The Middle: Season 3
Warner Home Video
Starring: Patricia Heaton, Neil Flynn, Charlie McDermott, Eden Sher, Atticus Shaffer.
Best for: Parents and children ages 10 and up.
PopFam Rating: B+
Show Summary: Quirky middle class family, the Hecks, make everyday life a semi-dysfunctional, yet joyful, experience.
As far as I'm concerned, my sister-in-law Annette is the truest measure of whether or not a TV sitcom is funny. She laughs without reservation. She talks to the TV set. And she's watched more hours of sitcoms than my adult son has lived. So, you know, if Annette likes it, there's probably something to it.
That's why, when I was trying to decide whether or not to review The Middle: Season 3, I did the smartest thing I knew. I gave it to Annette, and then I eavesdropped while she watched the shows.
Episode 1, "Forced Family Fun: Part 1," underwhelmed despite the guest star appearance of Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond). I chalked that up to the fact that Annette was still figuring out who everybody was and what was going on, as this was her first time to ever see the show. Before long, though, I could tell she "got it."
If you, like Annette, are unfamiliar with the series, here's the quick summary: Frankie (Patricia Heaton) and Mike Heck (Neil Flynn) are middle-aged, middle-class, middle-American working parents of three, um, unique children—two teens and an "oops" child in gradeschool. Axl (Charlie McDermott) keeps things interesting as the stereotypical oldest child and independent spirit (which includes a distaste for wearing much more than a pair of boxer shorts). Sue (Eden Sher) is the sincere, but often-overlooked middle child who maintains a positive attitude no matter what. And Brick (Atticus Shaffer) is the brilliant but socially awkward youngest child (sort of a miniature version of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory). In the heartland of Orson, Indiana, Frankie and Mike ride herd on this loveable bunch of misfits, ready to go to just about any lengths to keep their family together.
Now, back to Annette. Episode 2: "Forced Family Fun: Part 2" brought out at least three chuckles and two full "laugh-out-louds." Things were looking up!
By the time Annette reached episode 4: "Major Changes" the laughs were coming with regularity. At episode 6: "Bad Choices," Annette was talking to the TV set and throwing in random snorts of, "Oh gosh!" at the Heck family fun. That was when I knew we had a hit on our hands.
Of course, if I were like the 9.8 million viewers who watch The Middle on ABC TV each week, or the millions more who watch it in reruns on ABC Family channel, I wouldn't have had to subject Season 3 to "The Annette Test." I'd have already discovered this entertaining, heartwarming, family-affirming comedy for myself. Yeah, I'm a slow learner.
The point is this: The Middle is genuinely, fun, family-friendly fare. Yes, the sarcastic humor runs high (you may have to tell your younger kids that while it's OK to laugh at insult humor on TV, it's not OK to repeat it in the home). And yes, there are occasional mild profanities and name-calling as part of the dialogue. But mostly, this is just a straightforward laugher about a family struggling to love each other through the stresses of tight finances, busy schedules, social dilemmas, work/life balance, and more. No, the wit is not typically as razor-sharp as several other sitcoms on the air right now (such as the aforementioned Theory, or Modern Family), but that's OK. It gets enough laughs to earn its place, and as far as prime-time comedies go, it's one of the tamer ones, content-wise. It should be fun for anyone ages 10 and older.
As for season 3, here are a three highlights you won't want to miss:
Episode 4: "Major Changes." Frankie mistakenly eats a bag of...well, something disgusting that she thought was potato chips. And Brick becomes obsessed with a catalog service that promises to deliver food all the way from Chicago. Yes, you'll laugh. (And don't worry, everything comes out OK in the end!)
Episode 12: "Year of the Hecks." It's New Year's Resolution time! This year, in an effort to increase participation, Frankie insists that everyone adopt a resolution assigned by someone else in the family. As expected, the results are comically disastrous.
Episode 20: "Get Your Business Done." The entire Heck family visits a new church and finds new purpose in the pastor's message to "Get your business done." Sue takes the sermon literally and starts a babysitting service...and the fun goes on from there.
There are plenty of other memorable moments (Sue trying out for the cheerleading squad comes to mind, as does "Uncle" Norm Macdonald's guest star appearance at Brick's school for "Special Friends Day.") But you're going to have to discover the rest on your own. For now, I've got to stop Annette from trying to steal my only copy of The Middle: Season 3 (because she thinks I'm not looking!).
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