The Middle: “The Man Hunt”

It’s always fun when The Middle delivers an episode with a title that successfully covers all three of its plotlines, but it was likely particularly surprising for sexists, who doubtlessly spotted the phrase “The Man Hunt” and rationalized, “Ah, it’s a reference to Sue being on the lookout for a new beau!” While this presumption would indeed have been an accurate one, it would’ve only gotten you 1/3 credit, which constitutes a pretty epic fail. The episode, however, proved to be a pleasant success, although the biggest win by far belonged to Brick and Mike. As such, I’m saving their story for last and kicking things off by discussing Axl’s new pad.

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Except it’s not a pad: it’s a mobile crack den…or at least it would be if it wasn’t for the fact that, as Mike suggests, “crackheads would rather live in prison than this thing.” That Axl would even remotely think that living in an RV would be a viable option is a testament to the fact that he hasn’t grown up nearly as much as we might’ve believed. (Ultimately, I’m more disappointed with Hutch’s decision to go along with the idea. I thought he was smarter than that.) There are certainly some laughs to be had with the quest for free Wi-Fi and the gag about having to look out the window to figure out where to tell food places to deliver, but it’s so obvious that this can’t possibly be a long-term solution that you have to just enjoy the jokes and hope that it won’t last long.

That said, Axl and Hutch ended up going on their “man hunt” to find Kenny, who turned up in the RV after Hutch filled him in on their new living situation and put the guys in a position where neither of them wanted to be the one to tell him that he had to go. Given how it’s pointedly mentioned just how much space Kenny takes up in this small new domicile, you’d think that Axl and Hutch would’ve realized a heck of a lot sooner that Kenny had disappeared, but so it goes: what matters is that once they did realize, they felt guilty and immediately set off looking for him.

Apparently, that epic quest really only involved checking their old house and all of the nearby Best Buys, but just as all hope seems lost, it occurs to them that they can track him via his incessant game playing, so they rush to the Heck house to use the Wi-Fi. To their surprise, they find Kenny, who’s actually been living there. (The chronology is a little confusing, but apparently we now have an explanation as to how the family’s photos suddenly reappeared on the computer.) Better yet, we get a few more words from Kenny as well as what hopefully will prove to be a set-up for a future episode where we learn more about Kenny’s family situation.

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Sue’s story feels a little bit of the been-there, done-that variety, given that we’ve already seen ample evidence of how awkward she tends to be when she’s looking for a new fella, but in the grand scheme of things, it seems ridiculous to be complaining about a chance to see Eden Sher take the spotlight. Although it’s clear that Sue and Lexie really are turning into besties, it’s also clear that Lexie, sweetheart though she may be, is just nowhere near the same social circles as Sue. (She dated a dude with his own island, for God’s sake!) As such, although she may legitimately want to help Sue find a new love, she’s such a magnet for popular people that Sue can’t keep up. Worse, as noted, Sue isn’t working with much when it comes to the flirting department—unless you consider needing the Heimlich maneuver to be a legitimate flirtation technique—and it’s making her feel even more awkward than she already does to begin with.

Sadly, she makes the mistake of letting Frankie try to steer her in a better direction, which proves to be a miserable failure for both mother and daughter, but it gives Patricia Heaton a great showcase scene, with Frankie describing Sue’s walk as a cross between a five-year-old and Tigger, only to demonstrate some very, uh, interesting moves as an alternative. Sue completely fails to reproduce the moves in question, to the point where she eventually shouts out, “Oh, my God, I forgot how to walk!” And as far as Frankie’s “looks” go, well, suffice it to say that they’re awkward when she does them and positively cringeworthy when Sue tries them on for size at the next party she attends with Lexie. This isn’t to suggest that they’re not funny, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Sue didn’t have to keep failing miserably.

It’s probably best not to get our hopes up, but Sue’s last scene seems promising for the future: she shares an unexpectedly enjoyable SafeRide home from the party with Tyler, who chauffeurs her around campus as he’s delivering far more intoxicated young ladies back to their respective dorms. It’s a reminder—not just to Sue, but likely to just about everyone watching—how unexpectedly easy flirting can be when you find someone who brings out the person you really are rather than the person you’re trying to be. By the time she’s dropped off at home, Sue’s rebounded so much from her performance at the party that she’s unafraid to talk to the front door of her dorm like a cross between a five-year-old and Tigger. Is that a smile on Tyler’s face? If so, here’s hoping he doesn’t have any plans for pursuing priesthood.

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Okay, now we can talk about Brick and Mike, and how the experience of attending a bar mitzvah leads Brick to worry about what he needs to do to go from a boy to a man. Neither Mike nor Frankie have any immediate answers for him, but Brick really starts dwelling on it, to the point where he waits outside the bathroom for 20 minutes to further quiz Mike on what he can do to become a man. Mike’s answers are mostly unhelpful, since “you’ll know” doesn’t tell Brick anything, and Mike’s own personal ascendance into manhood involved his mother dying, which leads Brick to reply, “Is there another way? Because I’d really rather not have to kill off Mom.” Grasping at straws in what’s probably just an attempt to get his son to go away, Mike suggests that some dads define manhood as the time when a son can take out the trash by themselves. I’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt that you saw just how badly that plan failed when Sue was getting his lessons on looks and walks from Frankie (if you didn’t, then you really need to go back and watch the background of that scene again), but you certainly saw it when Mike pulled the duct-tape-covered bag out of the trashcan.

