Some episodes of The Middle have a bit more of a patchwork feel to them than others, where you feel like the writers crossed the hurdle of coming up with a title-worthy storyline—in this case, a callback to the previously-established fact that Sue is a Leap Year baby—and gave each other well-earned high fives, then went, “Shit! We still need, like, three more storylines! What other ideas have we got lying around that we haven’t used yet?”
I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Hell, it’s probably been a proud tradition amongst TV writers since the days when the Dumont Network was a going concern. I’m just saying that sometimes the results hold together better than others.
In the case of “Leap Year,” the titular storyline is actually the weakest of the bunch, mostly because we’ve seen it before. Yeah, fair enough, it’s been two seasons since “The Bee,” where Frankie and Mike forget Sue’s birthday and try to make it up to her by giving her carte blanche to pick wherever they go and whatever they do on the trip to Brick’s spelling bee in Chicago, but the point is that it’s been done, and, frankly, it’s less funny than depressing that they’d forget her birthday again. Admittedly, it’s not like they totally and utterly forgot it this time, since it was set up in “The Concert” and revisited in this week’s opening minutes that Sue traded away the next few years of birthday presents for Justin Bieber tickets, but the conceptual similarities are undeniable.
And, hey, where the hell’s Matt? With Mr. Grand Romantic Gesture completely MIA from the episode (which was a major disappointment, as I had kind of hoped he’d suddenly pop up and come through where Frankie and Mike hadn’t), we were forced to cringe as Sue spent the episode hoping against hope for a surprise party that would never come. Granted, there’s an attempt to play off of that a bit, most notably when Sue makes the comment about how she’d cried herself to sleep, but when Frankie says of her poor, naïve daughter after the last-second scramble to salvage the birthday situation, “Sometimes I don’t deserve her,” surely at least half the viewership made a scoffing sound and replied, “Ya think?”
As we come to the other storylines of the episode, first of all, I must admit to an unexpected fondness for the slight Axl-goes-vacuuming premise. I don’t necessarily buy that he’d get so anal about the cleanliness, but I can absolutely appreciate the inherent fun in sucking shit up with a vacuum.
I was also surprised at how much I dug the introduction of a girl into Brick’s social skills group, mostly because a little of that group has always gone a long way, but—and your mileage may vary on this next premise, so take that into consideration before you continue reading—the conversations between Brick and his buddies had almost a Wonder Years feel to them at times. Obviously, it’s not a precise comparison, since we never got a very special episode where Winnie Cooper started biting Kevin Arnold and Paul Pfeiffer, but there was a very interesting vibe there that actually left me wanting to see more of Brick interacting with kids his own age. Hopefully, we’ll see more of Haley in the weeks to come.
And so we arrive at the cat tale. (Y’get it?) I don’t know if I would’ve been able to buy into the idea of Mike having forged a relationship with a feline friend quite as well if my late father-in-law hadn’t had a longtime “shop kitty” at the sheet metal company where he worked. Then again, Mike’s shown himself to be a bit of a softie on occasion. On that note, I know it would’ve been a side of Mike that we hadn’t even seen hinted at before and likely never would’ve been touched on again, but I’m a little disappointed that the only sign of emotion he offered in regards to the death of Limestone was when he momentarily lashed out about losing both the cat and his favorite barber in the same week. My own father is far from the most emotional guy, but although he kept it together for my sister and I when our first dog—who traveled around everywhere with my dad—died, my mother told me years later that he started tearing up when he asked her, “How will people recognize me without my dog?” I can imagine Mike saying something like that, too.
Neither bad nor breathtaking, just a bit inconsistent. Here’s hoping for a bit more uniformity next time out.
- “I need a hug. But not from you. From some hot chick.” Axl ain’t no mama’s boy!
- Sue’s lack of comprehension that she was blinking rather than winking hit close to home. My wife thinks it’s much funnier than I do that, although I can wink with my right eye, any attempts to wink my left eye result in the blinking of both eyes.
- Apparently, the big three reasons kids end up in the social skills group are 1) insufficient eye contact, 2) inability to keep one’s hands out of one’s pants, and 3) a desire to chow down on non-food items. Good to know.
- “I feel very excited right now, and I don't know why!” Ah, how many of us have uttered those words?
- Quarry cat or no quarry cat, is it really so wrong that Mike didn’t realize that Brick hadn’t pooped for three weeks? What, like a father’s supposed to track his son’s bowel movements? Pretty sure that’s not in the parenting contract I signed…
- If you didn’t get at least a little bit moved as Mike was telling the story of Limestone’s death and burial, I am of the opinion that you have no soul.
- The ever-quotable Sue: “Mom! Axl's licking my Leap Year birthday week eggroll!”
- It’s reasonable to give Frankie the benefit of the doubt that she really did buy that bumblebee sweater for Sue’s birthday (although if it was my mother, I would suspect that it could’ve been a leftover Christmas present that she misplaced, found after the holiday, and stockpiled for a future occasion), but what of the phone? Intended all along, Frankie figuring it would be a quick save, or the phone just happened to be in the bag and Frankie went along with Sue’s rambling suspicions as to why it was there?
- I would absolutely wear a shirt that says, “I’m a big fish in a weird pond.”