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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Middle: “Heck’s Best Thing”

Illustration for article titled iThe Middle/i: “Heck’s Best Thing”
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A few weeks ago, we were teased with the idea that Axl might well be in consideration for a football scholarship to East Indiana State, something which would ultimately please his parents far more than it would Axl himself. This is why, when recruiter Jack Tracy turned up in the locker room and set up an in-home interview with his prospective player, Frankie and Mike freaked the hell out, fearing–quite realistically, I think we can all concede–that Axl was far more likely to fuck up his chance at a free ride than he was to impress the interviewer.

This was not the case at all, of course: Axl completely and utterly nailed the interview… and, by doing so, really, really pissed off his parents.


Why? Uh, duh: because in proving his capabilities, Axl confirmed what they’ve always suspected, which is that there exists a better, smarter, and more clever version of Axl that is rarely seen within the confines of the Heck house, one that he simply can’t be bothered to produce when he’s at home. Worse, it subsequently leads Frankie to realize that none of them are going out of their way to give it their best when they’re at home, and I say “worse” because it inspires her to give it her best, only for her performance to meet with general indifference, thereby making her pissed off at Mike, the poor bastard. (Oh, what must it be like to have a wife who does and says things that she understands but that only leave you befuddled.)

At this point, it becomes obvious that the story has completely veered away from Axl and is now strictly onto Frankie and Mike, which isn't such a bad thing in and of itself, I guess, but I was actually quite enjoying the side of Axl that we were seeing. Still, we did get another nice and incredibly accurate look into marriage with their discussion, specifically Mike's middle-ground offer, which reveals that between a hand down one's pants and ballroom dancing lies bowling. (I didn't do the math, but that sounds right to me.) It also seemed suspiciously realistic when, upon reaching the designated night for bowling, Frankie decided that she was just fine hanging out and watching TV with Mike and the kids. Seriously, this show is spot-on with its domestic portraits.

Now, however, let us speak of the cell phone storyline. I'm not saying that I didn't laugh a fair amount here and there as Sue and Brick struggled to keep secret their accidental theft of Aunt Edie's cell phone and subsequent sending of 700+ text messages, but it was definitely more slapstick than it was insightful. It was nice to see Eden Sher and Atticus Shaffer teamed up together, though. Switching up the sibling pairings on a regular basis definitely serves the show well (on a related note, I neglected to mention last week how fun it was to see Axl and Brick bonding over Sue's misfortune in her die costume), but I'd just rather it had been a storyline that mattered a bit more in the grand scheme of things.

All told, it was an enjoyable episode, but it definitely didn't have the depth we've seen throughout a lot of the season. Indeed, it felt more like a sibling to "Major Changes" than anything else: funny, but certainly not a season three highlight.


Stray observations:

  • “So help me, Axl, if you’re lying about this, I will punch you in the throat.”
  • “Just when you think you’re not going to get any money back on these kids…”
  • Not that I’m not always glad to see Jeanette Miller pop by the show as Aunt Edie, but I admit to being very sad that the absence of Aunt Ginny was written off by saying that she was “in the potty.” I have no doubt that the death of actress Frances Bay will result in a formal farewell to her character at some point, but I hope it’s done sooner, rather than later. I mean, Aunt Ginny can’t stay in the potty forever, you know?
  • “It’s not things that make us happy. It’s cigarettes and booze.”
  • Even as disconcerted as I was by Bay’s absence, I still laughed out loud at the small but brilliant visual gag of the plume of dust rising out of the bag when Brick dropped in the candy.
  • “In case you haven’t noticed the sharp drop in caviar deliveries, money’s tight.”
  • The adjective “Colin-Firth-y” really needs to come into vogue sooner than later.
  • "Did Brick just take a jar of mayonnaise?"
  • Hey, look, it’s Chris Kattan! Oh, whoops, he’s gone again…
  • “Brick! What would Jesus lighter say?”
  • Two fart jokes in one episode? C’mon, Middle, I’ll give you that first one, which was delivered beautifully by Charlie McDermott, but did we really need to end on one, too? If you hadn’t given us the awesome acronym “S.B.F,” I wouldn’t give you a pass, but since you did…

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