Episode 13: The Friend
By: Carlos Uribe
The Middle is a show about the Heck family, an average family in Indiana.
If there is one aspect of Mike that you can count on is that he's not the most social person in the world. He comes from a family of recluses so it makes sense that it would rub off on him. He's perfectly content sitting down on the couch and watching a game by himself. It should come as no surprise that this drives Frankie crazy. She's practically the opposite of her husband. She loves to socialize. She is always attempting to make new friends and greet any neighbors that move into their street. When new neighbors to show up, Frankie takes a plate of saran-wrapped potato chips to them. She tries to get her husband to come along but he's not interested. She meets the new neighbors and she instantly takes a liking to them. She's able to compare their life to her own rather easily. They allow a lot of light to come into their house, which is a way of symbolically stating that they allow people to come into their home because they are social. The husband of the couple, Jeff, introduces himself to Frankie but he also goes back to watching the game with a group of his friends. Frankie's thought is that Mike would make a great friend to Jeff so she arranges that the two go out and watch the game with each other. She's essentially trying to hook Mike up with a friend just like how a mother would arrange playdates for their younger kids. What she wasn't expecting was the conflict this would create between her and her husband.
It turns out that Mike isn't very happy that his wife is not only asking people to make plans with him but that she's telling them his life story. Mike is a private individual who doesn't think people should know his business. He might have liked hanging out with Jeff but it's all thrown out of the door when he finds out what Frankie did behind his back. Frankie tries to make the situation better by getting Jeff to ask Mike again only asks that Jeff keep it a secret. When Frankie gets caught, she resorts to calling Jeff's wife to set up. It's at this point where the show takes it a bit far but at least Frankie acknowledges that she crossed the line. It's a funny story that mostly works for one reason. It highlights an inherent tension that exists between Mike and Frankie because of their opposite natures. Frankie is social while Mike isn't which means that their motivations are at odds sometimes. These conflicting motivations drive the plot of this episode. This plot is never really about Jeff or his wife but rather about how Frankie can't understand how Mike can be so alone and yet so happy or how Mike doesn't understand why having friends is so important to his wife. The episode might go into cliché territory when Frankie leaves a hundred of voice messages but it's to showcase a very real struggle between the two characters. This is what excuses the whole cliché and what allows the whole plot to be consistently funny. It simply has a strong core.
One of the revelations from the previous episode had been that Frankie was a cheerleader. This had inspired Sue to proclaim that she will never give up because she has a cheerleading gene inside of her. She gets to prove this theory when the real cheerleaders announce that they are going to start cheering for the wrestling team because there is nobody else to do it. Actually that's not true as Sue's Wrestlerettes exist for that exact purpose. This leads to a cheer-off where the two clubs try to determine who should have the rights to cheer for the wrestling team. The cheer-off seems to be in the cheerleaders favor until the Wrestlerettes (or basically Sue) manage to spread their enthusiasm to the crowd. It's not entirely official whether they won or not but it is implied that they did. It's nice that Sue was able to achieve not only a victory (I think) but such a high-profile one. It's always nice when a comedy allows it's characters to have a win and Sue gets very little of those. It's hard to dislike this story.
In other news, Axl is happy to be with Cassidy until Brick calls into attention how they only make out but they don't have any intellectually stimulating conversations. Brick wonders if this means whether or not Cassidy will get bored of him which results in Axl freaking out if she really likes him or whether it's just his looks. This leads to a great speech of Axl as the two get ever so slightly more serious. It's a nice development in the Cassidy-Axl relationship and it's created because of her introduction into the Heck household. It wouldn't have happened if Brick hadn't pointed out which basically means he was the instigator of this conflict. The plot was therefore a way for the show to explore how the family can impact your perspective on a relationship you're in since they can see things from the outside. It's overall a good plot that works pretty well. That it's the funniest plot in a hilarious episode speaks not only about the great writing for the scenes but also to the great performances by Atticus Shaffer and Charlie McDermott.
The Friend is a hilarious episode of the Middle. It explores how family can impact your view on a new relationship, how two opposites on sociability creates a certain tension between them, and that allows Sue to have a victory over her own invisibility. It has a strong core with each of the plotlines which allows them to all work very well. The Friend is yet another episode in a line of great The Middle episodes.