The Middle – C
The Middle has never been anything groundbreaking — sitcoms with quirkily imperfect families struggling to get by weren’t even new when Roseanne came out the the 1980s. What has elevated the relatively simple program to must-DVR has to do with its consistent, relatable characters and a charmingly sweet nature. The Heck Family have a cynical eye and can be scathing, but there’s a genuine air of love and affection that drives the clan. “The Lanai” contains scattered great moments — silent Kenny’s words of wisdom, Frankie telling her neighbor “your kids get so much exercise, would it kill you to give them a large cookie just once” then tossing cookies over a hedge — but its four storylines (yes, this one even has a D-Plot) put the Hecks in unnaturally mean-spirited situations.
While Brick can be unemotional and blunt, nothing in his history would have him exposing the fact that his father’s friends only hang out with him because he’s their boss. There’s no joy in Sue and roommate Lexie mistakenly taunting a CFS sufferer after they see her twin on the quad playing volleyball — a “twist” so predictable even a Shamalayan would run away. Axl and Hutch’s accidental foray into the food truck world builds up Axl somewhat as a savvy businessman, but mostly the two just seem greedy and awful as they feed their fellow students mouthwash and rancid jelly. The only semi-redeemed story features a frustrated Frankie and her battle with her newly arrived — and very loud neighbors — which starts with her passive-aggressive moves like pamphlets for summer camp. When Frankie ultimately loses it on the well-meaning mother, the latter’s honest reaction is a bit of comeuppance as its mix of apologies as she is truly grateful that her kids have their first backyard (they moved from an apartment). Frankie comes to terms and that quarter of the show highlights what makes The Middle a special sitcom — which only makes the episode on the whole so damn frustrating and nasty.
– Jason Thurston