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True story: When I told my six-year-old daughter that part of tonight’s episode of The Middle was going to revolve around Sue’s desire to attend a Justin Bieber concert, she replied, “Who’s Justin Bieber?”


There was a time when this comment would’ve made me one of the proudest papas on the planet, but ever since our sister site posted an article last year with the headline “Cool Dad Raising Daughter On Media That Will Put Her Entirely Out Of Touch With Her Generation,” I’ve actually starting feeling a little guilty about the fact that I’ve been bringing up this kid with absolutely no frame of reference to any music that anyone her age might possibly care about. The older she gets, however, I have no doubt that I’ll find myself experiencing the same musical generation gap that Frankie did tonight with Sue… along with, unfortunately, the chasm between the lives of a parent and a child that inevitably occurs as the child begins to progress into adulthood.

Which reminds me: Have I mentioned yet that I actually got a little bit misty toward the end of tonight’s episode? Because I did. But we’ll get back to that in a minute. First, let’s go ahead and knock out tonight’s B and C stories, shall we? And don’t for a second pretend that you don’t know which was which.

As slight and silly as Axl’s attempts to break the 15 mph speed limit on foot may have been, there’s no denying that it was mildly amusing as well as something you could actually imagine him and his dim-bulb buddies (or, really, any bored teenager) attempting to do. The only question I’ve got—and I have to presume that someone confirmed this first, but I’m too tired to do the research to be sure—is if, in fact, those speed limit signs really do clock the speeds of any pedestrians that run past them. Personally, I’m a little skeptical, but, y’know, if I wasn’t bothered enough to Google the accuracy of it, it clearly didn’t bother me that much.


Next up, Brick’s unexpected decision to get back in the Spelling Bee game, and for all the right reasons: He wants the trophy, the satisfaction of defeating his enemies, and the kids at school to think he’s cool. Unfortunately, despite Mike’s hardcore training method, which includes the regular utterances of distracting things like, “Your mom and I are getting a divorce,”  Brick’s confidence falls at the first hurdle, when he manages to misspell a word that even Axl knows how to spell: "reindeer." That’s damned near pitiful in and of itself, but it’s insult to injury when he’s so convinced that he’s spelled it right that he does his “touchdown dance.” Ouch. (Am I the only one who had flashbacks to Charlie Brown misspelling “beagle”?)

Understandably, Brick sinks into a depression, refusing to return to school for several days in an effort to avoid ever encountering anyone who may have seen him flame out so spectacularly. This results in several great shots of Sad, Bitter Brick, as well as arguably the greatest visual gag of the season: a Lego reindeer. Neither Brick nor Mike acknowledge its existence, but it perfectly underlines just how obsessed he is about his failure to spell the word properly. Seriously, hats off to whoever came up with that bit.

Eventually, Mike convinces him that no one will say anything about his foul-up if his dad’s there, and it’s true, if not necessarily in the same manner that Mike had intended. In the end, though, when your dad tries to say the Pledge of Allegiance and ends up unintentionally offering a mash-up of everything from “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” to the Lord’s Prayer, it can’t help but serve as a distraction… even if it wasn’t necessarily intended as such. It’s also a nice parallel with a moment in the Sue / Frankie storyline, although in their case, Frankie intentionally serves as a distraction for Sue. But we'll get back to…


Oh, wait, we're here. My bad.

Sue's excitement about wanting to see Justin Bieber was a nice encapsulation of a teenage girl's love of the latest pop star, and having Frankie flash back to her own obsession with Shaun Cassidy was pretty funny. (I have to wonder if he was always their go-to pick for Frankie's obsession and, if not, who else was in the running. Leif Garrett, maybe? Or Rick Springfield, perhaps?) In fact, there were a lot of great moments here, including Sue's attempts to broker a deal for her tickets, Frankie's comment about having a back-up credit card, and the struggle with the CAPTCHA on the ticket site, which was way too specific to not have been drawn straight from someone's real experience.

After the sell-out, the bond between mother and daughter only seemed to intensify, with Sue convincing Frankie to wait in line all night for tickets even after she claimed, "I'm too old to sit out on the concrete all night. I barely made it up off the couch after that two-hour episode of The Bachelor." We got to see Frankie use her shrillness to her advantage for a change, just as Sue used her unfortunate ability to blend into the background in the same fashion. But then we got to the end of the story, and, damn, was that sad.


Stories on The Middle have a really nice tendency to go in directions you don't necessarily expect while still teetering so close to things in our actual lives at times that it’s downright scary, but I don't know that it's ever slapped us in the face with reality quite as hard as it did tonight. You can't be mad at Sue, though. She just viewed the situation in terms of her mom wanting to do whatever she could to help her. It simply never occurred to her that Frankie would actually have an interest in going to the show. Similarly, Frankie got so caught up her in own plans for the concert that she never actually got around to discussing them with Sue. Yep, this is a classic like-mother, like-daughter situation playing out here. But that didn't make it any less heart-wrenching when Frankie had to suck it up, hold in her tears, and let Sue go. How could she do anything else?

In the end, Frankie still ended up smiling, thanks to the unexpected arrival of Axl (I really thought for sure it was Sue coming through the front door) to save the evening, providing another conclusion that could've been schmaltzy but ended up playing out perfectly.

Stray observations:

  • “Divide and conquer doesn’t work if the parents are in the same room.”
  • Nice callback to Chord Overstreet’s character, with Brick shrugging and saying that Mr. Wilkerson is “still at ‘Occupy Indy.’” I like to think that my daughter’s complaint about his mysterious replacement a few weeks back (“That’s not Brick’s teacher! Brick’s teacher is a boy!”) had something to do with this clarification about his absence. But probably not.
  • Atticus Shaffer continues to score big points with small moments, and he had two great ones tonight: the apparent physical pain he experienced when he (temporarily) didn’t whisper “kemosabe,” and the feral growl he uttered when Axl told him that even he could spell“reindeer.”
  • “Air Supply is coming to the Indian Casino!”
  • Originally I was going to bitch about Frankie adding an extra “Ron” when she mentioned “Da Doo Ron Ron” (it’s there in the lyric, but not in the title), but then I decided that it is, in its way, a further reminder of how much she’s forgotten about her own teen years, thereby adding more credence to the idea that she was completely blindsided by the fact that Sue was planning to take Carly to the concert. Or maybe I’m just an apologist. Whatever.
  • "Home schooling? We've taught you everything we know!"
  • "I'm pretty sure he pronounces it Sha-quill."
  • "Careful, don't get greedy, don't wanna blow it. He's like a butterfly. Don't wanna scare him off. Be cool. Just be cool."