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'The Middle' Recap: The Hecks Postpone Thanksgiving

11/19/2015 10:39am EST
The Middle
Most sitcoms aim their highest at the holiday; few are as consistently successful at it as “The Middle.” While every day for the Hecks is usually pretty much like the day before (i.e., not the most domestically harmonious), something unusually heartwarming tends to happen on their holidays out of sheer force of will. But this year, work and other engagements get in the way of family time, and little effort is made to counteract that. So they float Thanksgiving off to June 12. They disperse, each spending the day mostly on their own, and they are perfectly okay with that … or are they?


'The Middle' Recap: The Hecks Explore Their Identities In 'Homecoming II: The Tailgate'

11/12/2015 8:58am EST
The Middle
The way people believe they are supposed to be is often based more in perception than in hard evidence. Frankie Heck is compelled to hold on to her perceptions. This holds true when it feels right but also even when she wants to let go. The entire Heck family is beholden to perception. This is not necessarily a problem. The primary perspective they all rely on is their own, so their independence keeps them stable, but they could benefit from being rocked by an alternate point of view.

Frankie’s frustration with her mother’s constant presence, while subjective, is not an example of this typ...

'The Middle' Recap: 'The Middle's' Latest Halloween Episode Is Legitimately Scary

10/29/2015 9:32am EDT
The Middle
“The Middle” was in an unusually ambiguous mood a few episodes ago, and now the Hecks return to that vein of uncertainty with scary intensity for Halloween. Lack of answers is the order of the day for a lot of great horror, and “The Middle” boldly commits to this approach in a way that transcends typical sitcom constraints. When scares are promised on family half hours, tricks are usually delivered instead. Usually, to produce genuine thrills, shows step outside the bounds of continuity. Doing so within the normal confines requires tricky construction, and “The Middle” pulls it off in surpr...

'The Middle' Recap: 'The Middle' Enters Its Existential Period

10/22/2015 9:18am EDT
The Middle
Mike Heck has always just done the thing that comes next. One day ends, the next day begins. The bills remain past due, but his unfulfilled responsibilities do not leave him adrift. So it has been with all of “The Middle.” Each of the Hecks has a well-defined role. They know who they are, so their forward momentum feels natural. Sure, occasionally big moments present themselves, and deliberations must be made, but the day-to-day more or less takes care of itself. But now this show has reached a stage at which it is confronting mortality head-on.

This existential worry is a new look for Mik...

'The Middle' Recap – 'Risky Business' Ushers In The Year Of The Hecks

10/15/2015 10:48am EDT
The Middle
The uncertainty of the end of the last episode of “The Middle” is not destined to be left hanging, as Mike’s unusual behavior is brought into clear relief. In six seasons, two of his defining qualities have been his steadfastness and his stoicism. But apparently the latter has been making him appear more steadfast than he really is. It takes a lot of effort for someone to show a different side of himself when he keeps everything on an even keel and everyone appreciates him for his consistency. Thus, the beginning of Mike’s new chapter requires two episodes. “The Shirt” and “Risky Business” ...

'The Middle' Recap: Ambiguity Is Rampant On 'The Shirt'

10/8/2015 10:07am EDT
The Middle
Inconclusive endings can be a powerful tool in fiction. “The Middle” utilizes a lot of great fictional tools, though ambiguity is usually not one of them. “The Shirt” does not go out of its way to emphasize all the uncertainty that the Hecks are still grappling with by episode’s end, but it is definitely there. This show is great at detailing day-to-day life, and ambiguity is a part of that grind. This time is not just run-of-the-mill ambiguity, though. It may not be as overwhelmingly ambiguous as something like “No Country for Old Men” or the oeuvre of David Lynch, but it is powerful enoug...

'The Middle' Recap: Sue Can't Poop In Front Of Taylor Swift, And Other Disasters

10/1/2015 10:05am EDT
The MIddle
The Heck kids have come a long way. Heading into Season 7, Axl, Sue, and Brick are all especially mature to the point that it is a legitimate question whether their stories can still be engaging. When journeys get to this plateau, it helps if the writing moves on to an atypical perspective. In doing so, it is awfully apparent that the rest of the world is not necessarily on the same level as the Hecks. A change of pace can be killer to a sitcom; “The Middle” shows that it ought to be invigorating.

Sue is surely capable of handling the demands of college, as she has persevered through a chi...

