Every episode of The Middle, even the installments that might be deemed sub-par by some (although I'm hard pressed to come up with even one that left me so cold as to dismiss it altogether), has always provided at least some small nugget of comedy that's left me thinking, “Oh, my God, that is so totally me.” Tonight's episode, however, hit that button on repeated occasions, including one moment so astonishingly on-the-money that I actually got up from my office, walked into the living room, and said to my wife, “You, my friend, are Frankie Heck.” Given that she was watching the show at the same time—I find it's much easier to take notes when I'm alone in my office—it should have come as no surprise to me that her immediate response was to shrug and leap to Frankie's defense, saying, “But you know Mike's going to screw it up anyway.” In return, I said precisely nothing, mostly because I knew she was probably right…and, of course, as time and the episode have proven, she was.
But I digress.
Any episode that kicks off with Axl strapped into a desk chair and being pulled behind a car is destined to be a good 'un, and “The Telling” more than lives up to its destiny, providing strong, fleshed-out storylines for all three kids while also managing to give both Mike and Frankie plenty to do. Axl and Sue cross paths for their plot, with Axl being blackmailed by Sue to drive her and her friends anywhere they want to go, lest she narc on him, thereby preventing him from going away for the weekend. On a narc-related tip, Brick has become Frankie's go-to tattletale for whatever's going on behind her back, although it annoys Mike to no end, the influx of information keeps a smile on Frankie's face. Meanwhile, Frankie's smile is turned upside down when she accidentally inspires a new promotion at the car dealership that doesn't come anywhere near panning out like it's supposed to, leaving her so busy that she has to make Mike attend Brick's student-teacher conference, something he's never done before.
Anyone who's got a sibling knows the potential hazards of having a narc in your ranks, but if Brick feels like he's crossed any sort of moral line by providing Frankie with information about Axl and Sue, he seems to be successfully burying his concerns via the steady flow of candy cigarettes that his intel provides him. The most interesting aspect of the storyline, though, was the decision to have Frankie and Mike offer such defiantly opposite mindsets on the idea of tattling, with Frankie unafraid to use it as a weapon while reiterating Mike’s preference for just knowing what he knows, without any assistance from anybody else. While it’s no real surprise that the notoriously goody two-shoes Sue resisted the temptation to become a narc, it’s impressive that they allowed us to see her as being fully drunk with power while blackmailing Axl. At a certain point, it became obvious that we were going to see Axl snap and turn himself in to avoid having to deal with Sue and her cronies, but it was still funny to watch him unravel until he finally reached ground zero.
Frankie’s return to the car dealership felt like a throwback to the first season of the series, and I mean that in both a good and a “meh” way. The latter is just because I really don’t know how many storylines there are to be told about Frankie’s current place of employment—frankly, I think they ought to start Season 4 with the revelation that she’s out of work—but I must admit that the ingredients, while far from unfamiliar, proved extremely funny, particularly when Brian Doyle Murray and Chris Kattan played off each other. Okay, so it was mostly Murray ripping Kattan to shreds (“I'm sorry, did I ask for an impression of the world's loneliest cat?”) It was still funny.
Ultimately, though, the best reason for Frankie’s work scenes to exist was to serve as the impetus for Mike to have to attend Brick’s parent-teacher conference and sign up for the next year of class volunteering. This, by the way, is where things got momentarily heated between my wife and I. If you’ve ever found yourself stuck listening to your significant other on the phone for so long that, by the time the call’s over, you’ve forgotten what she asked you to do in the first place…? Well, that’s my wife and I, and that’s why I so sympathized with poor Mike having to suffer through that interminable phone call when he knew full well that he really should’ve been close to the front row of the classroom, ready to spring forth and sign the appropriate clipboard…and in ink, dammit. But, no, he ended up stuck at the back of the room, which means that he got the short end of the stick for his trouble. Seriously, Mike, you signed your name in pencil? Who does that?
If this had been the season finale of The Middle, executive producers DeAnn Heline and Eileen Heisler could've spent the summer high-fiving each other. As it is, we've still got one more episode to go, and—better still—it's one that features the return of Norm MacDonald as Mike's brother, Rusty. Yep, Season 3 sure has been sweet. Let’s just hope to God it finishes that way.
- Brick was on fire tonight with the little things, including the recurring in-progress conversations about his ongoing lack of love for Dodgeball and the “wait for it” gesture he gave Mike before offering his once-per-episode line repetition (“ecosystem”).
- Welcome to Slap Alley!
- A customer that all the salesmen call Fish Face? That is kind of awesome…
- The whole bit of Axl getting Sue to get him a sandwich, chips, and a drink was clearly taken right out of one of the writer’s personal journal. I only wish I knew which one, so I could buy them a drink. Also great about that scene: Sue oblivious as she's going in and out of the kitchen, with the tempest between Frankie and Mike and them never noticing for a moment what their kids are talking about.
- “I prefer the term 'whistleblower.' “
- Sue and Brad and Carly are just way too cute together. C’mon, let’s sing: “Red leather, yellow leather…”
- “You wanna be a flying monkey mama’s boy snitch, or do you wanna be a man?” What, do I have a choice, Mr. UNCLE person?
- When Frankie told Mike to make a beeline like it’s the last chapter out of Saigon…I always suspected Mike could relate to the concept “your own personal Vietnam,” but I think now we have proof.