The next attempt comes when Brick heads to the quarry with Mike to quiz the guys on their own boyhood-to-manhood stories, but aside from getting to see the guys and remember how funny that trio tends to be, the trip proves to be a complete and total disaster: Mike ends up letting himself be pressured into letting Brick sit in the cab with him while he moves rocks, and when he tells Brick that he can even handle the lever, Brick gets so excited that he drops the entire load in front of the trailer door, trapping the guys inside. Mike has one of his temper flare-ups and angrily tells Brick exactly what he’s been been worried was true: he’s nowhere near being a man.

In typical Mike fashion, though, he immediately feels bad about it, and it isn’t long before he’s decided to make amends with Brick by picking him up at school. It’s clearly a surprise—and one that’s apparently not going to sit well with Cindy—but it proves to be a wise decision: Mike apologizes for blowing up at Brick, and Brick apologizes for touching the lever before Mike told him to. It’s true: taking responsibility for your own actions is a sign that you’re on your way to being a man, which no doubt helps Mike realize that he’s made the right move in buying Brick his first plaid shirt of manhood. It’s a gesture that might seem small if you haven’t paid attention to Mike’s wardrobe, but it’s clear from Brick‘s reaction that it’s the best gift Mike could’ve given him. And with that, it’s time to Hava Nagila on out of here.

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Stray observations:

  • To explain the lateness of this week’s reviews is to reveal just how much my life tends to be like an episode of The Middle. Suffice it to say that the biggest reason for the tardiness is that we had tornado warnings in effect in my neck of the woods (the Hampton Roads area of Virginia) until 8:45 p.m. ET, which led to The Middle and most of The Goldbergs, being pre-empted for weather coverage, and since I couldn’t find anyone to serve as my understudy for the reviews, I had to wait until the episodes turned up on Hulu the next morning to even start writing them. This, however, caused a conflict with another piece that I’d intended to write this morning, resulting in a traffic jam which was only made worse by the fact that I had to do two interviews today. So there you go: my life is a comedy. By which I mean it’s a lot funnier to people who aren’t actually living it.
  • I admit it: I’m bummed that there wasn’t an overt Breaking Bad joke. What a waste of a perfectly good RV.
  • Man, I wish I could track how much of an upswing in usage people who call their internet connection “Grandma’s WiFi” and have a password of “password” are going to get in the wake of this episode.
  • “So, you ever had a concussion?”
  • “I can’t do the garbage, Mom’s healthier than ever… I’m never going to be a man!”
  • “Anchor up!”
  • “Who’s the man now, Josh Goldstein?”
  • “Okay, as soon as we find Kenny, we are all filling out emergency contact cards.”

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The Goldbergs: “Edward ‘Eddie the Eagle’ Edwards”

There’s really no point in starting in any way other than by acknowledging the elephant-sized Eagle in the room.

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As Dennis Perkins penned in his What’s On Tonight synopsis of this week‘s episode, “Barry finds inspiration in the Olympic efforts of British ski-jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, leading reviewer Will Harris to wonder if corporate synergy has no shame whatsoever.“ Even taking into consideration the closing archival video, which confirms that the Home Games were an actual thing in the real Adam F. Goldberg’s home, surely we can all agree that the odds of the show’s writers spontaneously deciding to do an episode centered around the subject of a new high-profile bio-pic are rather astronomical, so let’s just thank our lucky stars that this won’t go down as The Goldbergs equivalent of “Game Changer.” After all, Modern Family might be stuck with an iPad-shaped albatross around their neck forever, but it’ll only be a few months tops before people’s short-term pop culture memory will convince them that the movie was a coincidence and that Edward “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards really did have a big fan in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania in 1980-something. And as to whether that’s actually true or not, hey, does it really matter as long as the episode’s funny?

And make no mistake: with half of the episode’s proceedings revolving around Barry’s competitive tendencies and his status as a self-proclaimed world champion (in the Goldberg house) sportsman, the episode is definitely funny.

We’ve seen plenty of occasions where Barry has deluded himself into believing that he’s way better at a number of sports than he actually is, and we’ve also gotten more than a few clues that Adam has been responsible for a big chunk of that delusional behavior, probably at least partially because he knows virtually nothing about sports. It should also be noted that I, too, know virtually nothing about sports, but I do have a pretty decent instinct when it comes to spotting heretofore-unseen sitcom characters who seem like they’re supposed to be someone of note, which is why I decided it was in my best interest to Google the name “Rubén Amaro, Jr.” Good thing I did, since I learned—as many of you probably already knew—that Amaro played for the Angels and the Indians, played for and subsequently served as general manager for the Phillies, and is currently a coach for the Red Sox.