'The Middle' Season 7 Premiere Recap

9/24/2015 8:14am EDT
'The Middle' Season 7 Premiere Recap: 'Not Your Brother's Drop O
We all know that Sue Heck is ready to take on the world. We all know that her path to that destination is to be interrupted by a disastrous car trip to college. Frankie’s emotional stability is a little surprising, but understandable. What is not expected is that long stretch with Sue alone in her dorm.

The final act of this seventh season premiere is alarmingly quiet. It is devoid of the punchy laughs or sweet punctuation that usually caps off an episode of “The Middle.” It plays like the “to be continued” portion of a part 1. Positioned as it is at the beginning of the season, it also fe...

'The Middle' Wraps Up 6th Season

5/14/2015 9:20am EDT
The Middle - The Graduate
Sometimes in life, you just have to have faith that things are going to work out. That has not usually been the message of “The Middle,” (at least, not without any caveats), but Heck family life has been a little different throughout Season 6. So many episodes of this show have ended by making the best of a less-than-ideal situation. A few wins would be thrown in here and there. But the wins of the season 6 finale were of a different tenor. Viewed in just the context of this episode, they may have appeared unearned, but they were in fact part of a pattern of winning behavior.

Axl fell into...

'The Middle' Mother's Day Reservations

5/7/2015 10:33am EDT
The Middle - Mother’s Day Reservations
Sometimes you just can’t win. So you wait it out, and then maybe the win does come later, and maybe you’re not even there to revel in it, but you’re still all the better for it. And you were wise not to raise a stink when everything was falling apart. So it went with the Heck children and father in “Mother’s Day Reservations.”

It was probably more than a little insane for Frankie to expect her family to make this year any better than past Mother’s Day’s, but they have all been doing well lately, so perhaps there was a chance a small miracle was in the offering. After all, Axl is 21, Sue is...

'The Middle': What You Missed While Sleeping

4/30/2015 10:45am EDT
'The Middle' Season 6, Episode 22, Recap: 'While You Were Sleepi
Marriage proposals in high school are weird because they go so against the typical young adult narrative in American culture. Sue has managed to avoid most of that weirdness by making a clean break ever since turning down Darrin’s offer. But there was a version of her narrative in which he would be by her side for prom, graduation, heading off to college, etc. As some of these milestones have to be planned well in advance, it was inevitable that he would bleed into her post-Darrin narrative. The delivery of her prom dress could have played as a cosmic joke, but this is not the same Sue that...

Rarely Seen Relatives Pay A Visit On 'The Middle'

4/23/2015 10:28am EDT
'The Middle' Season 6, Episode 21 Recap: 'Two of a Kind'
When rarely seen relatives come to visit – a time of great anticipation (stressful or hopeful) in real life, and the perfect way to establish backstory with guest characters on TV. With Dick van Dyke making his debut as Uncle Dutch, viewers of “The Middle” experienced that real anticipation. In the world of the show, his absence prior to this episode made it easy to demonstrate that he and Tag had been on the outs for years. Not to mention that Dick and Jerry van Dyke are brothers in real life, thus their portrayal as fictional brothers just made sense.

Typically in a long-simmering sit...

A New Conflict Emerges In 'The Middle'

4/16/2015 9:52am EDT
The Middle
Every once in a while, TV shows that are not heavily serialized will have episodes that seem like they came out of nowhere. A new conflict or new characteristic has suddenly emerged in The Middle, without any buildup or foreshadowing in previous episodes, but everyone on the show acts like this has been the new normal for some time. In that vein was “Food Courting,” in which each of the Heck children found themselves navigating a new role. For Axl and Sue, the suddenness of their situations made sense and were solid explorations of the signposts on the path to adulthood. Brick’s new pos...

Axl And Sue Snipe At Each Other On 'The Middle'

4/9/2015 11:09am EDT
'The Middle' Season 6, Episode 19 Recap: 'Siblings And Sombreros
Sometimes when you learn a lesson, it takes a few reinforcements for it to fully take. Sitcoms thrive on regularity, so most of the time character development is either minimal or impermanent. But sometimes, what seems like forgetfulness or retconning is actually the gradual, patient work of becoming a better person. Sue and Axl have had some breakthrough moments this season, but the beginning of “Siblings and Sombreros” saw them sniping at each other as harshly as ever. But by episode’s end, they may just have reached a conclusive point of mutual respect. Sure, they will probably stil...

Heck Brothers Attempt To Right Some Wrongs On 'The Middle'

4/2/2015 10:33am EDT
The Middle
“No matter how you got there, your brother being nice to you is your brother being nice to you”

“Operation Infiltration” saw two older Heck brothers attempting to right their past wrongs perpetrated against a younger sibling, and even though things did not go exactly how they planned, everything worked out, in however unconventional a fashion. Sue may wish that Axl were nicer to her, but she has never pinned her value on his opinion. Similarly, Rusty has often faced Mike’s disappointment, but he is too odd and focused on doing his own thing to care what anyone else thinks. Mike and his ...

