The Middle: “Hecking Order”
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The Middle: “Hecking Order”

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The Middle

“Hecking Order”

Season 3, Episode 3

Looks like Axl’s issues with Sue joining him in high school are going to be a recurring theme this season… or, at least, that’s how it looks as of the end of this week’s episode, anyway.

When we join the Hecks, they’re in the midst of enjoying a family dinner, or that was the original plan, anyway. Instead, they’re doing their best to endure Sue’s seemingly-ceaseless monologue on the awesomeness that is high school. While it can’t really be said that anyone’s doing a very good job of hiding their limited interest in such monumental moments as her near faux pas of almost referring to tater tots as tater rounds (major frosh move, dude), Axl’s not even trying to feign interest, and he eventually explodes with a demand that she give it a rest. Not that you could blame him or anyone else at the table for losing it by that point, but, c’mon, give Sue a break: Her heart is positively soaring about being in high school. A few moments later, when she proceeds to play the narc by revealing that their grades are available online for parental viewing at any time, it’s not that she’s getting back at Axl for being an asshole. She just sees parental access to online grades as being another awesome fringe benefit of being in high school. That’s Sue for you.

You’ve got to feel for Axl. Of course he’s not going to be able to appreciate Sue’s excitement about being in high school. For one, he’s been there, done that, and is still doing it, so he knows that there’s absolutely nothing exciting about high school. But on top of that, as if it isn’t bad enough to have your younger sister tagging along with you when you go to school, just imagine how much worse it gets when she’s situated in a completely different social circle. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it: The show paints a perfect picture of his pain. When a sibling starts screwing with your social mojo, something’s got to be done about it.

And so Axl does, pranking Sue by telling her that she should take swimming as an elective, then having a good laugh as she finds that her classes are so far apart that she’s turning up tardy to her post-swimming class every day without fail. To avoid having her permanent record besmirched, she works through a number of alternate paths, all of which fail for one reason or another, and finally decides to shave time off the trip by packing everything in her backpack. End result: losing her balance, landing on her back, and–not unlike an upside turtle–finding herself unable to get back to her feet. But to add insult to injury, Axl walks by as she’s in this predicament… and keeps on walking.

Frankie, like any good mother, is horrified at Axl’s actions (or lack thereof, as the case may be), which leads to a war of words that descends into some semblance of a power struggle. That’s when Frankie whips out a pen and piece of paper and attempts to provide her kids with a visual aid of the hierarchy of the Hecht house. It goes very poorly. Not only does she get the kids up in arms with her unintentional suggestion that the older they are, the more important they are in the decision-making process, but she leaves Mike out of the equation, creating a moment where all three kids seem fascinated that she believes that she’s the head of the household. Then Mike walks in from work and enters the discussion. This goes even more poorly. Within moments, the entire family has descended into a big argument over where they stand in the chain of command, and it’s one that clearly won’t be ending anytime soon.

This seems like the perfect time to speak of tonight’s B-story, which involved Brick’s new teacher, Mr. Wilkerson, played by Glee alumnus Chord Overstreet, who gets his kicks by throwing the kids an Answer Ball whenever they answer a question. Brick can’t abide the man’s methods and pleads with his parents to do something about the situation, but Frankie’s initial salvo is to assure her youngest child that he’s matured sufficiently over the summer to speak up for himself. Much like her assurances to Sue that she really wanted to hear about her day, this is a complete crock: She just doesn’t want to meet with his teacher. (She’s been burned before, as anyone who remembers Miss Rinsky knows.) Funnily enough, though, Frankie’s right: Brick talks to his teacher and gets approval to sit and read, in lieu of going to gym. It’s a move that immediately rubs Mike the wrong way, but rather than go in and tell Mr. Wilkerson how he feels, he passes the buck to Frankie, who tries and fails to come up with a way to avoid going in. (“Can’t I just type something up and pin it to his shirt?”) Later, however, he makes a comment about Frankie’s tendency toward “playing the Dad card” that is incredibly spot-on, leading her to challenge him to handle the Mr. Wilkerson situation himself.

Mike’s response to meeting Brick’s teacher is one I think most of us older-ish parents (I’m 41, and I’ve got a 6-year-old daughter) have experienced at some point: “You’re not waiting for your dad or something?” Wilkerson is a hip, young, liberal guy who cares for his kids, which makes him the complete antithesis of Mike, so when they started tossing the Answer Ball back and forth, I knew something was going to end up getting broken. Mike’s punishment: He and Frankie have “homework” in the form of… well, a form, actually, one about their parenting style. At first, Frankie tries to make Mike do it himself, but she finally relents after he reminds her that the kids don’t listen to him any more than they do to her.

Sue’s “invisible” speech may have been a little too on-the-nose, given that she offered it while being forced to duck down in his car, but when he offered her the left-handed compliment of being a “dork optimist,” there was no question that she’d make it to class on time. What I didn’t expect was that Axl was the one who helped clear the necking couple away from her locker, thereby sealing the deal for her timely arrival, putting a nice cherry on top of a fine episode.

In closing, I know a lot of you didn’t love the hour-long format of the season premiere. I didn’t mind it, but I take the point that a single 60-minute episode is a heck of a lot of Hecks. Hopefully, most of you will agree that this was a solid return to traditional form for the show. I certainly thought it was, anyway.

Stray observations:

  •  “It’s a family dinner. Suffer with the rest of us.”
  • “It was my fault, really. I’m the one who had the bright idea of family dinner. Actually, Oprah had the idea in her magazine. Oprah, who doesn’t have kids.”
  • “All right, I guess we can’t avoid it anymore: We’ve got to run the dishwasher.” “I’ll get the broom, you get the towels.” These lines would’ve been a hell of a lot funnier if I didn’t have a sink full of dishes and a soaking wet kitchen rug as a result of a plumbing issue of my own. Remember what I said last week about how I’ve long been convinced that the creators of this show have got cameras in my house? After that bit, I had to pause the episode for about 30 minutes and sweep the whole place for recording devices. Nothing so far, but I’m still on alert.
  • “I like women. I like their bosoms.” “We all do, Brick.”
  • “If I’ve got to catch a ball to answer a question, it’s gonna be a looooooong year.”
  • “What kind of a male teacher lets a kid skip gym? Seriously, does this guy wear sandals?”
  • “This could be a thing!” “Doesn’t feel like a thing.”
  • “See you in court, ‘cause you just got Sued!”
  • As a parent, I recognized both the expression on Frankie’s face and the tone in her voice when she looked at the picture of Sue on Axl’s camera and simply said, “Oh, no.” I’ve been there, baby. You want so goddamned bad to laugh, but you know you’ll break your child’s heart if you do. So you don’t… until later, when you tell your spouse about it, at which point you both go into hysterics.
  • “We are equally scary!”
  • “I’ve been eating old candy canes for breakfast every day this week. You want to be unnoticed? Try being ‘and Brick.’”
  • “You’re the yammer. I’m the hammer.”
  • “My wife usually does these meetings…”
  • “Things were said, things were thrown, things were broken… and it just kind of went downhill from there.”

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