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The Middle: “Hecks At A Movie”

This week offers another new reason to love The Middle: I’m not sure there’s another sitcom on the air at the moment that could plausibly pull off a plotline revolving around a teenager who’s never seen a movie in a movie theater.

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That’s our Brick.

In a season that’s been delivering significant story development for every one of its main characters—Frankie’s dental practice has a new corporate overlord, Mike has the Li’l Rivals diaper business with his brother Rusty, Axl has the real world is nipping at his heels, Sue is struggling to adapt to her first year of college, and Brick is growing up and getting pretty damned tired of being the forgotten child—it’s mildly audacious of The Middle to spend an entire episode focusing on virtually none of those things and instead devote an episode on the Heck family going to see a movie together. Fortunately, it proves to be a case of fortune favoring the bold, at least for the most part.

So what’s the movie that’s enough of a big deal for everyone to want to rush out and see it on opening weekend? Rather than select some extremely obvious blockbuster as the movie du jour, it’s a little motion picture called Flatland, which is particularly notable to the Hecks and their friends and family because it was partially filmed in Orson. Not much of it, mind you: it was apparently just some third-unit stuff to get just the right diner. Still, the mere thought of seeing someplace they actually recognize on the big screen is enough to whip up the excitement level amongst the various moviegoers. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Hecks won’t be doing everything in their power to slip their own food into the theater rather than having to pay the outrageous concession stand prices.

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No, seriously, you wouldn’t believe how much of a bargain it is to buy candy from the Frugal Hoosier instead of buying it elsewhere.

On the grown-up front, there’s a battle between Mike and Frankie over the way he grows increasingly frustrated with the way she keeps interrupting Bill Norwood as he’s trying to tell a story. Frankie gets royally pissed off by Mike’s abrupt shutdown of the situation, but both have a different perception of the way things went down, and Frankie’s is such that she’s decided that she’s not going to back down in any capacity whatsoever until she gets back home. Mike, meanwhile, doesn’t really understand what the hell’s happened, and can’t figure out why on earth Frankie’s still so pissed or why she won’t back down no matter how sweet, loving, and apologetic he tries to be. There are some great reaction shots from the Donahues, and Pat Donahue gets a rare opportunity to shine when Mike vents to him in the men’s room about the way Frankie’s been acting, but the material is really about the relationship between a long-married couple and how they manage to survive and still thrive despite the fact that they can really fucking get on each other’s nerves sometimes and not even realize they’re doing it. In short, it’s another instance of The Middle coming disconcertingly close to reality and getting it just right.

Meanwhile, when Sue sneaks off to the lobby to try and swipe some butter for the family’s popcorn, she has an unexpected encounter with Logan, the shirtless Ambercrombie and Fitch model who swept her off her feet first at the mall and then again when she visited her college. Even though the Frankie and Mike material might be more relatable overall, it’s Sue’s story that proves the easiest to get caught up in watching, because it looks so very much like she’s about to have a happily-ever-after ending, She doesn’t, though: after a brief but wonderful time on the bench outside the movie theater, including some cute back-and-forth about each other’s individual preferences about this and that (Jimmy Fallon vs. Jimmy Kimmel, ketchup or no ketchup, etc.), Logan feels like he’d be holding something back if he didn’t admit to her that he’s toying with the possibility of pursing a priesthood. I for one feel like Sue’s suffered enough and deserves to get a boyfriend who’ll actually stick with her for the long haul, but maybe the producers feel like getting a roommate and new bestie is as much good luck as Sue can handle for the moment. Either way, Eden Sher’s performance when Sue is having her conversation with God is particularly great work on her part, but her giggly happiness during Sue’s time on the bench with Logan comes across as so authentic that it damned near breaks your heart when you realize that he’s not going to be coming around with any regularity anytime soon, and possibly not at all.

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Axl’s storyline is the only one that doesn’t particularly work, mostly because it asks us to believe that he and Sean have suddenly realized after all these years that their respective first kisses weren’t actually with the girl they’d thought they’d kissed but, in fact, were with each other. It’s pretty implausible to begin with, and then they don’t end up doing much with it anyway, so let’s just chalk it up as a rare bum note for the show and close out by talking about Brick.

The idea of Brick experiencing his first-ever viewing of a movie in an actual movie theater is an unlikely concept to begin with, but then they take it in an unexpected direction by having him experience the first trailer for the upcoming adaptation of the book series that he’s been trumpeting for years now: Planet Nowhere. Unfortunately, he’s nothing short of horrified by the direction in which they’re taking the project, and he’s fully prepared to do whatever it takes to keep it from coming to fruition. With Hugh Jackman, Ray Liotta, and Dwayne Johnson, it’s clear that this is an all-star cast, but Brick isn’t having any of it, and he promptly walks out of the theater, now on a quest to stop the film’s release at any cost. The only thing he can come up with on the spur of the moment is to swipe the cardboard standup of the film from the lobby of the theater, but Mike demands that he give back the standup, which he begrudgingly begins to do as the credits begin to roll. Still, it’s an act of rebellion, and we can probably expect to see more such acts as the film’s release date continues to grow closer.

