As the year rolls on and the school year begins to wind down, certain storylines become somewhat inevitable in sitcoms featuring parents and teens, and this week’s episode of The Middle tackles two of the biggies: Mother’s Day and prom night.
It’s a rare and fortunate mom who walks away from Mother’s Day with a gift from her kids that’s exactly what she was hoping to receive—as the years go by, I expect most mothers are happy if their kid even remembers to say “Happy Mother’s Day,” let alone buy them an actual gift to commemorate the occasion—but Frankie’s decided that she’s sick of feigning appreciation for the various token gestures he’s frantically grabbed from the drugstore the night before. Mike posits the theory that he might’ve already picked out the perfect gift for her, but it’s a suggestion which Frankie finds preposterous, and her suspicions prove to be right on the money.
Despite his confident assurances, Mike’s past history with the holiday inspires Frankie to plan ahead, pointedly approaching each of her three children individually—assuring each that they’re the only child with whom she’s bringing up this very important matter—and telling them in no uncertain terms exactly what she wants as a Mother’s Day present: a BackMaster 2000. You know, the one with the rolling balls...? (I’m calling that the best of Brick’s whispers this season, by the way.) What Frankie doesn’t take into consideration, however, is that Axl’s mind is on the prom, Sue’s mind is clouded by jealousy, and Brick’s mind is…well, it’s Brick’s mind. There was never any chance that the information Frankie passed on to him would ever make it to Mike intact.
And yet it’s Brick who, by virtue of not having any other storyline to keep him occupied this week, gets dragged along to the store by Mike after assuring him that he knows exactly what Frankie wants for Mother’s Day, and damned if he doesn’t eventually remember it. By then, though, his general lack of confidence throughout the shopping expedition has left Mike so gun-shy that he can’t bring himself to believe that Frankie would actually want a BackMaster 2000, which results in a fabulously foolish rationalization between father and son that what she’d really dig is a pair of yellow pants. They are both very, very wrong, and—no surprise here—Frankie does not hesitate to tell them so, reminding Mike that Father’s Day is coming and payback’s a bitch. (Translation: don’t count on getting that radio beer cooler.)
Before we discuss the painfulness of poor Axl’s prom night, let’s first look at Sue’s saga, wherein she continues to try and conquer the driving test and obtain her license. If her confidence has begun to wane, it isn’t visible as the episode begins, as she practices Lamaze techniques and listens to Taylor Swift’s “Fearless” before giving it another go, but neither the third, fourth, or even fifth time proves to be the charm for the poor girl, which wouldn’t be so bad if all of her friends weren’t succeeding where she was continuing to fail. Suddenly, Sue finds herself experiencing an emotion which is almost entirely foreign to her: jealousy.
Enter Reverend Tim Tom, who’s raring to go with his Hallelujah Hoedown (otherwise known as “Jesus Takes the Reigns”) but always has time to help Sue Heck with her problems. Telling her to pull up a hay bale, he listens to her sad story, diagnoses the problem as an attack from the green-eyed monster, and reminds her that it doesn’t cost her anything to feel good for someone else, but the best bit is when he starts twitching because he knows the perfect song to sing but doesn’t have his guitar…which is a shame, as I’d quite like to have heard “Ridin’ Shotgun with the Savior.”
Sadly, despite his best efforts, Sue’s frustration gets the best of her when Carly and Brad start moaning about the trials that come with having one’s drivers license, and she snaps and runs off. Fortunately, Rev. Tim Tom rides up, looking for all the world like a liturgical Lash LaRue in his all-black cowboy attire, and tells her to hop upon his trusty steed, whereupon they ride to the DMV, where all her friends are waiting to cheer her on, along with Frankie, who’s supportive of her daughter even as she’s glaring at Brad for getting her there under false pretenses. (“Brad called and told me it was an emergency…which it clearly is not, so thanks for scaring the crap out of me!”) I’m not sure the whole thing about having to wait a month before taking the test a sixth time holds water, given how long it had been since the first two times she took it, but either way, Sue staying pumped for four weeks is a cakewalk.