'The Middle' Recap: College Acceptance Plot Makes For A Tense Episode

3/26/2015 9:19am EDT
THe Middle
“Why are you embarrassed that there’s a fun side to you?”

The Hecks go through a lot of hell just about every episode, but there is usually no need to worry that things are not going to work out by the end of the half hour. This is the formula of pretty much every sitcom ever, but “The Middle” has managed to make the stakes feel higher and realer than on most other shows. There actually have been episodes in which some things did not work out, at least not in a traditional sense. Thus, the college acceptance plot of “The Waiting Game” felt tenser than it had any right to.

Sue is not th...

'The Middle' Recap: 'Flirting With Disaster'

3/5/2015 8:40am EST
The Middle
The three disparate plots of “Flirting with Disaster” all shared the theme of taking on new, uncomfortable roles. There were varying levels of difficulty for the adjustments involved, but by the end, everyone was in a better place. “The Middle” has certainly never shied away from heartwarming moments, but they snuck up a little more sneakily than usual in this episode.

Frankie’s flirtation with Finn may have been atypical behavior, but it was not like this side of her was completely unfamiliar. Axl’s friends in Orson have been trained for years not to interact with the rest of the Hecks...

'The Middle' Recap: "Steaming Pile of Guilt'

2/26/2015 11:49am EST
The Middle
The funny thing about how forgetful Frankie and Mike are with Brick (and with everything in general) is how much they expect themselves to not remember. That is just the nature of forgetfulness: you might recognize this trait in yourself, but that might only make you powerless to stop the inevitable. The extent of their neglect of their youngest child has become so thorough that they have a set of tricks for covering their tracks, like delaying his birthday to the following year. But it has gotten to the point that the usefulness of these tricks has been exhausted (they delayed his birth...

'The Middle' Recap: 'Obviously, Mermaids Are Awesome'

2/19/2015 11:03am EST
The Middle - The Answer
Picking up right where “Valentine’s Day VI” left off, “The Answer” found Sue Heck looking for an answer to a crisis that she had never faced before. Normally she finds some way to spin gold out of crap, saying yes to something that seemed awful by making it great by virtue of her optimism. But this time, she had to deal with something that was ostensibly great by bringing it down to something that she could say no to. Saying no is not something she is designed for. But she is also not a quitter, so somehow, some way, this was going to get sorted out.

It would seem appropriate to say th...

'The Middle' Recap: 'Valentine's Day VI'

2/12/2015 12:06pm EST
The Middle
“The Middle” has had a Valentine’s Day episode almost every season. (This episode is “Valentine’s Day VI,” even though there was no “Valentine’s Day V.”) In that time, there have been various combinations of Heck children with and without significant others. But this was the first February 14 in which every Heck was in a healthy, happy relationship. It felt a bit like a conclusion of sorts, almost a bit too much so. With so little conflict – at least, nothing that could not be solved fairly easily – everyone’s situation was nearly too perfect to make a sitcom episode out of. But that ...

'The Middle' Recap: 'Hecks On A Train'

2/5/2015 11:43am EST
'The Middle' Season 6, Episode 12 Recap: 'Hecks On A Train'
“The Middle” has been developing an odd habit recently of introducing and quickly resolving major plot points late in the episode. In “A Quarry Story,” it was Sue’s party that got out of hand. In this episode, it was Frankie getting left behind at one of the train stops and her family not even realizing that she was gone. These moments have been a little jarring, because they could have easily been expanded to fill an entire half hour. Furthermore, Frankie being left behind stuck out on an otherwise low-key episode of a show that is generally low-key.

“Hecks on a Train” was low-key ins...

'The Middle' Recap: 'A Quarry Story'

1/15/2015 12:16pm EST
The Middle
Whoa, that was a lot of plot. Almost every Heck had their own storyline, with only Mike and Sue paired up. While most shows would buckle under the weight of that much narrative, all this chaos bumping up against each other is what “The Middle” is built for. Also, most of the happenings in “A Quarry Story” had fairly easy resolutions, and thus it benefited from all the stuffing.

The crux of the plot was so hard to pin down that the part of this episode that the program description described – Frankie has to work a day at Ehlert Motors in order to collect on an expired check – was not eve...

