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The Middle: “Valentine’s Day VI” / The Goldbergs: “Cowboy Country”

Illustration for article titled iThe Middle/i: “Valentine’s Day VI” / iThe Goldbergs/i: “Cowboy Country”
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The Middle: “Valentine’s Day VI”

The celebration of Valentine’s Day on The Middle has been an ever-evolving affair over the course of the show’s run, but that’s what happens when younger characters start to grow up and are forced to try and figure out what love’s all about. Now that the show’s in syndication, it’s pretty easy to stumble on an older episode that’ll remind you just how much the Heck family has changed over the years, but this week really underlines how far the kids have come since the beginning: this is the first time we’ve ever had a Valentine’s episode where every member of the Heck family has a significant other.


First, though, we’ve got to take care of a little loose end from last episode: the fact that Aunt Edie’s death has resulted in the Hecks becoming the new owner of Doris, the dilapidated Bassett hound that wore an oxygen mask and a diaper and basically needed a wheelchair to get around. Thank God for the Donahues: not only did they help watch Doris while the Hecks were out of town, but by being in a such a clean, pristine environment for an extended stay, Doris walked out of Casa de Donahue having been weaned off the oxygen and left with no need of either the wheelchair or the diaper. Also, they’ve been feeding her chicken and rice, which you know from the get-go is going to be better than anything the Hecks are ever going to provide (even if it may not occur to you immediately that they’re going to eat it themselves), so it’s no wonder that A) Doris spends most of the rest of the episode whining to go back to the Donahues, and B) it quickly reaches a point where the mere use of the word “Donahue” is enough to set the poor creature to whining. Basically, if the Donahue family doesn’t end up adopting this dog sooner than later, we’ll be very, very surprised.

Onward to Valentine’s Day! Sue’s the one with the most substantial plans for the day, even if she doesn’t necessarily know what they are right away: Darren’s decided to impress her with an elaborate scavenger hunt, and he’s trying to construct it behind her back, so that he can surprise her. Frankie’s game to help Darrin construct his master plan, even if she’s not willing to sit on a bench in the mall while wearing a cowboy hat, while Mike is…well, he’s Mike: when Darrin asks him for assistance, Mike’s best offer is to agree to help out in some fashion that doesn’t involve actually getting up from the couch. Sue knows something’s up, but the most exciting thing she can imagine seems to be a new sweater, so her mind gets blown a bit when she finds out about the scavenger hunt. Of course, it’s only destined to be blown even further: at the end of the hunt, Sue finds herself welcomed into Darrin’s new home, and although she successfully finds words of praise for his new digs as he shows her around the place, she’s left completely speechless at the end of the tour when he reveals that the place is for both of them and promptly drops to one knee and proposes. Are there wedding bells in the future for The Middle? This may be “The Year of Sue,” but I can’t imagine that’s the direction they’ll take the story. If Darrin was rich, maybe Frankie and Mike would press the issue and tell her that it’s in everyone’s best interest that she says, “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes,” but since he’s not, I’m expecting that Sue’s going to want to take things slower than that, if only because she doesn’t want to be distracted during the final weeks of her senior year, so the bigger question is whether Darrin’s going to be willing to take “no” – or even “not yet” – for an answer.

Next up, let’s take a look at Axl, who’s been in his relationship with Devin Levin long enough now that he should certainly be stepping up to the plate to do right by her on Valentine’s Day…except that she doesn’t want him to. Wait, is this some kind of trick? That’s what has Axl so worried: he wants to believe that she’s just as indifferent to the holiday as he is, but everyone’s telling him that no girl, no matter what she may say about the situation, does not want walk away from Valentine’s Day without her significant other making some kind of effort at romance. So how does he handle things? After stressing over it a bit, he decides to get creative and celebrate National Radio Day instead, thereby providing him with an excuse to give her some stuff that he knows she’ll really appreciate: a dying house plant, some of their favorite fast food that he’s transplanted from the bag onto fancy plates, and – most importantly of all – a bouncy castle. As it turns out, he was right when everyone else was wrong, he’s read her like a book, and now that he’s already made her week, not getting her anything for Valentine’s Day is destined be a piece of cake…probably.

