It’s not like it’s a tough sell ‘round these parts to suggest that The Middle is one of the more consistent family sitcoms out there nowadays—understanding, of course, that when I say “these parts,” I’m speaking specifically to the readership of these reviews rather than the American viewing public as a whole, who still seem to prefer Modern Family—but there are good episodes, and then there are episodes that simultaneously encapsulate everything you love about a series while also serving as a perfect starting point for someone who’s never seen the series before. Although “The Hose” is filled from top to bottom with callbacks and in-jokes for longtime viewers, it manages to hit on so many subjects that are familiar to both kids and adults, be it sketchy neighbors, questionable sex ed, finding out how much your parents make, or figuring out what you want to be when you grow up, that it seems almost impossible for the average television viewer to walk away from the proceedings without having said or thought at least once, “Oh, man, can I relate to that!”
Things kick off with Frankie power-walking (or some kind of walking, anyway) to Toto’s “Rosanna” after having accepted the sad reality that most unemployed people eventually discover: even the simple joy of doing nothing but lying on the couch all day gets old eventually. Appropriately, the act of taking a walk also serves to provide an escape from reality, a fact which becomes instantly apparent when she returns to the house to discover her kids’ latest issues.
First of all, kudos to the writers for at least acknowledging the ongoing existence of the bunny, which is probably a load off any of us who figured the poor thing would be killed off between last week and tonight. Taking care of a pet he neither requested nor wanted isn’t Brick’s problem, though: It’s that he’s dreading the fact that he has to suffer through the same rite of passage that all public school students must endure, namely the viewing of the required sex ed film, which in this case was entitled What’s Going On Down There? Meanwhile, Sue’s trying to earn enough money from selling sausage and cheese to pay for the rest of her trip to Cincinnati, a task so Herculean that she dares to ask Mike if she can come to the quarry and sell some of her wares to his crew. I don’t know about the rest of you parents, but given that my daughter just finished her latest primary school fundraiser, this certainly struck me as a perfectly timed plotline.
Axl may not have had a storyline of his own, per se, but he nonetheless managed to make a considerable impression before all was said and done, thanks to his contributions to Brick’s sexual education. Likening Brick’s love of books to his future appreciation of girls gave him the perfect frame of reference to pique his interest, but, man, do I wish I could have heard the lesson that went along with the hand gestures Axl was doling out. Still, my disappointment subsided considerably when I heard Brick ask the school nurse for clarification on a very important matter: “When chicks want it, do they want it right away, or can I finish my book first?” Alas, the world may never know.
For those who were still steamed about the way Mike treated Sue in the season premiere, here’s hoping the way he handled her concerns about the family’s finances went a decent way toward repairing the damage. There’s never been any question about Sue’s inherent sweetness, but while the character has occasionally—and not entirely inaccurately—been criticized for being too naïve, it felt highly realistic the way she tried to do everything possible to avoid putting any further financial burden on the family. It’s also notable that her general obliviousness to anything negative was actually kind of addressed for a change, with Axl offering probably my favorite line of the night (“Oh, no, what will they say at the club?”) and Brick indicating that their family’s economic state is hardly breaking news to them. (“We go out after tornadoes looking for clothes. We know.”) Lastly, while it’s always nice to have Brad and Carly pop in, it was particularly pleasant for Brad to turn up without utilizing the ongoing “Sue doesn’t realize he’s actually gay” joke. (It’s been funny, but it’s run its course. Surely the next time it comes up will be when Sue finally does realize he’s actually gay.)
And now for our very special guest star… Brooke Shields! If Rita Glossner appeared in every episode or even every half-dozen episodes, she’d get old, because she’s such an unabashedly cartoonish figure. Thing is, though, the Glossners aren’t nearly as far away from reality as many of us would like to think. (I live about 15 minutes from the North Carolina line, so I speak from experience.). In limited doses, she works like a charm, thanks predominantly to the decision to paint the character as much with her looks as her lines. The hose storyline was also pretty universal. Many a parent has defended their family’s innocence with every fiber of their being, only to discover that they were actually guilty guilty guilty, and, c’mon, who among us hasn’t been tempted to fix a problem we didn’t cause in the first place just to make it go away? As for the resolution of the situation, I can’t decide which was funnier: Brick’s explanation of why he didn’t pick up on being the cause of Frankie’s woes (“I thought you were talking about panty hose”) or having them dispose of the hose like it was a dead body.
Long story short, if you’ve been telling people that they really need to watch The Middle, but they haven’t been listening to you, now you’ve got the perfect excuse to tell them again. But if they don’t listen to you this time, you might as well give up on them, because “The Hose” really is about as good as this show gets.
- You saw the Random Roles with Brooke Shields, right? Just checking, because I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I got a Middle notification when it went live this afternoon.
- I’m sure this thread’s going to start in the comments even if I don’t address it here, so let’s get it over with now: Unlike the Heck kids, my dad did give me “the talk,” but I don’t remember anything about it except that it was less about actual information and more about the assurance that I could come to him if I had any questions. I can’t say as I remember much about the film I saw at school, either. And yet I can quote just about every line from Fuzzy Bunny’s Guide To You Know What. Go figure.
- On a related note, I know I don’t need to see the sex ed film after Brick’s hysterical description of it, but I want to, anyway.
- Although I’m not from Indiana, I am a longtime David Letterman fan, so I got why it would still be such a big deal for someone from Orson to meet Jane Pauley in 2012. Go Ball State!
- Given Sue’s track record when it comes to attempted chicanery, her off-the-cuff explanations for why she couldn’t go on the trip after all were actually pretty damned good.
- The running joke about the plethora of fake autographs in the Heck house had me on the floor, but I may have laughed hardest at Brad’s throwaway line where he described the Ali McGraw workout tape.
- The inclusion of Brick’s new tic during his panic in the car was pretty great.
- Frankie as a dental assistant? That seems just about right, oddly enough.
- In closing, I’m pretty sure that I would not like to have my boobs punched in, either.