“The Middle” provides lighthearted evening entertainment


Prior to a few weeks ago, I had a hole in my life that needed filling. Its emptiness left me feeling adrift, bored, a little downcast. I was desperately in need of some kind of palliative remedy to eliminate the void. Finally, on a Thursday two weeks ago, I found the solution.

The hole was my 10 p.m. TV show, and the remedy was The Middle.

Every night, I take a break from my homework at 10 p.m. (9:30 if I’m lucky), plop myself down on the floor of my living room, situate a bag of ice on my left knee, and eat dessert. The ritual is sacred: I perform it nightly. As fun as it is to sit alone and ice after I finish eating, a few minutes of TV is usually a much-appreciated reprieve from the strain of thinking that my brain has been through all day. The Middle provides that reprieve, delivered with an entertaining combination of lighthearted humor and heartfelt epiphany moments.

The show centers around the Hecks, an ordinary Indiana family living through the ordinary problems and stresses and victories of their ordinary lives. Perhaps the best part of the show is the extraordinary averageness of the Heck family. They are the quintessential American family, and the script uses this averageness to its advantage, capitalizing on the stereotypes of the frazzled mom, the laid-back dad, the apathetic high school-aged son, the awkwardly geeky junior-high daughter, and the prodigy youngest child who doesn’t quite make sense to anyone else. The show exaggerates these stereotypes to a laughable degree, giving each of the five Hecks the ability to steal a scene with their respective brand of humor.

The Middle contains no earth-shattering plot twists or compellingly unusual circumstances. Thanks to the strength of the characters, it doesn’t need to. The storyline plods along at the pace of real life in the Heck family, yet is never for a moment dull. The Middle is essentially all the humorous situations in everyday life that every family has experienced and laughed about, concentrated in 20-minute bundles of hilarity. There are petty fights with neighbors, misunderstandings that get blown out of proportion, ongoing struggles to keep up appearances, social mishaps for all three Heck kids at school, and ongoing dialogue that is highly entertaining (if not exactly witty) because of its remarkably amusing honesty.

I’ll admit that, at first, I wasn’t enamored with the show. As I first saw the Hecks on my TV screen, the exaggeration was too much. Sue Heck, with her outlandishly mismatched outfits and oppressively enthusiastic demeanor, was an obnoxious caricature of the average middle school girl. The sulky, messy, disengaged Axl was an overdone farce of what some adult in charge of the script thought was wrong with American teenagers. Frankie, the mom, was too frazzled to be relatable. A few half-watched episodes into my experience with The Middle, however, it suddenly clicked: the exaggeration was purposely obvious. And that’s why it was funny.

The show uses the ordinary awkwardness and difficulty of real life to poke fun at the Hecks’ life in “the middle.” A middle-class family living in the middle of the country, in the messy middle of their lives, often muddling through the middle of a trying situation. The humor lies in the fact that, in some way, all viewers of the show are somehow in the middle too, and the show is thus a parody of everyone’s life.

I wouldn’t classify The Middle as brilliant or groundbreaking or even incredibly original. All I know is that during my 10 p.m. dessert breaks, it’s nice to remember that no matter what I’m in the middle of, the Hecks are probably in the middle of something worse (or at least more awkward or strange or confusing). With a few laughs, they’ll always make it through. And so will I.