After watching this week's episode of The Middle, I'm not sure which is worse: going a month-and-a-half without a new episode of the show, or getting a new episode in the midst of the drought that feels like it was rushed to completion.
For as much as we've learned about the Heck family over the past two-plus seasons, their religious convictions tend to be left relatively undiscussed (aside, of course, from the occasional appearance from the always entertaining Reverend Tim Tom), so the prospect of seeing them contemplating their faith for a change seemed promising. I don't mind admitting that I try to go to church every week, but I've always found it to be somewhat paradoxical: I draw strength from my beliefs and the weekly ritual of worship, and I enjoy chatting and hanging out with my fellow parishioners, but at the same time, I find religion to be something profoundly personal, which means that I don't want to discuss it with anyone, including those same parishioners. When tonight's episode kicked off with such details as Mike being an usher, Sue working in the nursery, and Brick attending Sunday school, I found myself hoping that the storyline might dare to get somewhat deep and really delve into what going to church is like for the Hecks. And so it did, at least at the beginning. It's just a shame that it didn't stay on course throughout the proceedings.
Anyone who goes to church on even a semi-regular basis can surely appreciate the sensation of feeling as though they're being held hostage, which is how the Hecks were beginning to feel at their usual house of worship. Granted, most of the family has found their niche within the church to keep somewhat busy during the service, but not Frankie, who's so bored during the weekly sermon that she's developing pew marks on top of her existing wrinkles. Even worse, the sermon goes on so long that Mike's late getting home to watch football, an occurrence that so frustrates his buddy Dave that he suggests they try his church, where the reverend gets them in and out in 45 minutes and actually manages to deliver inspirational material on a weekly basis.
Having the uber-white Hecks attend a full-on gospel church was a situation that could have gone over the top, but the show handled it in just the right manner, first by having Dave make a joke about the situation (“You know you have to sit in the back, right? Kidding!”), then by not having them leap to their feet and shout, “Hallelujah!” Mike looked typically disconcerted by being put in the front row, Frankie was ultimately enthralled by the reverend's message but didn't begin to act on it until she got home, and although the kids wanted desperately to join in, their parents shot down their attempts at every turn, so it wasn't until they got back to the house that they were really able to express their feelings about the service, like Sue's observation, “It's like J.C. meets Jay-Z!”
So what did they get out of the service? Due to the unfortunate passing of Brother Sims, the lesson of the day ended up being four simple words: “Get your business done.” Sue takes this to heart immediately and starts her own babysitting service—or, rather, a baby “sue”-ting service, which is such an awful pun that even I couldn't help but groan—while Frankie struggles to figure out exactly what business she needs to get done. Meanwhile, Brick questions whether the reverend said “business” or “bedness,” deciding that the time has come to really press his parents for a bigger bed.
Although it's easily the most awkward plot segue in recent memory—seriously, “bedness”?—and incredibly silly, it must be said that the Brick/Axl storyline was the best realized and, ultimately, funniest storyline of the episode, from Axl's obsessively competitive nature to the premise that Brick's mathematical knowledge makes him a master of air hockey to the fact that it's depressingly easy to accept that neither Frankie nor Mike would have noticed that one of their sons is now sleeping in a cardboard box.
I was so disappointed with poor Sue's storyline that I almost don't even want to discuss it. The idea that she'd start a babysitting business was a strong one, but the whole concept of her having to secretly babysit this 14-year-old boy felt flat from the start, and although it felt inevitable that Tyler would hit on her at some point, what kind of ending was that? She calls her dad, he steps in and does everything he's been told not to do, and then freaks out off-screen. The end. What?
Okay, now it's time to talk about Frankie. Although her obsession with trying to figure out her “business” was funny, the funnier and far more subtle comedy came from Mike's reaction to her, starting with his initial “oh, this isn't going to go well for us” expression when he realized that she'd been swayed by the reverend's words, then to his quick smackdown when he called his dad and got his “business” done in about 15 seconds. If you are or have ever been in a long term relationship, you've almost certainly been in a situation where you recognize the actions of your significant other, and you know they're doomed to failure, but you know that the best thing to do is just sit back and let them remember their own shortcomings in their own time. As Frankie got increasingly more frantic, Mike was basically thinking to himself things like, “Beading? Sure, okay. A supershelter? Whatever you say, Frankie. You get right to work on those kits for the soldiers overseas. I'll just be right over here to help you recover when you flame out.” Hearing Frankie's internal monologue in the middle of the night was no doubt frighteningly realistic to way too many people who can't shut their brain down even when they desperately know they should. It seemed like they were on target to have Frankie end up in the hospital, possibly getting a visit from her old faithful reverend there. What a strange ending, though, to be trapped by the drugstore blood pressure checker cuff and have him just conveniently pop in. Still, no stranger than the rest of the episode, I suppose.
The next time we'll see a new episode of The Middle, which won't be until the first week of May, Whoopi Goldberg will be guest-starring. Given that they've already provided us with a screener, it's fair to say that the network is viewing it as a must-see episode. It's a shame they didn't give us one this week.
- “You know Mom and Dad: They never do anything for us.” Axl's line, but it could have—and has been—delivered by every teenager ever.
- Best Atticus Shaffer delivery of the night: “I'm not a leper!”
- I hate that Sue's still stuck wearing her headgear, but I'm glad they seem to have worked it out so that she only has to wear it for 10 hours a night.
- The line about Brick licking Axl's guitar pick was so completely random. But I still laughed.
- I hope we see that pharmacy employee again. His throwaway comment about how he's “not allowed to touch the customers anymore” begs for a flashback.
- Another flashback possibly worth seeing: when Frankie tried to get a job as a gymnastics teacher.