And now it’s down to Brick, who starts off the episode not really sure if he’s still dating Cindy or not, having not really talked to her in more than a month, but when he discovers that he is, in fact, still in possession of a girlfriend, he quickly finds himself trying to make Valentine’s Day plans with her. Cindy, however, completely causes Brick to freak out when she accepts his pitch to go get ice cream and adds that they’ll be kissing. Thus begins Brick’s first proper entry into romantic madness, during which time he starts fretting about having to take the lead as the kisser (unlike the family’s road trip to North Carolina last season) and not knowing when to do it or how to do it properly. The stress over the methodology is what earns the kiss the most laughs, and the laughter continues ‘til the end of the episode, thanks to no one ever mentioning to either of the kids, apparently, that their lip-lock really could’ve ended a few minutes earlier than it did. Still, when Brick finally walks away, he says that he “nailed it,” and, well, we’re gonna give that to him, because it’s not a bad first toast, is it?


Oh, before we go, we need to spotlight Frankie and Mike, who never actually get their own storyline but nonetheless get some great moments throughout as they react to the goings-on of the kids. Sometimes it’s an off-handed comment, like Mike yelling from the other room that he’s not going to chime in on Frankie’s discussion with Brick about dating because he doesn’t have anything to add. Frankie gets a few minutes to try her best to help Axl with his Devin Levin issues, and even though her response only serves to confuse him further, at least he knows she’s there if he needs her. And when Brick feels like he’s under pressure to deliver the best kiss ever, Frankie and Mike try to demonstrate that it’s not that hard for couples trying to kiss when there’s one taller person in the relationship and one shorter person, resulting in Axl feigning nausea and scrambling away from the scene. At the end of the episode, Frankie and Mike trade Valentine’s Day gifts, having each picked the other something special while wandering around the drugstore: among other things, she got him a Sports Illustrated, and he impressed her to no end by getting her something from “the ladies’ aisle.”

In other words, love’s as close to being in the air as it’s likely to get for the Hecks – all of the Hecks – so it’s time for them to just suck it up, bask in the moment, and make the most of another Valentine’s Day.


Stray observations:

  • Sue’s costumes for their school’s Spirit Week were pretty cute. It would’ve been nice to have seen all of ‘em, but I don’t suppose that would’ve been economically feasible.
  • “I’m just whistling for no reason.” “Who am I to throw stones?”
  • It was nice to see Hutch again, if only fleetingly.
  • It didn’t necessarily sound like your typical Frankie line, but I still loved it when she described her demonstration kiss with Mike as “nothing weird: just two genderless strangers kissing in front of a boy.”
  • “Oh, God ,ook away, Brick, before you turn to stone!”
  • I’m not going to lie: I laughed out loud when the flaps of Cindy’s hat came off in Brick’s hands.
  • Funny how those two boxes of doughnuts Darrin said he’d bring over for Frankie’s part in the scavenger hunt ended up only being half a box for Sue.
  • “Oh, to be excited about something!”
  • “That reminds me of a funny story. But first a beverage!”
  • “Nailed it!”

The Goldbergs: “Cowboy Country”

There’s a sweet, sentimental spot that The Goldbergs always wants to hit, but sometimes the show misses the mark by just a bit, occasionally offering storylines that slip into silliness or fall into the trap of simply being too much about the ‘80s. This week, though, the show delivered something approximating a perfect episode, one about young love and the ongoing struggle of feeling like you’re growing up too slowly and not knowing what to do about it.


I’ve been there, man. I more or less skipped second grade, and I was already pretty young when I first started school, so when I graduated from high school, I was still only 16 years old. Being a year younger or sometimes two years younger than my peers meant that I was very much “the kid” amongst my friends, and seeing Adam with Dana reminded me of my very first girlfriend, Traci, who was taller than I was. I’ve always presumed that it was the height thing that led to our breakup after only three days, but we were young, it was 9th grade, and…well, you do the math.

