It’s funny how some shows sneak up on you.
Shows you never imagined you would enjoy and had pretty much consigned to the “I will never see a single episode EVER” pile, for any one of a multitude of reasons, suddenly find themselves on your must-see list and usually through the most unexpected of circumstances.
The Middle, starring Patricia Heaton (Everyone Loves Raymond) and Neil Flynn (Scrubs) as a beleaguered midwestern couple on the lower end of the socio-economic scale trying to get through life and parenthood as best they can, is one such show, and I owe my devotion to its delightfully quirky hilarity to my housemate Aidan.
He discovered the show, which commenced its fifth season a few weeks back, and is getting ready to celebrate its all-important 100th episode on October 23, some time back when nothing much else was on.
Initially simply a filler between shows he really wanted to watch, he found himself warming to limestone quarry manager Mike and car saleswoman Patricia and their mixed bag of a brood – sarcastic sportsman Axl (Charlie McDermott), eternally optimistic and socially awkward Sue (Eden Sher) and bright but socially-challenged Brick (Atticus Shaffer) – and then before long was actively looking forward to catching up with them.
And since I often ended up watching TV with him, so did I.
It was a wholly unexpected love affair but now I can’t believe I had consigned this to the aforemetioned ignore pile.
What makes a show that I mistakenly thought rather average and not all that funny – admittedly based on a cursory glance at a trailer which is never any way to ultimately judge a series; lesson well learned – suddenly come alive for me?
I think it’s the fact that the show is so true to life.
Not that I speak from personal experience of course, having grown up thousands of kilometres from the midwest of America, but what I can relate to is that it does reflect the fact that no one’s life is as ordered or as perfect as they’d like it to be.
All of us at some point have thought we’d be somewhere else in life than where we are now, no matter what we’ve achieved and The Middle captures that sentiment perfectly, capturing that gnawing sense that something has gone wrong somewhere.
It doesn’t offer up neat, sweet little nuggets of sweet resolution at the end of every episode, like many other sitcoms both old and new.
While the Hecks do usually get a resolution of some kind, it’s rarely the one they were after, especially when Patricia decides they should be stricter parents, or the kids need to learn some kind of lesson, and more than a few messy threads are left dangling at the end of the very cleverly written episodes.
Think of it as an heir to Roseanne if you like which blazed a somewhat similar trail through the late 80s into the 90s.
The Middle though goes one step further throwing in a delightful sense of the absurd, which verges on The Simpsons-esque at times, a hyper reality which, rather than detracting from the everyday feel of the show, actually enhances it as the over the top elements profoundly emphasise how tight life can be at that perilous point on the socio-economic ladder.
It’s all so instantly relatable, and consistently hilarious, turning disappointment and frustration into fodder for the sort of black humour (and humour of lighter, more playful shades too since it isn’t a HBO show let’s be honest) and reminding us that while life may not be quite what we ordered, it does have more than its fair share of good points too.
At the end of the day The Middle is that most rare of beasts – a sitcom with beautifully drawn characters, a cast that knows exactly what to do with them, and sharp, wryly observed writing that brings them all to life, somehow enriching ours in the process.
And to think I almost missed it!
*Here’s the original trailer for one of my new unexpected favourite ever TV shows …