Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Middle

The Middle
Episode 22: Hallelujah Hoedown
By: Carlos Uribe

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

Spoilers Ahoy!

This was a sad episode for the Heck Family.

The series has done whole episodes dedicated to Mother's Day. It makes sense since the protagonist is a mother who feels under-appreciated. Having a whole holiday that's supposed to be about her but always disappointing is a great way to create comedic conflict. This year we don't have a whole episode spent on Mother's Day but it does a play a role in this week's plot. Frankie is tired of accepting gifts that she doesn't really want. She doesn't want cards written on receipts or last-minute purchases made at the drug store. What Frankie wants is the BackMaster 2000 with the red rolling balls. She tries her best to tell her family it's what she wants directly. The only person she fails to tell is Mike because he refuses to hear it. She tells Brick, Sue, and Axl. This turns out to have been in vain. Mike forgets to buy a Mother's Day present until the last minute so he has to rush to the store to buy. He brings Brick along because he claims to know what Frankie wants for the holiday. Only once they get to the store, Brick forgets what Frankie asked for. He has a vague idea of what it is but he doesn't remember the specifics. Mike tries to get help from his two other kids. Axl is no help because he's in the middle of prom so it's just terrible timing to ask him him. Sue doesn't remember because she didn't really remember what Frankie said as she was busy dealing with her own issue. The only clue she can give Mike is that it might be yellow. Alas, Brick does find the gift but Mike doesn't believe him. It's health-related and he remembers what happened when they bought Frankie the foot spa. He doesn't want to repeat the same mistake so he refuses to buy it. He checks out briefly until Brick brings up that if he chooses a terrible gift than Mike will be blamed. So the two of them go with yellow pants based on Sue's clue. A terrible choice for a present as Frankie hates the gift. That is until she learns that the pants can actually work as a back comforter while at work. Overall, a great plot that continues the show's trend of creating a big deal out of Mother's Day. The one issue I have is that the timing of the Day seems to be a little bit off within the episode itself.

Hallelujah Hoedown works double as a Mother's Day episode and a prom episode. This basically means that the two apparently happen on the same day. Now I didn't go to my school's version of prom but I remember it was supposed to be in the evening. So the characters all prepare to leave from the Heck household to go to the prom and the two dumb cheerleaders wish Frankie a Happy Mother's Day while throwing her well-intended insults. They just want her to go to the spa because she's tired. Mike is shocked to learn that it's Mother's Day and I'm a little confused. So, wait, Mike went the whole day without Frankie reminding him it's Mother's Day by being disappointed? Did the school seriously schedule prom on the same day as Mother's Day? You would think that the school would have picked a different day. Anyways, Axl apparently didn't go to an after-prom party because he's home in time to give Frankie her Mother's Day present. I can only assume that's because of what happened at the prom. I don't know but it just felt like the writers could have spent a little more time to ensure that the two simply happened in the same proximity but weren't actually sharing a day. Of course, it's possible I missed some important information that clears this up or I'm just looking too deeply into the episode's timeline. I do have a couple of responses to both concerns. The first is that if I missed then that's probably on the writers for not having it be clear. The second is that this is a show that actually does take itself seriously enough. It has a wicked good memory and it tries to be as realistic as possible. The whole confusion over prom happening on Mother's Day took me out of the episode just a bit.

As for the prom, it was a sad one. Axl takes Cassidy to the dance and both are excited to be there. That is until Cassidy brings up that she wants to make the best of the next three weeks. She's going to Vassar over the summer and they will be apart. This surprises Axl. He pretends to claim that he thought Cassidy was just going to study summer but I think this is where he realized that she was actually going to be gone. He takes this as mature as you would expect him which is to say not at all. He's even more disappointed when he learns that Cassidy doesn't think they're going to remain together once the two of them are in colleges. She points out that they're going to be different states with thousands of miles between them. If she wasn't going to the summer program then those summer months would have been the last ones between them. This truth settles into Axl but he can't handle it. He breaks up with her right before he becomes prom king. It's awkward when he has to dance with his respective date but he has lost her. Weird Ashley is there to take her place but it's still heartbreaking that the two have broken up. They were so different and yet so good together. I can't say that it was surprising. The two might have had a good run but they were always doomed. I don't think I can name a single television couple who has gone to different colleges and survived. They usually don't even bother as they break up once college becomes imminent. Isn't that what college really is when you're a senior? That place where you're going to go. You'll be leaving your parents, town, friends, and the life you knew to start a new one. In television, this means leaving behind your girlfriend as part of that old life. There was a great moment where Axl and his friends realized that their times as high school buddies were coming to an end. In many ways, this was a similar episode as Axl realized he wasn't going to be with Cassidy for long. That realization was hard for him to accept and he doesn't have the maturity to properly deal with it yet. So he broke up with her. He might have regretted it almost instantly but it was his gut reaction to finding out how little time he really had left with Cassidy.

As Axl tries to confront the end of his relationship with Cassidy, Sue faces a new emotion she's not familiar with. Sue has been trying hard to pass the driving test but she failed it twice. She tries again for a third, fourth, and fifth time but she didn't pass a single one of them. She's okay with this because she's determined to pass the sixth time. She might come close as well because she was actually driving perfectly the fifth time. The only reason she failed is because she got so excited that she wanted to see the test and accidentally drove the car off the road. This is until all of her friends pass their test. It's small at first as she's bothered by this. It's subtle in Eden Sher's performance but she's clearly hurt when Carly talks about how she easily passed the driving test the first time. Sue is willing to live with this even as more and more of her friends pass the test. At least she gets to sit next to the bus with Brad. That she doesn't want them to drive her around is a sign that she's bothered by their licenses. It isn't until Brad shows up in his car that she finally realizes that she has a problem with this. She goes to Reverend Tim Tim to try and deal with this new feeling she's had. Is it a bit ridiculous that Sue has never felt jealousy in her life? It is but it fits her character's eternal optimism. An optimism that is only now starting to fade, ever so slightly, as she grows up. When everyone realizes that she's seriously bugged out, they show up to support her. They believe she can pass the test. A determined Sue goes up to the office at the Department of Motor Vehicles only to find out that she has to wait a month because this would be her fifth time. Oh, well-she can maintain her enthusiasm for that long. It's a disappointing development but one that fits the Middle and how life tries to knock Sue's spirit down. Only it doesn't work this time because her friends and family are there. It's a plot I really liked because it shows the small character development: optimism that wavers in people's success and how she has a support group to revive it.

Hallelujah Hoedown is a pretty great episode of the Middle. I was a little bothered by the timing of the episode which took me out of the events every now and then. The actual plots were good. The whole Mother's Day being a disappointment again is a given but I do like how Frankie tried to salvage it. To bad she's a Heck. Axl's break-up with Cassidy was very well executed because of just how emotional it was. It was sad. The Sue plot was great as it showed how Sue's optimism is being tempered by her growing up. Keep on believing Sue!

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