Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Middle: “A Quarry Story” / The Goldbergs, “The Darryl Dawkins Dance”

Illustration for article titled iThe Middle/i: “A Quarry Story” / iThe Goldbergs/i, “The Darryl Dawkins Dance”
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The Middle: “A Quarry Story”

When you’re given a Middle episode with a title like “A Quarry Story,” it’s reasonable to presume that it’s going to be a pretty Mike-centric episode, so if you were one of those viewers who entered into the proceedings with that presumption…well, it’s not impossible that you could’ve walked away a little disappointed. Not that Mike wasn’t key to the overall goings-on in the episode, but the quarry story in question was really more Sue’s.

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We’ve seen the father-daughter stories done before on The Middle, and if they’re spaced out enough, they’re generally a pleasure to watch. Yes, we know Mike and Sue are very different people – it’s kind of hard to get that – but drawing particular attention to it once awhile, even if it’s more or less just to stick with the same general riff, is still a pretty solid guarantee for a good time. This wasn’t your traditional Mike-and-Sue storyline, though.

Yes, the combination of the decline in her hours at Ye Olde Potato Place and Frankie opening her big mouth about Mike needing someone down at the quarry means that Sue ends up spending plenty of time with Mike, but we hear about far more of the goings-on at work than we actually see. The turning point comes when Sue gets so excited about the possibilities for cleaning up the office that Mike decides to trust her with the key to the quarry, and given her history, it’s perfectly reasonable for him to do that. Unfortunately, what he doesn’t factor in – and this is also perfectly reasonable – is that the potential exists for Sue to blindside him by actually acting like a normal teenager for a change.

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Okay, so maybe it’s not textbook normalcy for a teenage girl to decide that chillin’ at a quarry is the best way to spend a weekend evening, but she wants to go somewhere that she can hang out with her friends and, yeah, maybe she wants to show off a little, too. If that’s all that had happened, then all might’ve been well. Unfortunately, Brad decided that the moment needed to be immortalized on Instagram…and that’s when all hell began to break loose, and the Orson quarry suddenly became Party Central.

As Mike strolled ominously through the shadows of the quarry parking lot, slowly heading toward Sue, my daughter literally covered her head with a sofa cushion, so anxious was she about how Mike would react. The scene with Mike hollering at Sue and reminding her what the possible ramifications of her actions could’ve been, with Sue cowering and crying in response, was handled so well by Neil Flynn and Eden Sher that it still managed to deliver occasional moments of tension even with Axl smirking in the background, clearly enjoying the opportunity to just sit back and watch someone being yelled at for a change. It’s virtually impossible to not feel sympathy for Sue, particularly when she asks the pitiful rhetorical question, “Why weren’t there any people at Arby’s?”

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Still, if there’s a minor quibble with the storyline, it’s that Brad never stepped up and said, “I never should’ve posted that picture, this is all my fault.” (Not that we haven’t seen it elsewhere in popular culture in recent years, but to once again be reminded of how quickly a party can escalate as a result of social media is to be reminded how glad I am that I’m not a teenager anymore.) Still, even if Brad had leaped to Sue’s defense and tried to take the heat, it wouldn’t have changed the biggest part of what was really sticking in Mike’s craw: for the first time in a long time, possibly ever, he suddenly finds himself unsure if he can trust his daughter. Thankfully, once he’s stopped shaking with anger over what could’ve happened, he realizes that this is Sue. Yes, he needs to punish her, but that whole “she’s got to learn a lesson” thing? When your daughter is sobbing her way through an announcement that there’s no punishment that’s sufficient for her actions and slipping 20+ page apology letters under your door, it’s fair to say that she’s learned her lesson.

There are other lessons learned this episode, too. After learning that you really should cash your paycheck within 90 days, Frankie returns to Ehlert Motors for a day’s work so that ol’ man Smellhert will cut her a new check, only to learn that having a I-don’t-give-a-f*** attitude is actually quite conducive to selling cars. Does this mean that we’ll see her working back at the dealership once in awhile? If so, maybe we’ll find out what happened to Bob. Elsewhere, the Hecks finally get a new sink – plus some new countertops, too – thanks to Big Mike turning his lazy-ass grandson into a halfway-decent helper through guilt, basically, but damned if it doesn’t work. Not only was it good to see John Cullum back in the Middle fold again, but it was nice to have a storyline that rewards the power of patience. More often than not, we’ve seen Big Mike as a quiet eccentric, but this time he was more like Grandpa Walton delivering Zen wisdom (“You need to know…so you’ll know”), and I am not complaining.