'The Middle' Recap: 'Pam Freakin' Staggs'

1/8/2015 11:08am EST
The Middle
“The Middle” is usually fairly reliable for putting its own spin on stock sitcom stories. The fact that its characters are so well-defined and well-developed helps in this regard. So it was unsurprisingly immediately clear that this was not going to be the typical example of embarrassment over being caught off guard by the reappearance of an old acquaintance.

Frankie, in her most stained shirt and sweatpants and with trash strewn all over the road, could not have looked worse when Pam Freakin’ Staggs (Kirstie Alley) rolled up. But when she rushed back inside to get her household in orde...

'The Middle' Recap: What's The Point Of Christmas?

12/11/2014 9:28am EST
The Middle
The main thrust of “The Christmas Wall” snapped into place at the very end, with Frankie making peace over how every time you think you’re out of frickin’ Christmas, it sucks you back in. Frankie tried to retire from traditional holiday celebrations the same way hitmen try to get out of the profession. She thought she had already a career’s worth of baking, decorating, and wrapping presents, but she had made too many allies, and they needed her for one last job. But it is never one last job. Once you’re back in the game of Christmas, there’s no getting out – not like you were ever real...

'The Middle' Recap: World's Greatest Dad

12/4/2014 10:58am EST
The Middle
Would Mike Heck be as good a dad as he is – not just a good one, but the world’s greatest – if he didn’t have a daughter like Sue? When people wonder if they are good parents, if they are halfway decent they tend to put the onus squarely on themselves. This surely makes sense, because parents are ostensibly the adults, and when the parent-child relationship begins, the children are helpless. But at a certain point – certainly by the time of college visitation, but probably before that – children have enough of their own agency to bear some responsibility for the health of the relationshi...

'The Middle' Recap: Thanksgiving For Losers

11/20/2014 10:40am EST
The Middle - Thanksgiving VI
This may have been the most depressing episode of the “The Middle” ever. That is no small feat for a show that has made no effort to hide the Heck family’s penny-pinching reality and daily stresses. Usually each episode will end on an at least relatively positive note to leaven that reality. “Thanksgiving VI” was not depressing because it forewent that positive ending. It was there, but it felt more momentary than ever before. The root causes of the doldrums were still taking their toll.

The good news is that despite how thorough all the Hecks’ problems are, they probably are not part...

'The Middle' Recap: Fruitball Never Ends Well

11/13/2014 11:18am EST
The Middle
One aspect of “The Middle” and most great sitcoms that rarely gets enough praise is how well plotted, how well designed they are. The Heck house is notable for its clutter. This gives the writers and set designers a lot of objects to make comedy out of. If a large bowl of cereal and milk is placed onto the dining room table, then chances are later in the episode an important document will be dropped into it. Similarly, if one Heck is stressing over P.E. class and another Heck is stressing over a missing wallet, then the first is going to enlist the help of the other with tinickling just...

'The Middle' Season 6, Episode 5 Review: The Weirdest Halloween Yet

10/30/2014 10:12am EDT
The Middle
As a sixth season sitcom with a comfortable timeslot, “The Middle” could very easily coast along on doing the same thing over and over. But that is not this show’s m.o. It is allergic to change, and its viewers are better off for its commitment to character development. The important things about “The Middle” stay the same: each Halloween episode is simply named “Halloween” and then “Halloween II” and now “Halloween V”; and holiday episodes continue to be its forte. But the specific elements that make each holiday episode so great are new and exciting each time.

Brick displayed a sudde...

'The Middle' Season 6, Episode 4 Review: Happy 20-Somethingth Anniversary

10/23/2014 10:50am EDT
The Middle
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” These words of wisdom popularized by W.E. Hickson are a constant source of inspiration, or the complete opposite of inspiration, for the Heck family. “The Table” was an emblematic episode demonstrating how much everyone in this family believes that it is never worth trying but they ultimate make do with the beaten-down lot they have in a way that is really all about trying anyway. Except for Sue. Sue never hears the same message about giving up from the universe that her parents hear.

The funny thing about not trying when it comes to Fra...

'The Middle' Season 6, Episode 3 Review: Camaraderie And Bonhomie

10/9/2014 10:01am EDT
The Middle
The characters on “The Middle” have always had clearly defined quirks, but unlike other shows whose characters fit that description, it has not fallen in the pitfall of being allergic to character development. “Major Anxiety” was not hesitant at all in demonstrating this. Brick and Axl both behaved in ways that they never would have at the beginning of this series, but they still were recognizably themselves. Character development cannot be ignored in children, seeing as they grow up and usually change. But that development on a sitcom is not always as natural and satisfying as it was i...