The Middle: “Bad Choices”
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The Middle: “Bad Choices”

We’ve seen it before, but it’s always nice to get a reminder once in awhile that the Hecks aren’t the only dysfunctional residents of their neighborhood, and that’s exactly what we got with the block party that kicked off tonight’s episode. Not that you’d call it a complete disaster. Not that you’d use the word “complete” in any capacity whatsoever, given that the limited turnout resulted in various key items missing from the proceedings… like, say, silverware. But, hey, the congregation of neighbors served as a nice bookend to the evening’s proceedings, so let’s stop picking on it and just keep moving.

Actually, hang on, let’s first quickly address the two key plotlines that emerged during the course of the function:

1)     Axl’s obsessed with the idea that he can successfully fake sick to get out of going to school and taking a test, yet still get Frankie to let him attend a friend’s party that night, starting the advance planning during the block party by making sure that his mom hears him coughing.

2)     Brick’s obsessed with the works of William Shakespeare and is quoting him every chance he gets. I’m sure some viewers could readily identify each any every line that Brick borrowed from the Bard, but I am not one of those viewers.

The party ends abruptly when the rain begins, but when the Hecks run off in a panic, it’s not because they’re afraid the food is going to get wet. It’s because they’re afraid the inside of their house is going to get wet. That’s right: Like the malfunctioning dishwasher wasn’t bad enough, they’ve got dozens of holes in their roof. Oh, and lest we forget, the aforementioned dishwasher has a major attack this week, resulting in some major flooding as well as a not–insubstantial amount of fretting from Frankie and Mike. For the time being, though, the roof is still their primary problem.

Well, that and trying to concentrate on their finances while Sue’s practicing a skit for school. Hey, look, Brad’s back! Yep, Sue’s incredibly non-heterosexual-acting ex-boyfriend is back on the scene, and he’s teaming up with our girl to write and perform a skit for the entire school. It’s a lot of responsibility, but, hey, when you’re a Teens Sober Not Texting and Driving Ambassador, you know what the world expects of you. You just have to live up to it.

Now that we’ve got the storylines for all of the major characters, let us discuss where they all wound up by episode’s end, shall we?

Axl’s efforts to simply go the sick-not-sick route grow increasingly complicated, but damned if he doesn’t manage to meet every obstacle thrown at him, his various stories surviving right up until the last moments of the episode, when his neighbors’ neighborliness proves to be his undoing. And he was so close! What we get from these goings-on, aside from several good laughs (and the most ridiculous attempt to feign a Jewish heritage in many moons), is the reminder that beneath the teenage snarkiness and general indifference to anything adults have to say, Axl is actually a crafty little bugger. If only he’d use his powers for good!

Brick’s constant quoting of the Bard was a funny gag that wasn’t run into the ground, but the funniest moment by far came when, in the wake of the dishwasher incident, Brick shook off his Shakespearean persona, sighed, and said, “Even Shakespeare never got this tragic.” And of course, we knew Sue and Brad’s presentation would go over like a lead balloon, but that in no way negates the awesomeness of their songs.

Finally, we come to Frankie and Mike, whose storyline was ostensibly funny and yet, not unlike the events of a previous episode, hit so close to home that I wasn’t always laughing when I know I was supposed to be. Don’t worry, you’ve already seen from the above letter grade that I still really enjoyed the episode, but I have to wonder how many other viewers watched Frankie and the family do the walk-through of their potential new apartment and thought, “Say, I wonder if I can figure out a way to put my house on the market and do this…”

I don’t know that I entirely accept the sudden sentimentality of the episode’s ending, with everyone in the neighborhood joining forces to help the Hecks fix their room. It felt a little too forced, but I do know that there’s something quietly subversive about The Middle this season. There have been a lot of moments that might seem over the top if you’re not living in the same economic bracket as Frankie and Mike, but as someone who does, this episode once again led me to laugh and think to myself, “Man, I sure am glad there are other people out there who know what it’s like to suffer through this shit.”

Stray observations:

  • “Like taking candy from an old baby…”
  • “Screw the family photos, cover the TV.” Let it never be said that Frankie doesn’t have her priorities in order.
  • “Yeah, Brick, that was cute at the block party… but we’d all had a lot of beers.”
  • I always enjoy a good callback, so I laughed out loud when Frankie pulled the burnt quilt out of the oven.
  • Hey, look, Chris Kattan is back! I... did miss him, right? Because as much as I was wondering about his whereabouts up until tonight’s episode, his return felt rather anticlimactic. I know his absence can mostly be blamed on the fact that focusing on the family means we lose time with the secondary characters, but, still, he'd been offscreen so long that it seemed as though there should've been some explanation as to why we hadn't seen him.
  • “We’re busting our butts to pay the mortgage on a house that is obviously trying to kill us.”
  • “I know you’re stressed, but you don’t have to medicate with alcohol.” “Look around. I think I do.”
  • LOL + car = D.O.A. Best equation ever.
  • “That’s democracy in action, Jackson!”
  • Just to wrap up, I thought I'd mention that, after last week's episode, I had a short virtual chat with co-creator DeAnn Heline (okay, fine, we traded Facebook comments), and on the matter of my request for more Julie Brown, she said, "Believe me, we are huge fans of Julie Brown, too--that's why we have her on the show. In last night's episode, she (and the other women) had a much longer, very funny scene, but the episode came in way long and we had to take cuts. Very frustrating only having 20 minutes to tell a story--frequently everyone but the family gets cut way down." She also clarified that when we saw Sue diving across the counter, it was indeed Eden Sher performing the maneuver. "She was all black and blue the next day," said Heline, "but she had fun doing it!"

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