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And Brick’s storyline? Well, geez, what can you say about it except that it’s completely random yet perfectly Brick? As with so many of Brick’s barely-there storylines this season, I was left wanting more, but I can’t really complain about the fact that he got his laughs and left without wearing it into the round. All I know for sure is that I’ve got a Match Game box set sitting on my shelf right now, and as soon as I finish this review, you’d better believe I’m going to be popping it on for a few minutes and enjoying a Brett Somers laugh attack or two.

Stray observations:

  • “Should we ask?” “If we don’t, it’ll just look bad when the school calls.”
  • Three things younger viewers learned from tonight’s episode: Nipsey Russell is hilarious, Adrienne Barbeau is a foxy lady, and Bret Somers enjoyed the occasional tipple. One thing older viewers laughed at: the surprising resemblance between Brick’s drumstick and the long, skinny microphone Gene Rayburn used to wander around holding.
  • At last, the truth can be told: there is no other side of Mike.
  • Nice to see the guys from the quarry for at least that one quick scene by the “coffee bar.”
  • “How badly do we need this money?” “I’m a nighttime cupcake delivery boy.” “FINE.”
  • “That’s three cents in your pocket!”
  • I didn’t write it down, so I’m not even going to pretend I can quote it precisely, so just think back and share a laugh with me at Ehlert’s comments about the charity that he wouldn’t give at work even if he did give at home, which he doesn’t.
  • Eden Sher’s delivery of the line “do not tease me” was wonderful.
  • “Oh, my God, a football player knows me by name.” “FOCUS, SUE!”
  • I’m glad we got to see Carly again tonight. We’ve had a lot of Brad, and he’s always welcome, but I’ve missed Carly.
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The Goldbergs, “The Darryl Dawkins Dance”

There’s no denying that The Goldbergs is a series with a lot of heart, but there are times when the heart is less prominent than the hilarity. This is not necessarily a bad thing – it’s a sitcom, after all – but once you’ve proven to viewers that you’re capable of delivering episodes that pack a legitimate emotional punch, viewers start judging your subsequent output on those episodes. Last week’s episode was funny, but even with a subplot about Bev saving every piece of artwork her kids have ever made, it still didn’t do much heartstring-tugging in the long run.

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This week’s episode, however, is more in the mold of “The Facts of Bleeping Life” from earlier this season, and that is a very good thing indeed. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t start out a little creepy, with Bev assuring Barry that he’s “an Adonis cut from marble sent from heaven to be scrumptious,” but, hey, you can’t have everything.

The reason “The Darryl Dawkins Dance” proves to be almost as emotionally satisfying as the aforementioned installment is that both of its predominant storylines have, in their way, been going on for quite some time now. Barry’s been swooning over Lainey since the end of last season, and the series has been teasing us with the possibility that something might someday happen between them, so the revelation that something is happening between them – albeit only in secrecy – is one that’s been earned. Better yet, the writers cut to the chase, skipping past the actual winning-her-over story and just saying, “So, yeah, that apparently happened at some point, and now they’re kissing by candlelight in the basement.” Some may bemoan the lack of specificity about how it happened, but to my way of thinking, we’re getting that development without having to deal with another half-dozen superfluous storylines where Barry woos Lainey a little bit more each time, so I have no complaints.

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Erica’s reaction to realizing that Barry and Lainey are together is funny, but what’s funnier is the back and forth between the girls, with Erica horrified by the coupling of her best friend and her brother and Lainey horrified with herself for being attracted to her best friend’s brother and yet not being able to help it. For his part, Barry is rightfully proud of himself, shrugging off Erica’s attempt to forbid him from seeing Lainey by informing her that forbidden love is awesome, right up there with jungle love and…well, let’s let the Force M.D.’s tell us about the other one, shall we?