And so we come to prom. Sigh.
Axl, Darrin, and Sean have started a new business that’s decidedly less emotionally traumatic than their last endeavor, and their Ask a Girl to Prom efforts quickly earns them enough money to rent a limo, but only Darrin, Sean, and their dates will be using it, since Axl’s convinced that Cassidy has no interest in attending the prom. He is clearly wrong, but just because we know it doesn’t mean that he does, which is why he has to wait until Cassidy yells at him about it before he finally realizes that she wants him to ask her. Sure, dances are stupid and school spirit is lame, but prom is still prom, and having only ever attended one school dance (and only then to protest for gender equality), it doesn’t take long for Cassidy to get caught up in the magic of it all.
Unfortunately, the magic wears off somewhere in the middle of a dance, with things getting really real really quickly as Axl suddenly realizes in rapid succession that A) the three months he thought he had left with Cassidy are actually only three weeks, and B) she doesn’t envision their relationship lasting much beyond their respective departures for college. It’s a moment where you realize that sometimes being self-centered and unthinking can be a good thing, because it protects you from certain painful realities, but Axl cares so much for Cassidy that the realization that they’re really only counting down to oblivion is one he isn’t prepared to handle.
As a result, when she tries her best to put a positive spin on the time they have left, he snaps back that if they’re going to breaking up anyway, then why not get it over with now? Even as he says it, though, you can see from the tears in his eyes that it’s something he’s saying in the heat of the moment, that he may have believed at the moment he said it but began to regret the instant it left his lips. What perfect timing, then, for Sean to announce that Axl’s been named Prom King. As Cassidy walks away, Axl’s left with no one for his spotlight dance…and then, like magic, Weird Ashley appears. Yeah, I know, there’s no reason on earth why she should be there, but who cares? It’s destiny. Just accept it.
- As someone who didn’t turn 16 until the summer before my senior year, I was sympathetic to Sue’s plight of being the last of her friends to get her license. Then again, when I finally did get my license, I proceeded to total my car the first time I drove it to school, breaking my wrist and leaving a sizable forehead-shaped indentation in the windshield. Better yet, the accident happened as I was turning onto the road the school was on, so more or less everyone I knew drove past the carnage. Suffice it to say that I rode the bus for the remainder of my high school career.
- Brad’s best line almost got lost in the focus on Sue’s reaction to him getting his license: “I had to take the picture five times because I was smiling too much that you couldn’t see half my face!”
- I’d say that Mike accidentally looking at a 2009 calendar that just happened to be lying around was implausible, but I stumbled upon a 2008 Corner Gas calendar in my office the other day. I’m not a hoarder, I swear. It was autographed by Brent Butt, and I just can’t throw away stuff that’s autographed. Plus, sure, it’s not 2008 now, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?
- I wonder if I can sell my daughter on shouting “Crackers and toast!” whenever she’s angry.
- “Have fun, girls! It’s all downhill from prom night!”
- As long as I’m sharing high school trauma, I didn’t go to my prom. I didn’t have a date, so I went to see World Party in concert instead, and I have no regrets. I do, however, remember staring blankly back at our class president when she asked me if I was still planning to help decorate for the prom. So you want to know if I’ll help decorate for a dance I couldn’t get a date to, and then just wish everyone well and cheerily depart the premises alone? Yes, well, that certainly seems like something a cheerleader dating a football player would consider a reasonable plan.
- Best Mike moment: trying to bail out of helping Brick pick a present by saying, “It’s not my holiday. She’s your mother. My mother’s dead!”
- Best Mike line whether taken in or out of context: “Get your face out of that thing! Who knows who’s been sticking what in that?”
- Kids, remember: think before you ink. Don’t deface your body to get back at your parents. That ain’t cool!