The Middle: “Hecking It Up”
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The Middle: “Hecking It Up”

Damn. I was really hoping for a trifecta of awesomeness.

Coming on the heels of two undeniably outstanding episodes, tonight's installment of The Middle felt like more than a little bit of a letdown. "Year of the Hecks" was good, and now that it's been in my rear view mirror for a week, I'm comfortable in saying that "The Map" was even better. I mean, personally, I'm still kind of basking in the warm, fuzzy glow inspired by Matt's "grand gesture." But while Sue's new boyfriend did provide a few good laughs this evening, the rest of the proceedings didn't serve up the funny as successfully as one might've hoped.

Maybe your mileage might've varied if you'd been a football fan. I myself am not (though that may be because, when time came for all good boys to pick a favorite team for life, I stupidly saddled myself with the Redskins), and as such, I admit to being predisposed to indiffence in regards to the storyline that tied together the entire episode, which revolved around the fact that the Super Bowl takes place in Indiana. Frankie's excitement about being involved in the game as a Hospitality Volunteer quickly dipped to low levels when she discovered that she was being assigned to a satellite location in French Lick ("I'd be closer working on an actual satellite!"), leaving her unable to muster a great deal of excitement when her neighbor Nancy reveals that she and her family are going to the Super Bowl. Later, when Frankie continues to bitch about her situation to Mike, she slips into selfish mode, which rarely looks good on her. As she cleans out her nasty, ratty car, however, Nancy calls and asks if she'd mind moving their new car from the driveway into the garage, a moment which serves as the turning point of the episode...but not, alas, in a good way.

I understand what it's like to have a crappy car, and I understand what it's like to be swayed by the siren song of a new car, but although I realize we don't see Frankie at work much anymore, I still have to believe that the amount of time she's spent at a car dealership over the years would numb her somewhat to the wonders of a new vehicle. As such, I just couldn't buy into the premise that - no pun intended - drove much of the episode. Axl and Sue, on the other hand, both have perfectly acceptable reasons for getting excited about the prospect of using Nancy's car. I'll get back to Axl in a moment, but as for Sue, the scene where she finds herself at the bottom of the driveway and, panicking about what to do, decides to drive the car around the block...? That was absolutely fantastic, delivering a perspective that I think any former Driver's Ed student can appreciate.

The idea that Sue's so obsessed with her new boyfriend that she feels obliged to say "I love you" this quickly into their relationship is, let's face it, typical Sue, but given what we've seen of Matt even just up to this point, it was hard to get too worked up over his (temporary) hesitation about responding to her verbal gesture, let alone the lead-up to the big moment. It didn't diminish the cuteness of her nervousness about wanting to deliver those three words perfectly, but it's not like there was a whole lot of suspense, either. Also, just as a quick aside, I like Matt, but if my daughter's boyfriend snatched an entire damned pizza from my kitchen counter and strolled off with it, I'd probably have to kill him.

Okay, let's hop back in the car, shall we? It has to be said: the Hecks, God bless 'em, are a gross and inconsiderate family. Or, at the very least, they're painted as such in this particular episode. If I'd tuned in last week and found myself charmed by all the sweetness going on, this week would've made me do a double-take and question whether or not I actually liked these people after all. By the time they get the call from Nancy that they're coming back early, they've turned their neighbor's car into a disgusting mess. It was already heading that way, thanks to Axl's chicken-finger steering, but as they're cleaning out the vehicle in rapid-fire fashion, it becomes clear that they're all a bunch of pigs. This is not to say that my car is not a pig sty in its own right - it absolutely is - but who'd let things get that bad in a car that they knew belonged to their neighbors? It's just over the top, and that's taking the The Middle in the absolute wrong direction. It's one thing to exaggerate a bit for the sake of humor, but the Hecks were practically a caricature of themselves this week.

And so things end in a sentimental fashion, with the Donahues providing to be the perfect family and Frankie cheerily making the most of her gig as a glorified washroom attendant. Most of the time I accept the saccharine wrap-ups as well earned. This one, however, felt forced, and I don't think it's just because I don't care anything about football.

Sigh. I'm bummed. Let's hope things are back up to speed next week.

Random quotes and observations:

  • "God's obviously not a Colts fan. And I'm starting to think he's not much of a Mike fan, either."
  • Mike on Matt: "He's the size of Brick, but he eats like Axl!"
  • "Look, I know you're not too familiar with how books work, but I can't read without turning pages."
  • "No, dude, I can't go for chicken right now. Last time I went that far, my tire fell off."
  • "I'm not sure if it's the hops or your voice, but I'm tasting a whole lot of bitterness."
  • I don't know that I necessarily need to it to be a running joke beyond this episode,  but I did chuckle at the repeated use of the "people do meth" line.
  • It's so perfectly Mike that his big use of the new car is to take a nap.
  • "No, it was really good ham."
  • With the wind blowing through her hair and the confidence surging through her veins, Frankie looked for all the world like Dana Delaney. Or, at least, I thought she did, anyway.
  • "Hey, Mike, guess who's going to be in the stadium on Game Day?" "Not the Colts, so I don't want to hear about it."
  • I may not have bought into the everyone-loves-the-car storyline, but I still laughed when everyone cut each other an uncertain look when the car suddenly started in the driveway.
  • "If you want to join this family, which I don't know why you would..."
  • "It's not a fry."

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