Episode 23: The Ditch
By: Carlos Uribe
The Middle is a show about the Heck family, an average family in Indiana.
As you grow older, you start to see your dad in a different light. This could be a good thing as he falls from an impossible pedestal into a human being. This might seem odd but it helps to humanize the authority figure which makes him more relatable. There's a moment like that for Axl. Mike is taking him fishing before he graduates so that they can have some father-son bonding. Only they don't make it to the lake as Mike accidentally sends their boat into a ditch when he's distracted by girls in bikinis. It's a funny moment for many reasons but it works as an emotional one because Axl saw his dad make a mistake. It wasn't just any mistake but one that Axl could have easily made himself. He caught his dad checking out other girls and he got to see a side of his father that he had never seen before. Mike was no longer just his dad who was lecturing him about focus but a human being on the same level as him. It's a new perception that undermined Mike's authority and lesson about focus but it's one that definably moved their relationship into a slightly different place. Axl doesn't exactly lose respect for his dad but he does view him in a slightly different color. This wasn't the only thing that happened as Axl's idea to get the boat out of the ditch turned out to actually work even as it drenched his dad in mud. Mike realizes that while Axl might not be the brightest bulb in the room, he does have a brain. Mike is able to gain a new respect for his son that he didn't have before. The Ditch was an episode where Axl got to see his dad as a human while Mike got to see his son more as an adult. The plot was mostly good but there were a few distractions. The first was the horrible CGI used for the truck and the boat. It's especially distracting in a series that uses little special effects to begin with. The second was how does the Heck family have a boat? It would be nice to have gotten some explanation because it seemed a bit odd that they have one considering their financial situation. Since this show is usually so realistic, it's a bit of a break of an immersion for them to have one.
While Axl goes on a fishing trip with his dad, Sue breaks her perfect attendance record when she's convinced to play hookey. Only this is Sue we're talking about. She takes the act of skipping school very seriously. She pretends to get on the bus, sneaks back into the house through the window, and uses a British accent to pretend to be her mom when the school calls. When she finds out she needs a doctor's note, Sue panics about having to nail down her mom's signature. She freaks out so much about getting away with it that she doesn't really enjoy her dad. When she finally does have the signature down, she tries her best to relax only to accidentally spill salsa on bed sheets. She rushes to clean them before her mom gets home so that there would be no evidence she was there. She's able to get away with skipping school but she does learn a valuable lesson: never to do it again. She's not only going to stress too much about getting away with it but she happens to miss school on a very exciting day as there's free ice cream and all. She even gets sick from her day which causes her to miss three more days-and one of them has a surprise visit by a Katie Couric. It's basically the plot you would expect if Sue ever skipped school but it was still very funny. It does have my favorite gag at the very beginning. Axl is using her motivational posters to mock her. When she replies to him, she inadvertently quotes the posters behind her. There's also a great sequence where a whole bunch of posters basically haunt her into making the decision to skip school. Overall: a predictable plot but one that worked well to Sue's characteristics.
Axl might be graduating high school but Brick is finally leaving elementary school for middle school. He has to take an entrance exam so that they know where to place him. Only he shocks his teacher and the school therapist when he refuses to take the exam. His reason? He's not going to go to middle school. This basically serves as an excuse for the writers to utilize as many child therapy tricks on Brick. The therapist tries to use a puppet and singing before he's forced to simply ask Brick why he won't go to middle school. Brick replies that he doesn't want to have to adjust to having the water fountain button on the wrong side and because his one friend won't follow him to middle school. That one friend being the school therapist. The therapist is happy to fix the latter problem by telling him that he's also the therapist for the middle school due to budget cuts. He does promise to bring up the former problem to the school board. It's a pretty funny plot but it's largely as an excuse to bring Dave Foley. This might not be his last appearance as this episode basically sets him up to appear on the Middle for the next three years. Whatever the case, it was pretty funny to see a montage of Foley trying his best to connect with Brick. The plot does get a great send-off when it's revealed that Brick didn't get into the honors program because he didn't use a number two pencil like he was supposed to. That is such a Brick move.
The final plot has to do with Frankie. She has to go to the electric company to pay her bill. Since her outfit makes her look like a doctor, people assume that she's Dr. Frankie Heck. She is able to use this misconception to get to the front of the line. She's able to pay the bill and actually gets some respect at the counter. Karma does pay her back when she goes to work. Her boss isn't happy that she was late because he's not sure what to do when the phone rings. Her day gets worse when the first client he sees happens to be one of the people from the line. Frankie tries her best to pretend that she's training her boss to be a dentist but this only leads to the client being dropped when she's forced to lie by pretending he's stalking her. This was a plot that had it's moments but it didn't work because it didn't ring true. It felt more like a sit-com plot than something that could happen in reality. Oh, I'm sure people could have confused Frankie for a doctor until they read her badge and realized she was merely an assistant to a dentist. The Middle is a show that's best when it's rooted in reality even if the situations are absurd. This was an absurd situation but it didn't feel like it was rooted in the realm of possibility. While Jack McBrayer was a delight, I simply felt like this is a plot that should have been scrapped in the writers room as it didn't really feel like it belonged in the Middle's universe. This isn't Modern Family.
The Ditch is a pretty good episode of The Middle. The Sue plot was hysterical even as it happened basically how you would have predicted. The Brick plot was a great way to bring back Dave Foley while keeping opportunities for him to return open. The Axl and Mike plot was a great way to have them bond even though fake CGI and the boat's existence were distractions. The major problem I had was with Frankie's situation seeming fake and out-of-place on an otherwise grounded show. It's a good thing so many other plots were going on at the same time or it might have significantly dragged the episode down.