Another hilarious episode of ABC’s The Middle (8:00 p.m. ET) treated viewers to a half-hour of family-friendly fun, laughter, and good lessons – which is why the Wednesday, February 27th episode deserves recognition for being the Best TV Show of the Week.
With Sue’s “Sue –weet 16” birthday only 10 days away, the teen girl is in a frenzy of anticipation. But the mood is shattered when, while the kids are horsing around, they break the living room window. Axl convinces his siblings to lie, and say their crazy neighbors the Glostners threw a rock through the window. But Axl’s task is not easy, as lying makes Sue want to throw up, and Brick whisper “I’m lying” under his breath.
Additionally, Frankie is suspicious: “I’ve seen enough episodes of Castle to know this looks fishy,” she says, noting the glass laid out too neatly on the floor. The next morning, when the kids are actually nice to one another, Frankie is positive. “I’m telling you, they’re in cahoots,” she mutters to husband Mike. “There are no coincidences, only clues.”
Frankie: “It’s a really good show, Mike. You should watch.”
(This bit underlines one of the most subtly funny aspects of The Middle: in a slyly aware “meta” fashion, characters on the show incessantly refer to television programs they’ve watched. This is quite unusual; the one thing families on television almost never seem to do is watch television. Suffice to say, in no other TV family do families talk as much about watching TV as do the Hecks.)
Determined to get their children to confess, Frankie practices her (unskilled) dental hygienist techniques on a squirming Axl, while Mike tells Sue that he has to use the money from the family’s Disney World savings jar to pay for the broken window.
Sue: “But we’ve been saving up this money for years. I’ve dreamed of Disney World since I was a little girl!”
Mike: “Yup. Shame. Let’s start with the quarters.”
After both Sue and Axl stick to their stories, Mike and Frankie state they are taking Brick, and ONLY Brick, out for ice cream. (The reaction shot of a panic-stricken Brick’s face is golden.)
But Brick also sticks to telling the lie. This leads Axl to the conclusion that their parents “made a huge mistake when they had three kids. We outnumber them, so as long as we stick together, we get stronger and they get weaker. There’s nothing we can’t do!”
But the parents can play tough, too. Mike and Frankie set up a “Wheel of Pain,” a “spin-the-wheel” game with three choices: “8 pm curfew” (Axl just got his advanced to 12:30), “No reading,” (Brick’s favorite pastime), and “No birthday party” for Sue. “Your dad and I know that you’ve all been lying about the window. And since no one has ‘fessed up and received their fair punishment, we’re going to let the wheel decide who gets punished, randomly,” Frankie states. Sue protests, “But my birthday party only happens ONCE IN MY LIFETIME! This is SO UNFAIR!” But when the three kids still refuse to confess, the wheel is spun…only to land on “No birthday party.” To howls of outrage from the other kids, Frankie states it was just a “practice spin.” But after two more spins – with Frankie vowing, “No more do-overs. This is it!” – the wheel continues to land on “No birthday party,” sending Sue shrieking to her room, while even Mike and Frankie look uncomfortable.
With the kids assembled, Sue screams, “You said if we stuck together nothing bad would happen. Now the worst possible thing is happening – and it’s ONLY HAPPENING TO ME!” Sue threatens to tell their parents the truth…only to have Axl point out that even if she maintains the lie, Sue will get her party anyway because “Mom caves. She’s a caver.” Brick agrees, saying Frankie is “all threat, no follow-through. She’s just a toothless old tiger.”
Though incensed at the criticism, Frankie stays true to her “caver” nature and does devise a way to give Sue her party without looking like she’s “caving” – she claims MIKE allowed the party to go forward, against her wishes. At the party, Sue believes she has driven her parents apart and, feeling that her “sweet 16”party has become a “sour 16,” confesses that all the kids together broke the window. But Frankie then confesses to her own lie, making Sue happy again. “I guess Sue was right – having the sour moments in life really does make the sweet ones sweeter.
The Middle is consistently chosen as Best TV Show of the Week because of its humorous depiction of the clash of wills between teenagers, children, and parents — yet, with parental authority, family, and good moral lessons always being upheld in the end…even if the route getting there is winding, convoluted, and funny. And frankly, viewers wouldn’t have it any other way.
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