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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Middle: Vacation Days

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There aren’t a lot of guys who’d get grouchy at the thought of being forced to take a paid vacation, but there are a few, believe it or not, and Mike Heck is one of ‘em. But, you know, to paraphrase one of Mike’s own lines from this week’s episode, based on everything we know about him, why wouldn’t we believe that? He’s a man who falls into a routine and, once he’s done so, loathes the thought of ever having to step outside of that routine…even for a paid vacation. Besides, there’s also the constant painful reminder that he can’t afford to really go anywhere, anyway, so the idea of calling it a “stay-cation,” as Frankie suggests, does not serve to make him feel any better.

Still, faced with no real alternative, Mike decides to make the best of what he sees as a bad situation and tries to settle into some vague approximation of a vacation, which in his case involves fixing things around the house, organizing his box of wire (which is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect him to have), watching TV, and taking a nap while his lady brings home the bacon…literally. It all sounds heavenly, but it begins to fall apart when Brick – whose spring break, like those of his siblings, falls on the same week as Mike’s vacation – decides that this week is the perfect week for Mike to cash in all of the “coupons” he’s been given over the course of the past several years.


It’s long been established that Mike and Brick have precious little in common, but one thing that Frankie insists bonds them together is that they’re both weirdos. This isn’t entirely untrue, but as a rule, their lines on the weirdness flow chart don’t tend to meet, a situation which provides them both with the opportunity to look at each other and think, “How in God’s name am I related to this weirdo?” That may not be exactly what’s going through Mike’s mind as he endures Brick’s two minutes of tickling, a scalp massage, and other such treats, but it’s probably not too far off, either.

While Mike does his fatherly duty and puts up with it for as long as possible, it finally comes to a head when, in arguably the funniest moment of the episode, Brick loses control of the riding mower – in an effort to redeem another coupon, naturally – and runs over Mike’s lawn chair, causing Mike to finally snap and snarl that the only coupon he wants is one for some alone time, and that Brick would realize that if he could read anyone’s reaction to anything. It’s a pretty harsh sentiment for a dad to lay on his kid, but aside from the fact that every parent has snapped at their kid at some point, it just doesn’t even phase Brick, who calmly explains that it wasn’t so much that he wanted to spend time with Mike as it was that he didn’t want the coupons to come back and bite him on the pass someday. When Brick further explains that it’s not that he doesn’t enjoy spending time with Mike but just wants to do it on his own terms, it’s clear that there really is a father-son bond, one which they go on to solidify by not hugging, as is only appropriate for their relationship.


Elsewhere in the episode, as Mike’s trying to make the most of his downtime, Axl’s trying to do the same with his spring break by heading down to Florida, but he manages to infuriate his mother when, after leaving college but before leaving the state, he comes into town and ends up staying a night or two at the Donahue’s house. We’ve seen the battle between mother and son before on The Middle, with Frankie’s maternal instincts and desires driving Axl up the freaking wall, but this episode really could’ve worked with either parent, as the big moral of the story is that your parents are always going to love you, no matter how big of an idiot you are. In this case, Axl’s idiocy is less from his stint at the Donahue’s house – given his description of the goings-on there, you can see why he’d loiter – than from his refusal to plan properly before heading down to Florida, resulting in a cracked engine block in Chattanooga. In the end, we see the ties that bind the mother and son together, too: per Mike, who’d be the one to know, they’re both a couple of idiots. But she’s still gonna stare at him. That’s just the way it is.

And so we come to Sue’s story. I love Sue so much, but it feels like she’s a character in flux this season, as the writers try to find that balance between allowing her to actually have some growth and not wanting to lose too many the aspects of her personality that made her so lovable in the first place. With that said, however, they found a relatively happy medium this week, one which showed how she’s like her dad (she’s excited at the prospect of getting to work double shifts during spring break), how she’s like her mom (when she finds out that someone doesn’t like her, she obsesses over what she can do to change their mind), but how ultimately she’s still very much her own strange, sweet little self. The moments with Brad were great, particularly the way-too-funny “stage slap” bit and…well, just his whole uniform, really, and the more I think about it, the more I like concluding scene of the storyline, with Sue having her mad-as-hell moment, only to have the crowd turn on her. I think everyone in my house went “ooooooooh” about the possibility that Aunt Ginny might’ve died from eating one of the potatoes, but, you know, Sue needs to be educated about how the real world isn’t as sweet as she is, and this seemed like it was at least a small step toward that.


Stray observations:

  • Wherever the coupons Brick made for Mike might be, “they’re definitely not between me and the TV.” Hint, hint.
  • Of course Sue has both a Disney jar and a New Car jar.
  • In a perfect world, #epicpotatofail would have been a trending topic.
  • The whole smelling-Axl’s-pillow idea was such a total desperate mom thing, but given Axl’s consistent hygiene, I’ve gotta go with Mike: “That doesn’t seem like a great idea.”
  • That’s a whole lotta huggin’ at once. Maybe we could spread ‘em out a bit.”
  • Mike tries to get the rest of his scalp massage on credit. Brick’s response: “I’d really like to get this knocked out today…”
  • “It’s a napkin with a map on it. It’s a mapkin!” GENIUS.
  • Brick’s attempt to tell Mike two jokes was way too close to my daughter’s attempts at comedy. She’s very funny – I’d even go so far as to say hilarious – but she can’t tell a joke to save her life.
  • It’s a classic, but you can’t go wrong with a clunk, a puff of smoke, and someone saying, “That can’t be good.” (“Uh…Mommy?”)
  • Stage slap!