The Middle: “Dollar Days”
B+

The Middle: “Dollar Days”

B+

The Middle

“Dollar Days”

Season 4, Episode 20

Well, it’s confirmed: Axl’s kind of a jerk.

Not that the eldest of the Heck kids hasn’t unabashedly reveled in his jerkdom or general immaturity from the very beginning, but watching him literally coming to blows with one of his oldest friends because of his inability/refusal to accept that his little sister is A) growing up, B) an object of desire to one his oldest friends, and C) capable of coming up with some pretty decent ideas, it was incredibly difficult to hold back the desire to yell, “Oh, grow up, would you, Axl?”

First, though, to the storyline that starts off the evening. Funny how time slips away, isn’t it? Already, Frankie’s gotten her certificate from the Orson Technical Institute and is attempting to re-enter the working world, except she’s failing miserably at it. Having spent numerous years without having to hit the unemployment line, what she finds is that the world of job interviews has taken an unfortunate turn while she was busy not selling cars at Ehlert’s, and everyone wants their new hires to be capable of answering the question, “Who are you?” Unfortunately, she doesn’t have an immediate answer.

Although efforts to seek answers from her family fail miserably, they do result in the best overall scene of the episode, with the kids playing their own home version of Family Feud as they pick the single best adjective to describe their mother, none of which are what you’d call overly complimentary. Poor Mike, meanwhile, attempts to jump to her rescue, only to accidentally—but not inaccurately—describe her as “irritable” when no one else had actually accused of being such. Whoops. Although she tries to get more insight into her own personality by visiting KickinItTeenStyle.com (seriously, ABC web team, what is the hold-up in getting this domain purchased and set up?), then visiting her mom over at Aunt Edie’s and getting a pep talk, Frankie ultimately fails to find herself. She does, however, find a job, joining the offices of Dr. Jack McBrayer, DDS. There wasn’t a lot for McBrayer to do this week, aside from act frantic and look uncertain about having hired Frankie, but hopefully he’ll get fleshed out a bit more as his appearances on the show continue.

Frankie isn’t the only one who pulls out a win this week: Amazingly enough, Brick actually managed to stick with a new endeavor—the Prairie Scouts—to earn a merit badge. The stories, which end up revolving around Brick’s social group, usually get pretty old pretty quickly, but this one at least started out strong, with highlights including Brick’s love of Menlo Bold, his flailing around inside a sleeping bag, and his utter bewilderment as to whom he’d actually told that he’d joined the Scouts in the first place, since he clearly hadn’t told his parents. In the end, as has happened many times before in the past, things began to fall apart after the departure of Jim Beaver as Brick’s apparent scoutmaster. Mike’s gesture to take over as camping trip chaperone may have been a lovely one, but the tics of the kids in the social group, while funny, tend to be one-note and get old fast. (In a word: meow.) Still, between the kid who lost his mind when his socks and his back-up socks got dirty, the loud mouth, and the one who stayed comatose every time Mike had to throw everybody in the van to drop one of them back at home, I laughed a fair amount. Good for Brick for sticking it out and earning his badge, but it’s hard to say if this membership will go the way of Sue’s joining the tennis team or not. We’ll see, I reckon.

Okay, back to the horrid Sue/Darrin/Axl triangle that, at least based on the end of the episode, has now come to an abrupt conclusion. The fact that Sue felt obliged to break things off with Darrin because of how their relationship was affecting Axl… well, that’s about as Sue-like a gesture as they come. But when Axl found out about the break-up, the fact that his first reaction was to attempt to maintain their torturous big brother/little sister rather than admit that he was wrong and suggest that she get back together with Darrin… well, that was just terrible. Granted, maybe this is just a tease to get viewers riled up, a way for Axl to hit emotional rock bottom and realize that he really does need to grow up, giving us just enough time before the end of the season to get Sue and Darrin back together. One can only hope that this proves to be the case: It’s one thing to keep seeing Sue floundering her way through sports and social activities, but surely she deserves the opportunity to be happy, and it’s hard to imagine anyone who can do that job with more enthusiasm than Darrin. The only thing that's for certain is that, despite Axl's attempt at being all loving big-brother-y as the closing credits rolled, Sue's still not happy with him. If it was anyone other than Sue, you might not be able to tell. Given her usual happy-go-lucky nature, however, it's clear that she's seething.

Stray observations:

  • Given the time at which I ended up having to write this review, I couldn’t help but hear Mr. Stokes’s voice in my head as I was about to post it: “Do you know what time it is, boy? I’ll tell you what time it is. It’s late o’clock!” Phil Dyess-Nugent said it last week; I’ll say it this week: Jim Beaver is awesome.
  • Another big reminder how economically realistic The Middle is compared to Modern Family: Mike informing Brick that they can't afford to waste $40 on something Brick's going to give up on.
  • We can all agree that Neil Flynn kills it on this show on a weekly basis, surely, but I'm hard pressed to remember an occasion when he's delivered a single syllable quite as funny as the way Mike responded to Frankie saying that she's a nice person. I literally rewound it four times... and I'm going to do it again when I'm finished with this.
  • Jerk or not, I've got to admit, I think Axl and Ax-Men is the better name, too.