Judge Clark Douglas is neither to the right nor the left, but directly in the...what's the word? Center.
Our review of The Middle: Season One, published August 31st, 2010, is also available.
Work. Kids. Bills. Comedy. It's how the middle half lives.
"Let's just give up now."
Facts of the Case
Ah, it's another year in the lives of the Heck family, and parents Mike (Neil Flynn, Mean Girls) and Frankie Heck (Patricia Heaton, Everybody Loves Raymond) have a whole new set of challenges to deal with (read: Frankie has a whole new set of challenges to deal with). The kids are going back to school, meaning that she'll have to cope with the obstacles of her son Axl's (Charlie McDermott, Hot Tub Time Machine) homecoming game, her daughter Sue's (Eden Sher, Sons and Daughters) new enthusiasm for cross-country running and her son Brick's (Atticus Shaffer, The Unborn) difficulties fitting in at school. Will poor Frankie's life ever be anything other than moderately, amusingly stressful and chaotic?
No. No, it won't.
Even the raves on the back of the DVD case for The Middle: Season Two feel kind of like generous shrugs. "Rock-solid. The Middle stands in the tradition of Roseanne," states Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker. "Watch it, people. You will laugh," says Robert Lloyd of Los Angeles Times. The show description asserts that the series offers, "24 episodes of offbeat fun with one foot in reality and the other on a greasy wrapper from Burgerworld," which basically means you're about to slip and land in a great big pile of warm, comforting, familiar sitcom territory. There's almost nothing fresh about The Middle, but I guess there's nothing wrong with that.
The best comedies on television these days are constantly pushing themselves to reach new heights. They often risk falling flat on their face by being willing to try new things: I'm thinking of shows like Louie, Community, Parks and Recreation, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. The Middle almost never falls flat on its face because it doesn't want to stray out of its comfort zone. Each and every week, you'll get a simple Point A to Point B to Point C plot in which Frankie scrambles around attempting to cope with the latest exasperating situation. Axl will complain about something, Sue will demonstrate a cutely amusing level of enthusiasm for something most kids would complain about and Brick will do that little thing where he whispers a key phrase of a sentence he's just uttered: "The kids at school seem to like this Shaquille O'Neal character…Shaquille O'Neal character." Mike will shake his head, act perplexed and simply observe as Frankie works herself into a tizzy.
The Middle is the sort of sitcom your mom would probably enjoy; television comfort food which can easily be tuned in and tuned out at any time. That poor Frankie, she's so stressed-out and relatable. The humor is often pitched at the level of a Cathy strip, transforming crushing despair into something lightweight and easily digestible. The show spotlights the little things middle-class parents everywhere have to deal with, adding just enough exaggeration to prevent the show from feeling too much like an echo of real life. This series wouldn't have felt fresh twenty years ago (save for the welcome absence of a laugh track), but those who prefer old-fashioned silliness to the more experimental brands of comedy dominating the airwaves today will probably have a good time. It won't take you long to figure out whether this show is up your alley, because once you've seen four or five episodes, you've seen 'em all.
The performances are solid, and I remain particularly impressed by Heaton's high-strung work in the lead role. She's precisely what a show like this needs, a woman who never condescends to the material and consistently finds ways to elevate the conventional nature of her role. Seeing the skill of her work is what makes the show exceptional for those who dig the series and tolerable for everyone else. The supporting players are fine, but none of them manage to transcend the character types they're handed to play in the way Heaton does.
The DVD transfer is okay, though the 24-episode series suffers from a lack of detail at times. Colors are bright and vibrant, but the image just isn't as sharp and polished as the average modern television release. Audio is also okay, though I still feel the music is trying too hard to tell audiences when to laugh (it almost negates the absence of the laugh track). Supplements are limited to some deleted scenes and a gag reel.
I don't really feel any differently about The Middle than I did when I reviewed the first season a year ago. It's such a middle-of-the-road, competently crafted sitcom I find it hard to muster up enough energy to give it significant praise or condemnation. Same song, second verse, but no changes in instrumentation or performance.
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