THE MIDDLE: SEASON 1
MOVIE: *** (out of 5)
DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5)
BY KEVIN CARR
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
The Hecks are a five-person family living in Orson, Indiana, the middle of the heartland. This single-camera sit-com stars Patricia Heaton as Frankie the mother, who also serves as the narrator. Neil Flynn from “Scrubs” plays the father, and together they try to keep their bizarre children in check while making a living and suffering through some economic troubles. Told with a quirky surrealism, “The Middle” is Hollywood’s latest attempt to connect with the rest of us in flyover country.
WHAT I LIKED
I will admit that this show did grow on me. I wasn’t a big fan of the early episodes, and for the reasons for this, see below in the lower section. But once the show found its legs, I found it to be more funny than not.
The key to this series, which is a no-brainer for most good television, is the cast. It’s modeled around Patrician Heaton, but while she does a fine job as the matriarch of the Hecks, it’s the rest of the cast that really shines. Neil Flynn shows that he can bring his dry humor out of the Janitor character on “Scrubs” and supplant it into a regular suburban dad. Rounding out the adult cast is Chris Kattan as Frankie’s BFF at her thankless job.
But the real stars, in my opinion, are the kids. They are brilliant in their roles, which started out as rather two dimension. However, as the season wore on, each child brought a new depth to their quirkiness. Charlie McDermott as Axl started out as the ever-annoyed teen who keeps talking back. But by embracing the weird quirks of a teenage boy and going over the top with his exasperation, he brings on the funny with his asides.
Atticus Shaffer, whom many might recognize as the creepy-as-hell unborn child in “The Unborn,” plays the off-kilter youngest son Brick. In a role that could have deteriorated into irritating, over-coddled child, Shaffer makes it silly enough to be fun and tragic enough to be hilarious.
But the real winner of the cast is Eden Sher as Sue. A failure at everything, the character could have been the pinnacle of pathetic. However, Sher approaches the role with such optimism and hope that you can’t help but root for her. Like an awkward teen girl version of Notre Dame’s Rudy, Sue doesn’t give up, and by the end of the season, I couldn’t help counting her as my favorite character.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
Most of the problems with this show are concentrated in the beginning of the series, though some things do permeate through the whole season. The biggest issue I have with “The Middle” is that it’s Hollywood’s warped attempt to “understand” the Midwest. Like “That 70s Show,” it pokes fun at what makes the Heartland great while giving it backhanded compliments.
Also, let’s not mince words… the Hecks are pretty awful parents at times. But they’re presented as normal. Sure, all families have their weird and less-than-prideful moments, but some of the crap the Hecks pull is just plain irresponsible. Like the presentation of Lynette Scavo on “Desperate Housewives” as mother of the year, it always bothers me when bad families are presented as normal in an effort to make the audience feel better about itself.
The three-disc set includes all 24 episodes of season one, along with unaired scenes on select episodes, a gag reel and two featurettes: “Raising a Sitcom Family” and “Sue’s Best Shots.”
WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
People who like single-camera quirky comedies.