Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Middle

The Middle
Episode 24: The Graduation
The Season Finale
By: Carlos Uribe

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

Spoilers Ahoy!

This is a pretty major season finale as three different graduations happened. The most obvious one is Axl graduating from high school. It has been a long journey for the football player but he has managed to get his high school diploma despite missing 32 days of his senior year. He has a football scholarship to go to college which means he will soon be moving out of the house. This brings up questions of just how they will organically work him into future episodes. There are many routes the series could potentially take but that will have to wait until the next season. For now, we have to deal with the high emotions of Axl finishing high school. This is a finale that culminates in the family realizing that Axl is going to leave them soon. It's been a recurring theme in the second half of the season. There was the episode where Axl and his friends got up on the water tower to do their senior prank. The three had to come to terms that their time as a gang was coming to an end as they were leaving Orson behind. They were best friends but they would be going to different colleges. The theme continued when Axl and Cassidy break up as they don't think they can function in a long-term relationship. The break-up happened suddenly as Axl couldn't process this revelation properly. It makes sense that his final prom led to him dancing with Ashley as he was crowned prom king. He might have been on top in high school but it's about to come to an end. The next step in the plot revolved around his family. It begun with Brick realizing that his older brother wasn't going to be living in the same room with them. It was a great scene between the two brothers. It continued with Axl being in Sue's room as he contemplates that he's also going to be leaving her behind. The two have gotten some nice moments as Axl treats Sue like a human being at times rather than as the annoying little sister. The penultimate episode had Axl and Mike bonding one last time before he left. This episode ends this plot arc between his mom and Axl. Frankie and him simply aren't getting along as they get on their last nerves. Mike thinks this is just nature's way to allow Frankie to accept that her son is leaving the nest but he's proven to be wrong. While Frankie might be frustrated with her son, she can't help but lose it at graduation. She's not ready for him to leave. Axl does get to appear sweet at the end when he requests his picture with his mom, suggesting that the two are going to be just fine. It's a great episode that bid adieu to Axl's high school days because of it's concentration on his relationship with Frankie.

The second graduation is less obvious and not as significant. Brick is graduating elementary school and moving on to middle school. Everything seems to be going smoothly until Brick is reminded that he was voted class historian back in the first grade. He had completely forgotten which meant that he hasn't started on the slide show nor had he taken a single picture for it. He tries to get out of it by bucking the responsibility to his mom but she refuses to save him. She's too preoccupied with the son that's about to leave her. When he tries to get out of doing the slideshow, the vice principal refuses to let him. She threatens him with a terrible middle school experience if he doesn't pull this off. Suddenly, Brick is forced to deal with his own irresponsibility without getting any help from his parents. He deals with this about as well as you would expect. He tries to create a slideshow by asking his classmates to close their eyes and use their imagination to remember their own memories while he hums along to “We are Young” by Fun. It's hysterical but Brick's solution doesn't work. He might have executed his plan perfectly but it's flaw is that the plan sucked. His classmates think he's weird and the vice principal isn't satisfied with it. This season finale cast Axl's future on the show in question as we don't know how the writers are going to handle his transition to college. At the very least, they're setting up a college plot arc. With Brick, they're setting up a middle school experience that promises to be less than pleasant if the vice principal gets her way. After all, the threat of extra gym hours must be terrifying to Brick. The hope is that Frankie refusing to help her son carries over to the next season. Why? It's about time Brick start to learn to be more independent and start being responsible for his own actions. He's starting to grow up and it's time that he starts growing. If Frankie keeps holding his hand, he's never going to grow. He was forced to take matters into his own hands this episode and I'm hoping that this signals a new era for the show. Plus-if him being on his own is as funny as this week's finale then I think it'll work great for the humor.

The final graduation is less from an actual school and more towards the school bus. Sue has been trying to pass the driving test but she's failed the test five times. She's hoping that the sixth time is the charm. She's so determined to pass that she tries to have a memorable send-off from her time on the bus. This involves getting everyone to sign her yearbook, making them cookies, and trying to get them to sing “For She's a Jolly Good Fellow” to her. These all fail miserably to the point where the bus chants that Sue has to pass her driving test. As for the actual driving test? It seems to be going well even if she's forced to take it in the church van. It goes well until life gets in the way and her view keeps getting obstructed. Sue doesn't let any obstacle get in her way and she manages to get back to the DMV without crashing into anything. The driving instructor is impressed so he decides that he's going to pass her. I like to imagine that part of the reason he had to pass her is so that she stops taking the test and putting the lives of the instructors in danger. Anyways, Sue graduates from having to be dependent on others for transportation into being able to drive herself. It's a momentous occasion that leads to a great scene. The graduation is done. Axl wants to hang out with his friends so he leaves his mom. Frankie goes to hug Sue but she leaves her so she can show her driver's license to her best friend. This leaves just Brick, who promises to never leave her. There's something so odd about that final scene where Frankie, Mike, and Brick are the only ones left at the house. It's like that frame is talking about how Sue and Axl are growing up and leaving the nest. Of course, Sue is still going to be in high school for at least a few more seasons. It depends on how long the Middle lasts, but it'll be a surprise if we actually get to his high school graduation.

The fourth season of the Middle has been the show's best so far. It's gotten to be consistently great as it has remained remarkably relatable. A lot of people praise Modern Family but that's a show that has gotten so comfortable with itself that it's largely stopped pushing itself. The Middle might not get as much attention as Modern Family but it continually keeps trying to push itself into new heights and it keeps working. There might be a few weak episodes in this season but most of them are great explorations of an American family. It's a family that feels real as their economic situation feels like it actually belongs in our world while their problems tend to have some footing in reality. I wouldn't say this is the best comedy currently on television. Parks and Recreation maintains that title with New Girl and the Big Bang Theory remarkably close. The Middle is definably up there as one of the best comedies currently on the air and definably the best that the ABC network has to offer. It's a show that should be getting more attention but it continues to be dwarfed by Modern Family. Which I think is partially why the Middle is so great: it can never get too comfortable because it doesn't have that luxury. It must continue to justify it's place on the Wednesday comedy block and that's why it keeps pushing itself to be better. The current ABC Wednesday comedy block has a good reputation because of the first season of Modern Family. It has good comedies: Suburgatory and Modern Family remain good. What really makes it a great comedy block is the show that keeps opening it: The Middle. Truly, the Heck family is the best one on ABC.

The Graduation is a pretty great season finale of the Middle. It wraps up some plotlines (Axl leaving for college, Sue taking the driving test, Brick leaving elementary school) with great skill. The narrative is tight, the jokes are great, and it even sets up potential plotlines for the next season. Modern Family's finale could have easily fit anywhere in the season but there's no doubt that The Graduation could only go at the end of the Middle's season. It was a true season finale and it worked wonderfully. All I can say is that I have high hopes for the fifth season of the Middle and that it's the comedy I'm going to miss the most from ABC.

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