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And, yes, before that, he really did go to the same school as Adam F. Goldberg.

Mind you, I don’t necessarily know that Amaro was actually the nemesis of the real Barry Goldberg, but that’s the role he plays here, taking home the school’s award for athletic achievement that Barry (inappropriately) believes is rightfully his, what with all of his flash and pizzazz, not to mention his inherent gift for ‘rang-chucking. Miserable at the world’s failure to see him for the athletic beast that he (inappropriately) believes himself to be, his enthusiasm is at its lowest ebb.

Enter Eddie the Eagle.

Instantly enthralled by Eddie’s underdog story, Barry decides that the solution to his situation is simply to follow in the Eagle’s footsteps, rationalizing that all he really needs to do at this point is figure out which sport he should dominate in order to become a national hero…and, gosh, it seems so simple when you put it that way, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, curling proves to be a no-go, ribbon dancing has too many inherent choking hazards, and as for dressage, that one just never got out of the starting gate, as is only appropriate for a horse-related event. On the other hand, it does feel like we’re yet another step closer to finding out the full story about Barry’s mysterious but hilarious problem with horses. (“They know what they did.”) In the end, it becomes clear that there’s really only one possible event that will provide Barry with the opportunity to dominate: Ball Ball. Sure, there’s the minor detail that it’s not actually an Olympic event, but this is but a minor complication in the eyes of Barry, who immediately sets forth on a mission to create a full-fledged Ball-Ball team.

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The mission simultaneously proves to be both a success and a failure: Barry creates the team, only to have Amaro take the reins of command and demand the removal of Adam, long recognized as the co-creator of Ball Ball, from the premises. Worse, the masses are quickly caught up in the charisma of their new commander-in-chief and begin referring to the game as Rubén Ball. Suddenly, Barry finds himself experiencing another dearth of enthusiasm, this time becoming so disheartened that he promptly empties the Goldberg house of every single piece of athletic equipment he’s collected over the years. It makes for a great visual gag, but Adam won’t allow his brother to wallow in failure, instead propping Barry’s confidence up yet again, this time by creating the aforementioned Home Games, defined by Adam as “17 homemade games combining athletic skill, bravery, stupidity, and karate.” Is it any wonder Vangelis’s “Chariots of Fire” was playing in the background. The greatest shame about the episode is that we didn’t get to see nearly enough of these Games in action, but now that the tradition has been established, it seems like a given that we’ll be revisiting the competition on an annual basis…and when we do—and I’m just hazarding a guess here—I’m betting it’ll be with 100% fewer Eddie the Eagle references.

The other plotline of the episode is one that’s actually rather dramatic at its heart, with Murray struggling financially with the furniture store and Bev only discovering what he’s going through when she stumbles upon Vic working at his newly-acquired second job because Murray’s had to cut his hours. This causes Bev’s inherent desire to try and fix everything to kick in, but he refuses to ask for assistance and only grows frustrated when she wants step in and help him with the situation. This, in turn, begins to frustrate Bev, especially when it becomes increasingly obvious that she’s seen the salvation of the store in the fabulosity of the futon yet Murray obstinately refuses to accept it as such, preferring instead to play up the hopelessly un-trendy waterbed.

In the end, the tension at home gets so bad that Murray opts to stay the night at the store, where he accidentally falls victim to the siren song of the futon and, even more accidentally, helps sell several of the things by virtue of sleeping so soundly on it that people are inspired to buy one for themselves. He also learns that it’s possible to rise above his own upbringing and accept help from others—like, say, Bev and Pops—and it’s a happy ending for all. There’s nothing wrong with a happy ending, but to introduce a problem as substantial as the one Murray’s dealing with at the store and have it all wrapped up in a neat bow within the course of a single episodes seems far too rushed. Not that anyone wants to see the Goldbergs spiraling into destitution for an entire season, but to knock out a story about a family with three kids fighting a battle against the economy and coming out victorious in a single episode…well, let’s just say that this is one instance where having The Middle as their lead-in casts an unfortunate shadow on The Goldbergs.

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Stray observations:

  • Lainey didn’t really have a whole lot to do this episode except offer moral support to the best of her ability, which failed to impress Barry very much. (“You’ll always be my champion.” “That’s just worthless. But thank you.”) She did, however, get off at least one awesome line: “Whiffle: the only sport where the equipment is sold in the pharmacy.”
  • The highlight of Murray’s desperate attempts to save money had to have been his decision to save the BooBerry-ized milk.
  • None of us will ever be able to unsee Barry’s head affixed on that Wheaties box. It will haunt our retinas forever.
  • Futon: it’s the origami of furniture!
  • The back and forth between Adam and Barry about the sarcastic clap was one of those Goldbergs moments that you can’t really explain to people who aren’t watching regularly, so just bask in the fact that we all know how awesome it was.
  • Also great: the unexpected revelation that Barry actually can throw a boomerang pretty well, even when he’s trying not to. (“Damn you! Let me live my life!”)
  • “Hey, Erica, check it out! I’m tough and sexy!” Oh, Geoff. Never change.

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