Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Middle

The Middle
Episode 9: Christmas Help
By: Carlos Uribe

The Middle is a show about the Heck family, an average family in Indiana.

Spoilers Ahoy!

It is interesting how the Christmas episodes are the only ones to have their own unigue title. Every other holiday that is covered has the name of the holiday followed by a roman numeral that denotes which order it goes in. For instance: Thanksgiving (season 1), Thanksgiving II (season 2), and Thanksgiving III (season 3). The Christmas episodes all have the holiday name in the episode title but they're different in that they are actual names. The first season is called “Christmas”, the second season is “A Simple Christmas” and this Christmas episode is “Christmas Help”. It follows five different stories. The main story has to do with Frankie. She's worried because they can't really afford to give their kids Christmas presents this year. As she notes, they only have twenty dollars to spend on gifts. This financial hardship makes her want to create a situation where she doesn't have to buy presents, such as faking her own death or creating magical memories that make their kids forget about presents. As Mike notes, there is no way to make a kid not ask for their Christmas present. It's just not going to happen. Frankie is forced to get a job at a store in order to make some extra money. This job gives her a special discount but it only kicks in the day before Christmas. This leads to some hilarious scenes of her trying to hide merchandise so that they'll stil be there when the store closes. She doesn't succeed and they don't have any presents when Christmas day comes. She does promise to buy them presents the day after, when all of the items are on sale and she has her employee discount. It's a story that is both funny but it's eerily scary of how reflective it must be of actual families this year. Frankie might have managed to give her family a happy ending but there's many families in her situation who simply won't be able to. This isn't a knock on The Middle-if anything, it's the strength of this series. That it takes the financial difficulties of the family seriously but also as a source of humor is what makes the Middle work so well.

While Frankie is trying to provide for her family, Brick gets cast in a Christmas paegant as one of the wise men. It's pretty obvious he's not going to do a good job. Frankie tries to believe that because Brick is weird then he'll be a good actor but shes's just being a mother. While Brick coming home singing one of the songs seems to back her up, the actual play destroys any hope of Brick finding theater to be his thing. He forgets the one major line he's been given, pays more attention to the box, and is inspired by basketball to make squeaking noises a part of his performance. The best part of the play sequence is when he becomes a critic to the other kid's acting performances because they weren't able to sell it. Being in a peagant is a traditional Christmas story and it's great that the series decided to explore what would happen if Brick was in one. That the jokes came from Brick's quirks and personality is what helped make it so funny. His inherent obliviousness in criticizing others when he does much worse, picking up the minute things no-one else would really notice, and getting interested in simple things are all very Brick-like things to do. This added a huge fresh twist to the events but it also led to one of th best scenes this show has ever done. I'm talking about the hilarious scene between Mike and Reverent Tim-Tom.

Mike is dealing with his brother this episode. His brother convinces Mike to move furniture from one place to another. What Mike wasn't expecting is that they were moving the furniture to his garage. Making the situation more frustrating is that the furniature is pretty much stolen. Rusty claims that he won the furniture in a poker game but he doesn't think anybody will back that story up. It's an entire scenario that tries Mike's patience to the point where he tries to cut Rusty off from his life. This troubles him and Reverend Tim-Tom realizes it. Tim-Tom tries to get Mike to turn to God for his problems by singing to him like he would any teenager. Mike's deadpan delivery makes him my second favorite character on this show and his obvious discomfort Tim-Tom's singing was simply the best. It did get through to him and Mike gives out a small prayer to God over his brother. The prayer is answered when he sees Axl and Brick interacting and Mike realizes it would break his heart if the two ever stopped talking. Mike decides to let Rusty back into his life. It's a story that intself doesn't have much to do with Christmas but it manages to fit in nonetheless.

Brick's plot might have led to one of the best scenes this show has done but it also led to a pretty funny Sue plot. Sue is disappointed because she can't be in the paegant because she's over twelve years of age but she does get the job of handling the cookie concession stand. She takes this job very seriously to the point where she bakes over a thousand cookies. After all, she literally has a thousand cookies in the car. It's a story that is so very Sue: trying so hard and yet failing so misreably. Her cookies are largely ignored by the audience. It's Tim-Tom who is able to make her feel better when he gets her to give him the cookies she has baked for a trip he has planned. There's not much else to say about this plot but I loved that quilt call-back.

Christmas Help is basically what you would expect from a Middle Christmas episode: it is hilarious and pretty great. The Frankie story probably hit home to a lot of parents this year but the episode was able to use the other plots to keep things light. After all, we wouldn't want to get depressed watching a Christmas episode. It does hit all the plot points you would expect but when I'm laughing as hard as I am, who cares?

Other Notes:

There's also a part where Axl makes a little home out of the stolen furnitature in the garage. It's a funny little fifth story that gives Axl something to do.

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