Life in American suburbia -- how do we define it?  By the subdivision block parties every summer?  By backyard barbecues?  By housewives getting sloshed on wine coolers every third Tuesday, under the pretense of a "book club"?  Wednesday night, "The Middle" tackled high school homecoming.  Its football games and parades make the annual event a big deal "here in 'the middle,'" Hoosier mom Frankie tells us.

Her oldest kid Axl's made his high school's varsity football team, which means Mike and Frankie get to walk him across the field in a pre-game homecoming ceremony.  Frankie sees it as her opportunity to be admired by all the other moms for raising a high-achieving son.  But after giving Axl a congratulatory hug (who recoils, reminding her, "Christmas and birthdays only"), Frankie's quickly deflated, once Sue (whose involvement in cross country is the first activity she's ever found success in) gleefully announces her first meet is on the same night as homecoming.

What's Frankie to do?  "I finally have something else to put on the fridge besides my braces-tightening schedule," exclaims Sue, excitedly showing some of her cross country literature to her mom.  Frankie's distraught, and later asks Mike in their bedroom why this kind of stuff happens to them.  He replies: "The universe took a look at all this" -- he motions around the room, which includes mismatched fabrics, a kitschy picture of nine little cow outlines and a wooden toilet seat -- "and decided to knock us down a peg."  After Mike talks Sue's coach into postponing the meet a half hour since homecoming's on the same night ("There's nothing a man can't accomplish with a case of beer and a wheel of cheese"), Frankie decides to attend the race before meeting Mike at the football game.

Meanwhile, Mike decides awkward Brick is "ready for leaf-raking," and instructs him to see to the backyard.  Brick, with his jean jacket and precocious mannerisms, believes "raking" entails handpicking one leaf at a time and transferring it to the trash bag.  Eleven days later, he finished his hour's worth of work.  

Later, at Axl's big homecoming game, Brick asks Mike in the stands, "What'll happen to the leaves now that we raked them?"  Mike explaining that they'll probably be incinerated at the dump is Brick's "Old Yeller" moment; the boy is shocked.  "I thought we would take them in the forest and set them free!"  Meanwhile, Sue was hours behind the other runners at her meet (she says she was blocked by an angry raccoon, got stuck in a prickle bush and then threw up), and since Frankie wanted to stay to watch her daughter finish, they miss the opening ceremony, leaving only Mike to walk Axl across the field to receive a homecoming carnation.

But that doesn't stop Frankie from walking arm-in-arm with Axl on the football field -- in a spasm of overprotection, she dashes to Axl's side after he gets clothes-lined during the game, and then escorts her injured son back to the bench.  Though Axl is initially humiliated and remains pissed when they get home, he softens up when Frankie gets teary, talks about how Axl's childhood went by so fast, and that she's still his mother.

Additional thoughts:

-- It's always nice to see some kind of character development or story progression in a sitcom.  Was funny to see the cross country hoodie a fixture on Sue; it's a nice complement to her orthodonture and rainbow/heart pendant.  "It means a lot to me that I can finally be the one who makes you proud," she tells Frankie.

-- Chris Kattan as Bob, Frankie's co-worker, who struggles to be one of the guys.  How many Members Only jackets can one man own, and in how many colors?

-- Brick: "If we can't set the leaves free, can we at least keep them in my room?" Mike: "They're not your friends."

-- Anyone else notice that conversations between Mike and Brick sometimes deal with life's "big questions"?  I remember there being an episode last year when they talked about death.

-- The blue and white decorations at the homecoming parade.  A conspicuous nod to the Colts, I reckon.  Do I smell a Peyton Manning cameo in the future?