Episode 1: The Drop Off
By: Carlos Uribe
The Middle is a show about the Heck family, an average family in Indiana, told from the perspective of the mother.
The Middle begins it's new season with a momentous moment: Axl heading off to college. The only person who seems to think this is an actual important event is Frankie. Axl just wants to get there and be done with it. He doesn't want to make this a big deal. He's been looking forward to college parties and independence from his parents for so long that he can't wait to move into his dorm. He has a vision of his life where he's going to use an inflatable palm tree and a bag of sand to turn his room into a tropical oasis. He thinks college is just going to be a lot of fun but doesn't actually take it very seriously. The fact that he doesn't spend his money on anything he actually needs is a sign that he doesn't even realize how significant moving away from home really is. I have to admit: I kind of understand how it's like to be Axl. At the same time, my experience was very different. It might be because I didn't go forty-eight minutes away from my house but to a completely different part of the country. I'm from San Antonio, Texas but I go to college in Boston. It's so far away that I have to take a flight to visit home. My parents came with me to move me in, help me buy everything I needed, and helped set up my room. I was very thankful for their help but I also couldn't wait until I was moved in and free from them. I wasn't anywhere close to being dismissive of them but I wanted to start my new life. I understood it would be far from my support structure but it wasn't until I was on my own that I realized what that truly meant. I could definably understand, and even relate, to where Axl was coming from. He was probably a bigger jerk than he needed to be about it. After all, leaving the nest is an exciting idea. Having to say goodbye to your child as they leave your home? That's more terrifying than anything.
What I love about the premiere is that we spend most of it on the road. The Heck family goes on so many detours that they turn a forty-eight minute ride into one that lasts five hours. This allows the show to give every kid their own story. Axl has his desire for independence continually being delayed by his family. Sue is trying to get accepted into a program where she's in charge of sophomore mentors for freshmen. As for Brick? He's given a cell phone by Frankie because he's now in middle school. Her justification is that he's mature enough to have a cell phone but he needs one because he tends to wander off is hilarious. It's a weird juxtaposition that comes back to haunt her as Brick continually loses his phone. The three stories continually prop up throughout the episode in unexpected ways. Let's take Axl for a minute: the first delay is brought up on by him. When Frankie learns he didn't buy anything he was supposed to, she forces the family to go to shopping for what's recommended by the college. It's a funny moment that perhaps shows that Axl really isn't ready to be on his own. The next is a huge twist where Axl finds out that his grandparents had set up a bank account for him. They had been putting money in there ever since he was born to give him some spending money. Only Axl isn't going to be able to use it because his parents kept pilfering it to cover costs. His reaction is basically what you would expect: he's angry with a very immature response. The plot gets resolved when he's finally at his college dorm. He leaves his parents to go to a kegger (of ice cream) before coming back home. It might have taken them five hours to get him there but he is only forty-eight minutes away after all. Which is a perfect way to say that they can always bring him home when they need to while giving him college sub-plots when they don't.
The Axl plot is great but so are the two other plots. Sue is really excited about the possibility of being in charge of the sophomore mentors. After all, it's the key to becoming secretary or something. She did well in the interview but the school didn't get her essay. She had trusted Frankie with faxing her application to the school. Only she didn't because she basically forgot. The school is willing to read her essay if she turns it by two o'clock. This leads to a mad dash where they have to find a faxing machine. Once they find it, Sue is panicked because the last page of her essay was stained by Frankie's purse freshener. She tries her best to read it but she can't remember what she wrote. This involves writing a new version of the paper within a minute. She sends the essay in right before she remembers what she wrote. She does end up getting it even though they didn't read her essay. That's largely because her main competitors were disqualified for different reasons. The Sue plot was basically what you would expect: she's trying out for something, takes it like it's the most serious thing in the world, and her whole family has to be there for her. The good news is that it's one of the few times where she actually makes it.
The Brick plot was related a bit to the Axl plot. Frankie buys Brick a cell phone. He's going to be in middle school soon so he should in theory be responsible enough to have one. Just like Axl isn't really ready to live on his own, Brick isn't responsible enough to actually keep track of it. He continually loses it over the course of the episode. In the end, Mike takes the cell phone back before realizing it wasn't the one they gave Brick. It's a nice resolution but it also plays into Frankie trying to deal with her son going to college. She gives Brick a cell phone as a gift because he's growing up but also because it's her way of trying to stay in touch with him. Her children are growing up so the cell phone is an attempt to keep her close. The climax of the episode comes at the dorm when she finally loses that Axl is out of her home. She has a huge goodbye prepared for him that she's forced to give to Axl's oblivious roommate. A roommate that is so invested in playing video games that he not once acknowledges that they even exist. All in all, Brick's plot therefore ties into Axl leaving in multiple ways: whether they're ready as they grow up and Frankie trying her best to remain relevant in her children's lives.
The Middle has a pretty excellent season premiere. The whole idea of putting the whole family together to take Axl to college was a genius way to create comedy and conflict. Axl's desire to just get there and his discover of his non-existent bank account were great. The Sue plot was a bit typical but the happy ending was worth it. The Brick plot maybe went a little over-the-top sometimes but I never stopped laughing. Overall, the closing speech by Frankie showed the heart the episode maintained. The Middle has opened the new season with a great opening that promises the show is nowhere close to winding down.