Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Middle: “The Award”

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The Winter Olympics may be over, but the winter itself isn’t going anywhere just yet. Certainly not in the state of Indiana, anyway, as evidenced by the state of the Heck house this week, where the A/C won’t shut off, leaving the family almost as cold inside as they are outside. It’s a set-up that instantly puts us on guard for an appearance by Darrin by episode’s end, and, indeed, we get one that provides us with a lovely reunion between him and Sue as well as the very distinct possibility of future interaction between the former couple. But it’s also a way to once again remind viewers that Frankie and Mike aren’t exactly rolling in the dough. (If they were, they wouldn’t have to wait for Darrin to finish his midterms at air conditioning repair school to have someone take a look at it.)

After watching Sue’s storyline play out this week, it’s going to be a real blessing for all parties concerned if she and Darrin do manage to get back together now that Angel’s out of the picture. Sue’s unique blend of enthusiasm and awkwardness continues to reap comedy dividends, but it’s become increasingly depressing to see her continue to be a virtual non-entity at school. To have it reach a point where she’s so completely ignored by her classmates that a football player would not only not realize that she’s occupying the chair he’s about to sit in but would actually sit down on top of her and then take several seconds to realize that he’s sitting on top of her… well, that’s just silly. The miserable failure of Hands Across Orson High was funny because that’s the sort of idea you’d expect for high school students to dismiss as a waste of time, but when Sue’s idea of Mix It Up Mondays succeeded in making new cross-clique friendships for everyone in the school but her, that just made me sad. I’m all for Sue staying a social misfit, but after all of her well-intentioned efforts to raise school spirit and encourage new friendships, surely she’s at least earned the right to be remembered.

Brick’s activities this week can really be summed up in a single line: he gets a spiffy new suit and bolo tie. That’s really about it… but, damn, is that suit spiffy. The idea that the Hecks have a “cousin box,” filled with all the hand-me-downs they’ve gotten from Mike’s cousins, is a funny one, as is Brick’s contention that everything in the box smells like cat pee and beer, but just seeing Brick decked out in his new attire and watching the newfound confidence he has when he’s wearing it is enough to make the storyline sing. Having it turn out to be part of Shania Twain’s “Damn, I Feel Like a Woman” Collection, however, is a nice way to wrap things up so that poor Atticus Shaffer doesn’t get stuck wearing the damned thing every other week for the rest of the show’s run,

Mike had the spotlight storyline of the episode, with Frankie reading the online version of The Orson Patch, finding out that he’s going to be honored with an award for 20 years of service at the quarry, and basically demanding that he attend and be recognized for a job well done. There have been occasions when Frankie shifts into shrill, embarrassing mode and makes a complete fool of herself in an effort to get Mike to do what she wants him to do, but she showed admirable restraint this time around. Yes, she went behind his back and tried to get his co-workers to help her convince him to attend. The only viable suggestion was that she should break out her lady jazz to help seal the deal. Before she could complete her information gathering mission, she was quietly busted by Mike, and nothing more was said of her intruding on his turf.

Naturally, Frankie doesn’t give up there, and she eventually reaches a point in the badgering process where she finds out that Mike’s worried about having to deliver a speech, at which point, she does a bit more badgering and gets Mike to deliver some lovely off-the-cuff remarks that would earn applause from just about any crowd. Her enthusiasm is enough to finally sell the big lug on going, but once he gets there and takes the stage to receive his award, he finds himself offering not thanks for his job and praise to his coworkers, as in the speech he delivered to Frankie, but comments regarding the transitory nature of their employment and the roughest parts of his job, eventually summing up by saying, “It seems weird to me, but it is what is, so… yeah, I’ll put this somewhere.” It’s really just two sides of the same coin that is Mike Heck, though, and in the end, his employees knew exactly where he was coming from, so everyone was happy, except possibly Frankie, who you could tell had been hoping for far more of a moment in the sun for herself than she actually ended up getting.

Lastly, we come to Axl and his search for the mysterious drunken woman who left a highly flirtatious message on his voicemail without leaving any callback number or even a name. Throughout 90 percent of the shenanigans, it’s a straightforward story of college life, and it’s a lot of fun to see Axl in his element at school, rather than being shoehorned into a story at home because he’s visiting for the weekend. The big reveal (and it was a big reveal for me, as it never occurred to me that it was going to unfold that way) was that the caller was Axl’s ex-girlfriend, Cassidy, who has a very unique way of pronouncing “orange.” By the end of the episode, both Sue and Axl are back in conversation with the apparent loves of their life, and Mike and Frankie have found their middle ground once again. As we enter the home stretch of the season, things are looking pretty good for the Hecks.


Stray observations:

  • Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but Brad’s attempt to get clarification on Brian’s identity by asking if he had rock-hard abs was very possibly the gayest the character has ever been. Even though Sue seemed oblivious to the ramifications of his question, you’d like to think that one of these weeks she’ll realize what’s going on.
  • In a related note, was this the first time we saw the star in Brad’s locker that says “Bradway Star”? I’ve never noticed it before, and I didn’t even see it this week, but my wife did and it made her laugh.
  • With Darrin delayed, Mike decides to try and fix the A/C himself, rationalizing, “Worst case scenario, I start a fire.”
  • Once again, the chemistry between Axl and Hutch is fantastic. Whenever The Middle finally ends its run many years in the future, I want to see a spinoff starring these two characters. Make it happen, ABC!
  • Mike decries his award as “stupid,” arguing, “I stayed in one place for 20 years. It’s like giving an award to a tree!”
  • Sue’s finest moment: getting excited about Mike’s award. “Is it a certificate? Is there a trophy plaque? Is it framed? Is it unframed? Is there a gold seal? Is there a red carpet? Is it called the Quarries? I wanna go to the Quarries!”
  • The difference between Mike and Frankie in a nutshell, as expressed by the latter: “I wanted to renew our vows, Reverend Hayver came over, and you wouldn’t stop mowing the lawn!”
  • I’m just about tired of the cheerleaders, but I got a huge laugh from them being separated from each other during Mix It Up Monday and one yelling at the other across the lunchroom table, “Miss you!”
  • It’s good to know that Brick’s aware that he’s shared some fashion choices with Bert and Ernie over the years.
  • Lastly, I like that, although Mike’s final words to his employees didn’t amount to much at all (“Y’know… See you tomorrow”), Jim nonetheless got teary-eyed.