticus Shaffer).  

The humor comes from typical middle class worries, paying the bills, raising the kids, and being terribly tired after working all day and then dealing with the kids.  The premise of the show is nothing terribly out of the ordinary, but it works so well 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 they're 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, including being ball girl for the tennis team.  That doesn't stop her from trying out for the swim team, though she can 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 as 'the Odd Squad'), Sue at her first 'boy-girl' party, and Axl planning a hot triple date with some friends, Frankie and Mike think that they'll have a quite evening at home.  (Mike's plan is to 'knock one off now" while they're still energetic, go out and have dinner, and then come 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 out with meet some college guys. The girls go off with the older men promising that they'll ditch them right after dinner, so the boys end up at Axl's house to 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 following day was priceless and had me wondering if I could sue since that's what my youngest 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 know that family is really important, or that everything will work out if you just keep trying.  The treacle filled observations just pull viewers out and remind them that they're watching a sitcom.  If they'd cut those out the show would work a lot better.
The DVD:

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 English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, and Chinese.  Though it's mainly dialog driven, the show sounded very good with a nice, wide front soundstage and some music coming from the rears that helped to 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 lame (to 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.
Final Thoughts:
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.  Highly recommended.

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