Unfortunately, Erica can’t come to grips with this romance, so she decides to have Bev break the glass on the soulmate she’s selected for Barry: Evelyn “Evvy” Silver, played by Allie Grant, late of Suburgatory. Predictably, Bev is completely unaware that the reason she’s selected this poor girl is because she’s a Mini Bev, although she eventually realizes it later in the episode, when the Mini Bev finds her Mini Murray, but seeing Wendi McLendon-Covey and Grant side by side is downright disconcerting. Funny, yes, but still disconcerting.

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Also disconcerting: Erica’s decision to sabotage the burgeoning Barry / Lainey relationship. With that move, she’s definitely proving that she’s her mother’s daughter, with a real nasty streak and a steadfast refusal to accept things that don’t match up with the world she wants to live in. It also feels like we’re seeing a few too many episodes where Erica starts out an episode acting one way and then does a 180 by the time the closing credits roll. Granted, that’s a pretty spot-on description of how most teenage girls act, but it’d be nice if we’d see an occasional Erica-centric episode where she starts and finishes the proceedings with the same mindset.

But, look, here’s the thing: by the end of the episode, odds are you’ll have stopped grumbling about Erica and started focusing on the poignant yet funny way that Barry and Lainey end up coming out of the closet, so to speak, and go public with the fact that they’re a couple. It’s sweet, if a little sad, that Barry is willing to keep things under wraps if that’s what it takes to keep the relationship going, but by that point, Lainey’s past the point of no return and willing to let the world know that she’s dating Barry Goldberg. (I’d guess that probably lasted until right around the time he started doing the Hammer dance.)

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The other major storyline of the episode is one that’s been brewing even longer than the Barry / Lainey relationship: the relationship between Adam and Pops. Since the series began, we’ve seen that Adam views Pops as his hero, and Pops has a special bond with his youngest grandson, but this episode finds Adam contemplating his grandfather’s mortality, thanks to – of all things – The Transformers: The Movie.

Well, actually, it’s less the movie that causes the contemplation than it is Murray. Yes, the movie upsets Adam tremendously – how could they kill Optimus Prime? – but Pops tries to help him through his grieving period by agreeing to finance and star in a sequel of sorts which will provide Adam with the opportunity to bring Optimus Prime back to life. During pre-production, however, Murray makes the mistake of recognizing what Adam’s going through and tries to give him “the death talk,” which in turns causes Adam to worry about what damage Pops might incur while filming the movie, resulting in some very funny rewrites to the screenplay. In turn, Pops get pissed that his ass-kicking character has been neutered and starts trying to prove that he’s not old by doing things like signing up for a skydive. Eventually, Murray realizes that he’s caused a rift, explains to Pops what happened, and Pops goes and talks things out with Adam. In turn, they finally make the movie they’d originally planned to make, Adam is thrilled with the results, and they hug.

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There’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned sentimental ending, dammit, and you can’t convince me otherwise.

Stray observations:

  • I have to admit: I’m of the age where I totally missed the Transformers phenomenon, so although I could tell you just about every voice actor in the thing, I’ve never actually seen the movie. I have, however, now researched it a bit. Holy shit, that would’ve traumatized me as a kid. My first exposure to death in pop culture came via Lois Lane in Superman, Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and E.T., but all of those characters came back to life at some point. If I’d been a fan and seen Optimus Prime bite the big one seemingly permanently, I probably would’ve freaked, too.
  • That was a great bit with Murray not remembering “the right thing” to do after accidentally dropping Bev’s toothbrush in the toilet.
  • Also great: the back-and-forth between Adam and Murray about baseball and robots.
  • Barry only being allowed to talk to Lainey through the locker was silly, yet the fact that Lainey was still swooning because she could see Barry’s eyes through the slots made me laugh.
  • I’m not going back to get all of the specifics, but Adam had some great lines when breaking the news to Murray about how long production on his movie was going to take. I laughed out loud when he mentioned that they’d have to flood the basement.
  • Apparently, Barry’s best news ever involves being on a Wheaties box with Pete Rose.
  • “We were together? We were together!”
  • “Let me be your secret shame!”
  • Seriously, how great is that header image? George Segal is Optimus Prime! I’m not entirely convinced that there will ever be a better one, no matter how long this series ends up running.
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