Anyway, my point is that it’s not hard to understand where Adam’s coming from in this episode, freaking out about how he’s not as tall as Dana (he’s started walking on his tiptoes when he’s strolling down the halls of the school with her), how people don’t perceive that they’re together because of that height differential, and how he needs to be taken more seriously. How does he decide to do this? By giving Dana the ring that his mom had always told him he could give to the woman of his dreams. At first, she says it’s too much, but she comes around immediately before Bev stomps into the school, the wind blowing behind her, and demanding the return of the ring, publicly embarrassing her son in the process.


Needless to say, Adam is furious at his mother, but Bev is a big ball of emotions herself, still coming to terms with the idea that her little boy is growing up and becoming a man, so it’s rough stuff no matter how you look at it. Meanwhile, Adam decides that the best way to make sure Dana and everyone else knows that they’re boyfriend and girlfriend is to climb the water tower and spray-paint something for all the world to see. Unfortunately, he runs out of paint before the last “A” in “Dana,” resulting in a whole lot of inappropriate giggling, and then when he goes to get down, he realizes that he’s paralyzed with fear and has to be rescued by the fire department and, worse, retrieved by Bev. Feeling beaten down, Adam decides that maybe he really is just a little boy, but Bev refuses to accept his comments, assuring him that this part of his life will be short-lived, and drops him off at Dana’s house. In turn, Dana assures him that even though she’s growing up fast and looking older every day, she’s happy with what she’s got with Adam. Cue the kiss.

This is arguably the best use we’ve seen of Beverly Goldberg in the series to date, coming across as a woman who is becoming increasingly aware of her children growing up and is already worried about the thought of seeing them leave the nest and leave her behind. There are no major freak-outs or tremendous moments of absurdity. This is not a cartoon. This is a real mom, and it’s wonderful to finally see a more fully painted picture of the character beginning to emerge.


And it’s a good week for Murray, too! It’s a simple enough plotline, with Lainey inviting Barry and Murray over to watch the Philadelphia Eagles / Dallas Cowboys game at her house on her dad’s new projection TV, only to find out that Murray’s an Eagles fan and Lainey’s dad (guest star David Koechner) is such a Dallas fan that he refers to his home as “Cowboy Country.” It’s horribly, horribly awkward, and it’s about the worst first-time meeting of the young lovers’ parents imaginable, since the two dads quickly deem each other to be stupid or worse, so…it’s extremely funny, is basically what we’re saying here. But the whole thing leaves Barry and Lainey decidedly unsure about whether their relationship is even salvageable, particularly after Murray underlines the fact that “Eagles and Cowboys fans don’t mix.” And it’s true: the harshest words that are spoken between the two dads are indeed specific comments about players and/or their coaches.

Of course, in the end, as Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet” plays, everything more or less works out between Barry and Lainey. Murray begrudgingly admits that he loves his son more than the Eagles, and even though Lainey’s dad apparently thinks that Barry is just an idiot and doesn’t apparently want her to see him anymore…well, hey, everyone knows that ”forbidden love” is the hottest love of all. Either way, Koechner is a great guest star, and there are a lot of laughs to be had in the midst of all the football shenanigans…but, really, if you expect any less when you put Koechner and Jeff Garlin in the same room together, you’re kidding yourself.


Best Goldbergs of the season? I’m gonna say “yes.”

Stray observations:

  • “Big Bad Adam ain’t afraid of no water tower. Or ghosts, FYI.”
  • Seriously, how many times do you think the real Adam Goldberg heard someone in his family say, “Somebody get the camera! Adam’s being Adam!”
  • How Murray gets through life: only kind of listening to his kids. Or, in his words, “I get the gist of it, I say ‘no’ a lot, I make it work.”
  • Okay, so there’s a little bit of Crazy Bev in the closing tag of the episode. But it’s Crazy Bev knowing she’s being Crazy Bev, and doing so mostly just to embarrass her daughter, so I’ll let her have that one..

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