Much of the comedy involving parents depends on the juxtaposition of their pre-parenting life with their current lives as parents. Some of it has to do with age: You can't stay up as late, drink as much, or generally look as cool as you did in your 20s. Some of it is specific to having kids: The little fuckers are a HUGE timesink. Regardless, because it's funny, you see family-based sitcoms regularly resort to parents trying to relive their youth, or act it out again, either consciously or non-consciously.
Part of the reason for its popularity as a joke is that it's pretty reliably funny. Surprise! Older people acting like younger people! However, if the surprise isn't there, it's a little harder for the joke to work. Which is exactly what happened tonight on The Middle.
Last week, one of the show's storylines involved Frankie making like a single and “dating” her son Axl in order to regain her maternal connection to him. This week, she sets Brick up on a “playdate” and then gets anxious when the kid (and his mom) don't return the apparent affection, right down to referring to the Three-Day callback rule. In both cases, the comedy is supposed to derive from Frankie acting like a single just starting a new relationship. And what was fairly funny last week just falls flat this week because it's pretty much the same kind of joke. It's also probably not as funny generally, especially as the main storyline, where last week's was part of a more diverse set of plots.
It's a pity, because the premise of the story is a good one. Brick is part of an after-school group for developing his social skills, but he's not doing as well as the other kids. The teacher encourages him to have more family interaction, but somehow, this turns into Frankie trying to set him up on playdates.
Meanwhile, Sue's off on her own conventional sitcom plot, with somewhat better luck. She wants to go see an R-rated movie. Dad won't let her, so she tries to sneak in with her friend Carly. This involved dressing like a grown-up, drinking coffee like a grown-up, and talking about work like a grown-up. “I've got a big memo due at the end of the month,” says Carly. It's a decent little scene, even if it does end with the cliché of the apathetic ticket-seller just waving them through. And later, when Sue gets found out, the parents have no idea how to punish her, but she's more than willing to punish herself. It's cute but lacking in laughs.
Axl has a somewhat less conventional plot. He and his band want a hot woman (not girl, that's amateur) to be in their video that they'll upload to YouTube in order to get famous. Their total obliviousness could lead to comedy, but that's not where it goes. They go to their hot biology teacher in order to ask her to join in, but when they refer to the idea, she talks about how they exploit women. So they decide to film her without her knowledge, an idea that could lead to lessons learned, or awkward comedy, or both, but no. Instead it turns into a “yo' mama” joke.
I have no real problems with conventional plotting if it leads to comedy. There are, after all, only so many humorous and effective family stories to tell. But something was missing from this episode, especially after last week's personality-filled episode. Since we're officially covering The Middle week-to-week now, hopefully this is merely an aberration, and we can get onto discussing exciting things like gender and class in the future!
The Funny Bits:
- “Let's just take a step back here: Is childhood that great?”
- Frankie decides skipping is therapeutic, which the episode holds onto for a consistently charming sight gag.
- “What's the one thing we didn't film her doing?” “Showering…”
- “I don't think we've ever punished Sue!”