The Middle: "Sleepless In Orson"
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The Middle: "Sleepless In Orson"

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The Middle

"Sleepless In Orson"

Season 5, Episode 10

Much has been made over the course of The Middle’s run of what a quirky kid Brick is, but while tonight’s episode starts off with the suggestion that it’s going to be another treatise on that quirkiness, it ends up tackling a topic that’s pretty universal among parents: How do you comfort your child when they’re struck with the realization that the world can be a pretty scary place?

At first, Frankie and Mike perceive Brick’s most recent eccentricity—a sudden need to know where his parents are at all times, to the point of invading their personal space in order to achieve a feeling of security—as just a young lad’s evolution from quirky into full-on weirdness, hoping that’ll prove to be a short-lived phase. It isn’t until they find him sleeping under the kitchen table rather than his own bed that the truth begins to emerge: He’s recently heard about a break-in at a local restaurant, and given that the window in his room could be a perfect entry point for burglars, Brick doesn’t feel comfortable sleeping at ground zero, thank you very much. Frankie assures him that the restaurant was an isolated incident, with Mike echoing her sentiments while also reminding Brick, “They have two things we don’t: money and good food.”

But it’s more than just the restaurant incident that’s gotten Brick riled up. The internet’s causing more than its fair share of trouble, too, with Brick getting alerts on his iPad about horrifying incidents not just in their own backyard but throughout the country and around the globe. Again, Mike tries to be the voice of reason, assuring Brick that life’s a lot better when you just resign yourself to living in a perpetual state of denial, but it’s all too overwhelming for Brick, and he opts to just crawl into bed and escape… by which, of course, he means that he’s going back under the kitchen table. Frankie and Mike join him there, and after Mike revisits the merits of embracing denial and, “when you’re 21, embrace beer,” he gets serious, explaining to Brick that if Mike’s not worried, then Brick shouldn’t be, either.

It’s a great speech—until it becomes evident that Brick’s concerns have inspired Mike to get a little bit paranoid himself, which in turn makes Brick realize that Mike’s pretty speech is little more than a tapestry of lies. With that, Mike washes his hands of his youngest son, leaving Frankie—who’s got nothing better to contribute to the discussion—to beg Brick’s trusty therapist, Dr. Fulton (Dave Foley), to have a chat with the kid even though they’re still on their winter vacation. As ever, Dr. Fulton’s more concerned about obsessing over his ex-girlfriend, Shelley, but the trip isn’t a total loss: Their conversation sends Brick down a path which eventually leads him to explore the tenets of Buddhism and to decide that he should spend every moment he can with the things he cherishes the most. So what if that means he goes back to spending most of his time with his face buried in a book? At least he’s not freaking out 24/7. That’s got to count for something, surely.

Brick isn’t the only one of the Heck sons to get a storyline, but Axl’s goings-on with Boss Co. exist mostly as a spotlight for Darren, who realizes his frustration with his new girlfriend Angel as a result of the additional frustration he’s experiencing as part of Boss Co. Basically, he’s tired of being pushed around, and he’s decided that he’s going to do what he wants to do for a change. While it’s great that what he wants to do is try to mend fences with Sue, his timing couldn’t be much worse, as his sweet gesture of showing up with flowers and a stuffed animal takes place just as she’s locking lips with Derrick Glossner.

The inherent weirdness of a Glossner trying to woo a Heck may not be on the level of a Montague/Capulet romance, but it’s still an interesting idea for the show to consider, given how notorious the Glossners have become over the run of the series. It’s also an opportunity to allow Sue to grow up at least a little bit. Okay, so she’s swooning over the cuteness of a balloon when the episode begins. Before the closing credits have rolled, we’ve seen her musing over the way Derrick smells of honey and danger, and how she absolutely does not think about his kisses before she goes to sleep at night. The Glossners still may be the scourge of the neighborhood as a whole (Diaper Glossner kind of makes me queasy), but while Derrick may still be a mailbox-breaking badass on the outside, he wants to be a better man for Sue, and it’ll be interesting to see where the show goes with that idea, not to mention whether or not Darren’s willing to fight for another shot with Sue.

All in all, this was a very nice way for The Middle to ring in 2014.

Stray observations:

  • As someone who grew up with the Be-Lo grocery chain, I enjoyed the joke about the questionable quality of milk bought at the Frugal Hoosier.
  • $3.00 to add meat to nachos? Darren needs to start taking Angel to cheaper bowling alleys.
  • Eden Sher delivered another Emmy-worthy performance this episode, but the tour de force was probably her facial expressions in the wake of Derrick kissing her on his doorstep and then closing the door. Watching her run through the gamut of emotions in regards to how she felt about the kiss, finally ending with the realization that she really, really enjoyed it, was just fantastic.
  • “Who are these clowns? Where did the other two idiots go?”
  • Your personal mileage may vary, but I never fail to laugh at the idea of a guy—in this case, Brad—having an unseen girlfriend in Canada. Sure you do, buddy. Sure you do.
  • Again, the dog makes an appearance. I’m pleasantly amazed that they’re not only keeping him around but actually giving him camera time, even if it’s only for a one-liner. That’s better than the killer rabbit got.
  • “I guess what I’m trying to say, Brick, is that I may very well die alone.”