Ah, weddings: they sure do bring families together, don’t they? Mind you, when you discover that your brother’s made plans to have his nuptials take place in your backyard and you’ve only got a week’s lead time to pull everything together and make it happen, you’re also looking at something that can tear a family apart. But, hey, it just sounds like a typical couple of days at Casa de Heck to me.
If it seems on the surface like The Middle went the conventional route by offering up a wedding in its season finale as a ratings booster, don’t you believe it. I mean, God bless Norm MacDonald for finding the time in his schedule to reprise the role of Rusty Heck a second time this season, but it’s not like his appearance on the show qualifies as the sort of “very special guest star” situation that sends a show skyrocketing to the top of the Nielsens. No, given the number of recurring characters who turned up, this was an episode that felt like a bit of a love letter to longtime fans of the show, and even if the end result might have hung together a bit haphazardly at times, it was still a very pleasant way to wrap up the series’ third season.
Let’s start with the least wedding-centric storylines of the episode, shall we? That’d be Axl and his buddies deciding to bypass Frankie’s demands that they get jobs and instead start their own company, Boss Co. Instead of demonstrating their general incompetence in the field far and wide, they spend their time focusing on their very first customer and his offer to pay them $100 if they’ll remove a stump from his yard. You know, I almost referred to them as “Axl and his stooges” a moment ago, and the more I consider it, the more I think that’s pretty accurate, because some of the physical and slapstick gags that the guys endure while trying to remove the stump would put Moe, Larry, and Curly to shame. I spent a fair while wondering how long it was going to take one of them to get the idea to tie a rope to the bumper of Axl’s car and try to use it to remove the stump, so it was nice for that to ultimately pay off as the storyline’s only connection to the wedding.
Next up is Brick, getting so excited at the prospect of his classmate Haley’s birthday party having a bookmobile that, when Frankie and Mike told him that his attendance at the wedding was de rigueur, his desire to stop speaking to them led him on a quest to find the perfect “last word.” It’s a silly idea, but I was won over when he selected “pusillanimous” as a major contender for the title. I’ve now heard that word used precisely twice in my time, and given that the first occasion was within the lyrics to the Rutles’ “Another Day,” I’d say that Brick is in good company. (Now let’s get that Neil Innes guest spot lined up for season four, shall we?)
Sue’s storyline isn’t a heck of a lot more substantial, given that she spends the majority of the episode on a slightly desperate quest for a cake, but Eden Sher’s scream/squeal of excitement makes me laugh every time she busts it out. Plus, they also added Brad into the mix, a character they’ve figured out how to use sparingly, thankfully, thereby avoiding oversaturation while always pulling laughs whenever he turns up.
Well, that leaves Frankie and Mike. Given all the chatter about how shrill and bitchy Frankie can be, and since this is the sort of question that could keep the comments going through the summer, I’ll go ahead and ask: Does everyone but me have a picture-perfect marriage with a spouse whose every word emerges in dulcet tones? Because I’ve got to tell you, the way Patricia Heaton plays Frankie strikes me as no more or less crazed than my own wife. In fact, before I sat down to write this piece, my wife said, “It’s okay if you want to mention that I saw more of myself in Frankie this week than I think I’ve ever seen.” And she’s right: We’ve got a house full of junk, it’s reached a point where it’s horribly unwieldy to get around it at times, and, frankly, she and I have both been known to lose our shit in conjunction with the realization that we really need to get the place cleaned up. Also, she freely admits that, yes, she would have looked at the cake and asked about the light bulb. Now, have I ever told her, “No more being nuts, okay?” It is possible that I have uttered something that vaguely resembled that remark. But don’t tell her I told you. Things could get ugly.
As for Mike, we saw an unexpected surge of family pride from him this evening, feeling the pull of being the big brother and having little choice but to do what he could to make Rusty’s wedding into a reality, but we also saw him being the best husband he could be, which was sweet. As far as his fathering skills go, hey, at least he took the time to look up at the sky at the plume of rising smoke after Axl tried to blow up the stump. That’s at least some awareness of what his kids are doing, right?
As we wrap up the third season of The Middle, it seems like a reasonable enough time to discuss a recurring refrain from fans that seems to be getting louder with each passing week: “Why aren’t more people talking about this show? It’s so much better than Modern Family!” I’m not going to comment on the latter, since I’m actually a fan of both shows, but I will say that The Middle definitely doesn’t deserve to be as far under the radar as it tends to be. If you’ve just started watching, I highly recommend that you spend your summer trying your best to play catch-up, and if you’re a longtime fan, then do something to spread the word about it, because this has been the best year yet, and I’ve got a really good feeling about season four.
See you then, kids!
- The best part of Axl’s bitching and moaning about not being appreciated as a lifeguard was his annoyance at having been told, “Stop hitting on girls and save that kid.” Some people really have their priorities out of whack. (I’m talking about Axl’s boss, of course.)
- “We can’t have a wedding at our house. I’m too ashamed to even open the door for the UPS guy.” This is Frankie’s line, but some equivalent has been said at my house as well, which is why I’m always the one who goes to get the packages whenever they’re delivered.
- I laughed out loud at Rusty referring to his father as “Junkyard Joe.”
- Speaking of Rusty, despite the most awesomely uneventful bachelor party ever and a very lovely wedding, what do you want to bet he’s single again the next time we see him?
- Hi, Chris Kattan! Thanks for stopping by for five seconds! If this turns out to be your last episode—I’m still convinced that season four is the year the show finally phases out the car dealership—good luck and God speed in your future endeavors.
- Man, I really wish more people commented on this show. I would so love to do a Walkthrough of the first three seasons with DeAnn Heline and Eileen Heisler. I guarantee it would be a blast.