[25 September 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The Middle: Season 2 joins the Heck family for another look at life in the middle. The season opens just as summer’s coming to a close, and Frankie (Patricia Heaton) is still—as always—trying to keep her three kids, her husband, and herself together.
As with Season 1, The Middle takes its stories and its humor from the everyday events of the presumed average American household. Frankie and Mike Heck (Neil Flynn) tackle first-day-of-school madness, new teachers, well-meaning nosy neighbors, taking multiple jobs to barely make ends meet, and worrying whether or not they are good parents in the same way that most of us do.
Sometimes that’s with an attempt at a preemptive strike, such as when Frankie decides to schedule a meeting with youngest son Brick’s third grade teacher, Ms. Rinsky (Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Doris Roberts), on the third day of school, thereby setting up a season-long struggle to prove that she isn’t the over-protective, overbearing “Mother” Ms. Rinsky believes her to be. Other times it’s with a beer and a pineapple pizza, as when they “take back the house” from the kids, watching the shows they want, eating the foods they prefer, and going out with the neighbors on a weeknight, instead of deferring to the demands of their children.
The kids, of course, are still as average as they were in the first season. And by that I mean they are just as wild, weird, and wickedly funny as before. Axl (Charlie McDermott) gets two jobs this time out—in addition to school, football and basketball, and his band, “The Axemen”—but he still spends most of his time in nothing but socks and boxer shorts, eating, sleeping, and making sarcastic remarks about his sister. Sue Heck (Eden Sher) is as lovably goofy and hopelessly optimistic as ever, as she navigates her first kiss, her first two-piece bathing suit, and her first run at the “B” table in the cafeteria. She’s genuinely enthused to receive a “MVP in Punctuality” trophy in Cross Country, even though the entire team receives trophies too, and an Eighth-place ribbon in square-dancing (out of eight contestants) is still a cause for celebration.
Brick (Atticus Shaffer) probably makes the most progress of any character this season, as he turns nine (and holds a birthday party in the library, much to the disappointment of his classmates), learns to accept a new backpack (even though it doesn’t have the same echo, or understand him as well, as his old one), and makes a friend (the schedule-obsessed Arlo, whom Brick pronounces “a lot of work”). Brick still whispers to himself and would rather be reading, but this season gives more glimpses into his relationships with his siblings, which are as touching and real as they are hilarious.
The Middle is a family show, so it stands to reason that this year we meet some more family. Along with dotty Aunts Edie (Jeanette Miller) and Ginny (Frances Bay), we meet Mike’s Dad (John Cullum) and brother, Rusty (Norm MacDonald), who show up for a typically odd Thanksgiving dinner (The Heck men can only communicate about football). Frankie’s mom, Pat (played by Marsha Mason) returns for the Christmas episode, with her Frankie’s Dad, Tag (the wonderful Jerry Van Dyke), in tow, to play the indulgent grandparent and undermine Frankie’s parental authority.
Mr. Elhert (Brian Doyle Murphy) still undervalues Frankie at the car dealership, Bob (Chris Kattan) still irritates Mike pretty much everywhere. The Donahues are still envied, and the Glossner bullies still reviled, but Reverend Tim Tom (Paul Hipp) still has a song for Sue Heck, and this time, for Mike and Frankie, too (because “It’s tough to be a parent!”).
Season 2 ends with a race to the finish line, which is summer. None of the characters are much different than when the season began. Frankie and Mike Heck are still middle class, middle-of-the-country, middle-aged folks. Theirs is the all-American family. They’re dysfunctional. They have real problems. They solve these problems as best they can, but sometimes the only solution is to shrug, smile, pop open a beer, and hope for the best. So basically, the Hecks are just like your family. Only funnier.
The Middle: Season 2 features 24 episodes on three discs, with deleted scenes and a gag reel. There are fewer deleted scenes, than Season 1, and no other bonus material, but The Middle doesn’t actually need any extras to make this an entertaining set.