Stray observations:

  • Despite his cool, calm, and collected demeanor, apparently Mike gets a little excited about the thought of a movie being filmed, which is kind of cool.
  • Montana Steinberg is the best fake young-actor name I’ve heard in quite some time.
  • The best part of Sue’s butter-stealing sequence was probably the repeated cuts to the kid at the cash register, which revealed his total and utter disinterest in anything she was doing, even if did involve swiping butter for their brought-from-home popcorn.
  • Mike’s reaction to Frankie asking him to guess why she’s mad is perfect: “Oh, no, I don’t like this game.”
  • “Who would’ve thought that a movie about unsafe drinking water in the Midwest wouldn’t be a thrill ride?”
  • Not that Sue’s been thinking of a future with Logan. And certainly not that she’s been thinking about how they might have kids, one of which she’s already named Emmaline.
  • “Father, I cannot tell a lie. No, that’s George Washington.”
  • I know the episode didn’t really have much of an ending - everyone’s arguments and annoyances are put on hold as they bask in the happiness tied to their photos returning to the computer - but Frankie’s right in her narration: sometimes that’s just how arguments end. Apparently episodes sometimes end the same way.

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The Goldbergs: “Weird Al”

There’s no heartbreak quite as traumatic as the first heartbreak. Whether your first foray into romance is brief or long-term, the end result is still a voyage of discovery where you learn just how bad your heart can hurt. Sure, if you get right back on the horse and keep looking for love, then you’ll most likely end up experiencing far more painful breakups in your life, but at least by then you have some idea what to expect. The first time around, it’s all new, and it’s all quite devastating.

We knew it was only a matter of time before Adam and Dana were destined to go their separate ways. Hell, we got to spend way more time with them as a couple than we had reason to expect, given that she moved to Seattle at the end of last season. The show’s writers can’t be expected to keep coming up with new excuses for why she’d flown home for the weekend, especially not when we already know the way reality ultimately played out: Adam lived happily ever after, but it wasn’t with Dana.

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As with so many first loves, Adam and Dana were heading for the rocks because they were growing up and becoming different people, but the ultimate reason for the dissolution of their relationship was because Adam wasn’t becoming nearly as different a person as Dana was. More specifically, she’s maturing faster, as girls are prone to do, so when he decides to treat her by taking them on a tour of their past success as a couple, she doesn’t think it’s nearly as sweet as he does.

No, actually, that’s not quite true: it’s more that he’s thoroughly romanticized every aspect of their relationship and believes she’ll find the same glow while reliving their highlight reel as he does, whereas she feels the increasing disconnect between them. That expanding chasm hits its nadir when Adam excitedly presents her with the news that he’s taking her to see “Weird Al” Yankovic in concert , which she greets with an expression that can at best be described as befuddled and at worst slightly horrified. She goes, though, because that’s how much she cares for him. It’s probably a bad move in retrospect: his excitement about Al is so much more substantial than hers that it leads to an emotional confrontation right in front of Al himself. It goes…poorly.

After all her efforts to end the Adam / Dana coupling, Bev realizes that she’s got to do something to salvage it, as there’s one major bonus to Adam having a long-distance relationship: by not dating someone locally, she can have all the snuggles from her youngest son that she wants. Unfortunately, even Bev can’t save things between them: her attempts to construct a lovely look back at their relationship only serves to underline how different their relationship is nowadays…and not in a good way. Still, Dana wants to make sure they leave things on a note that’ll make both of them remember their time together as fondly as possible, so she stands outside Adam’s window and pulls a Say Anything… move, except that instead of “In Your Eyes” playing on her boom box, it’s Weird Al’s “King of Suede.” They say their goodbyes, your friendly neighborhood TV critic starts tearing up, and then…that’s it. Adam’s heart is broken, and he goes back inside the house, forever shattered.

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Okay, not really. But, seriously, it really hurt. You just know it did.

The conclusion of the Adam / Dana relationship coupled with the guest appearance by “Weird Al”—who, just for the record, pulled off his old ‘80s look insanely well—was always going to make the episode’s other storyline the lesser of the two. Thank God, then, that Tim Meadows was able to find time to reprise his role as Mr. Glascott, thereby guaranteeing an above-average amount of laughs for the episode every single time he’s onscreen. He’s actually not in the episode for all that long, though, so it’s left to dueling peer counselors Barry and Erica to keep the laughs coming, which they do when they decide to see which one of them can successfully counsel their dad and save him from his depression. Thing is, he’s not depressed: he’s just a dad. Still, they both manage to do a little bit of proper counseling when they realize what’s just happened to Adam, with Erica offering to take him up to the Wawa for Tastykakes. The poor kid will still be an emotional wreck for some time to come, but at least he’s on the mend…or if he’s not yet, he will be soon.

Thank goodness for family.

Stray observations:

  • Like Adam, it was also a formative moment for me the first time I saw “Weird Al” Yankovic: it was on August 27, 1985 at the Boathouse, in Norfolk, Virginia. I should also note that my wife and I have seen Al twice in concert together, and she was completely into it on both occasions. She’s pretty awesome.
  • I loved Meadows’ horror at Barry’s decision to just start calling himself a licensed and bonded medical psychiatrist with absolutely no basis for his claims, immediately worrying about the broken souls that Barry would be leaving in his wake.
  • So I’m guessing that when Meadows ended his remarks at one point by abruptly releasing the carton he’d been holdingsipping from, that was supposed to be a milk drop?
  • I myself suffer from fatigue, lethargy, irritability, persistent aches and pains, mood swings, and sudden exhaustion. In a related story, I am also a father.
  • George Segal deserves to win something for his reference to “Super Immigrant Plumbers.” My God, I laughed loudly at that.
  • I need a rage pillow. I don’t care if it’s really a thing. I need one anyway.
  • I loved the way Al played himself as an egotistical loudmouth. If you’ve ever had any sort of encounter with him, then you know he couldn’t be further from being that sort of person.
  • Lastly, I guess it’s a good thing that Adam had the foresight to break up with Dana rather than letting it get to a point where it was the other way around. If that were to have happened, you just know he would’ve been listening to this on repeat for way too long, and that’s just not good at all.

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