Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Middle

The Middle
Episode 10: Twenty Years
By: Carlos Uribe

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

Spoilers Ahoy!

This episode of the Middle contained a single scene where Axl and Sue have a fight in the middle of a surprise anniversary party for Mike and Frankie. Sue has been trying to throw the perfect party and it keeps falling apart despite her continual attempts to salvage it. Axl hasn't been any help as he's been busy trying to repair his relationship with his little brother. This fight scene completely parallels their parents. Sue complains about how she does all the work and about how important this is while Axl snaps back that she makes a big deal out of everything. In that moment I realized just how much these are are like their parents. There has been evidence in previous episodes where Mike is able to actually relate with Brick because they're both anti-social individuals, albeit for different and unrelated reasons. This was an episode that pointed out that Axl shares a lot of the same attitude from his father. He might be a lot more social as a person but he doesn't make a big deal out of many things. Sue's concentration on the importance of family and her conclusion that she has to be the one that does anything sound remarkably like she's slowly developing into her mother. When Mike and Frankie see this fight, they try to trick themselves into thinking this fight is actually a skit on their marriage because it perfectly captures them.

As you have already figured it out, this week is Frankie and Mike's twentieth anniversary. The two have been happily married but they get into a big fight when Frankie thinks that her husband doesn't want to be around her anymore. She actually sees her husband refusing to pick up the phone when she calls him and then is shocked when she learns that he likes to eat by himself in the middle of the night while watching television. This all makes her angry but she's never really able to vocalize what's bothering her. Mike just thinks that she's making a big deal out of things that he doesn't see as major issues. So what if he didn't answer the phone? It wasn't an emergency and really interesting thoughts can wait until their eating dinner. So what if he likes to eat by himself in the middle of the night? It's actually hard to see Frankie's issue with this one unless you realize what her issue is. She wants to know that Mike still loves her. It isn't until he gives her a ring that he's been saving up all year for that she realizes that he still does. This romantic move is enough to turn their disaster of an anniversary party into a really sweet and nice one.

An anniversary party that Sue really places an emphasis on. Sue is a character who likes to throw all of her passion into anything that she does. It's her desire to constantly succeed but having the worst luck that drives a lot of the comedy on this show. It does mean that the few times where the series allows her to win are some of the best moments this show gives to it's fans but it also means life can be cruel to the character. This isn't a bad thing as it allows the show to generate a lot of humor. This party means a big deal to Sue so she tries to make it the best party ever. When all of her ideas basically fails, she tries to make a great anniversary dinner with what she does have. This isn't a lot but she's trying. She isn't able to have the perfect party simply because it's not about her. The only people who can make it a good anniversary are Mike and Frankie. That's why Mike's present is able to save the party because it's about their love.

A large part of why the anniversary party has problems is because of Axl. Axl is annoyed that his little brother beat him at air hockey and that Brick has been holding on the guitar that he wins. A guitar he keeps solely as a place on where to keep his post-it notes. Axl wants the guitar so badly that he steals a book Brick has been waiting for a long time to read. It's the seventh book in a series that he's been following for half of his life. Axl gets the guitar returned to him in exchange for the book but he makes a huge mistake in ruining the ending to be cruel. This puts Brick in a state where he basically just lays there and does nothing. Axl is able to make things up for Brick when he tries to write a new ending and this leads to Brick reading the entire series to him out loud. This would be a silly plot but it leads to a monologue where Brick is able to tell Axl just what exactly a book means to him. It's a monologue that I'm not sure had any jokes in it. It was a moment where the series allowed Brick to seriously express just how important a book is to him without turning it into a punchline. He might be obsessed with the books but the series is right with treating that obsession seriously. The monologue probably would have felt too expositional if it had been delivered in the first season but we know Brick by now and Atticus Shaffer is able to deliver it perfectly well.

Twenty Years is a really great episode of the Middle. It's an episode that completely concentrates on it's characters to get it's point across. We knew Brick loved books but we got to understand why because of the way he explains it. We got to see how Axl and Sue are similar to their parents. Thanks to this episode, it's not difficult to imagine that Sue might end up like Frankie one day: defeated, tired, and complaining all the time. Twenty Years delivers an episode that really makes you laugh but that proves that the writers really know their characters and the ability the performers have in selling what they wrote.

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