For promoting responsible behavior by teens and young adults, the Wednesday, January 14th episode of ABC’s The Middle (8:00 p.m,. ET) is the Best TV Show of the Week.
As usual, the Heck family house is a disaster. When her hours are cut at her after-school job, Sue goes to work for Mike at his quarry, cleaning up the office and bathrooms. Against his expectations, Mike is impressed with Sue’s work ethic. Frankie thinks she’s found a windfall when she comes across a two-year-old check from Ellert Motors; but when she asks to have it reissued, Mr. Ellert demands she come in and work one day. To her astonishment, Frankie sells two cars, earning a hefty commission in addition to her back pay.
At the same time, Mike’s father agrees to replace their kitchen sink, and asks Axl to help. However, Axl’s previous strategy for getting out of household jobs – goof up, and wait for his parents to say, “I’ll do it myself!” – doesn’t work this time, as Grandpa tells him, “Clean it up and do it again.” “Won’t I just be slowing you down?” Axl asks desperately. “I’ve got all the time in the world,” Grandpa replies smugly. Axl is even more dismayed when Grandpa tells him they need one matching screw for the sink assembly – then hands Axy a bucket containing thousands of screws. “Aren’t screws, like, 3 cents apiece?” a flabbergasted Axl asks. “Why would I pay for something I’ve already got? That’s 3 cents more in your pocket.” Axl installs the sink himself, but water is coming out sideways. “So, this is your best work? You’re satisfied with this?” Grandpa says, shaming Axl into redoing the job. Axl beams with pride when he does it perfectly, and even Frankie admits, “I sold two cars, and we got a new sink. I don’t get to say this very often, but things were looking up for the Hecks.”
However, everything goes south when Sue takes her friends to see the quarry after hours. They take a picture and put it on Instagram – and before long, an entire mob of beer-toting teens shows up for the “quarry party.” Sue tries to stop them, but to no avail, and soon the entire quarry is rocking out to the sounds of a kegger as Sue desperately tries to clean up all the empty cups and beer spills. And keep people from driving the bulldozer. And diving into the quarry pit. And breaking into the dynamite shed. Until, to Sue’s horror Mike shows up.
In the living room later, Mike explodes: “Do you understand that people could’ve been hurt? You could’ve been hurt. There were EXPLOSIVES there! Someone could’ve started up one of those front-end loaders! Kids could’ve drowned! Do you know how irresponsible and stupid this was? I could be held liable. I could lose my job! We already don’t have any money. What do you think would happen then?”
Later, Mike confides to Frankie, “I’m shaking, I’m so mad. You should have seen this party. If anything had happened, we could’ve lost everything!…I’d expect this kind of idiot behavior from Axl. But not Sue!” Mike plans to ground Sue for six months. “It’s her senior year,” Frankie protests. “She’s gotta learn,” Mike replies. Then a note – well, a multi-page letter — is slipped under the door, with Sue apologizing profusely and hoping that someday, Mike will trust her again.
While it did contain some mild humor, this episode of The Middle dealt seriously with an important issue: teens and young adults facing up to their responsibilities. In a media environment saturated with sex and toilet “humor,” to find a show that even slightly encourages positive attitudes toward responsibility is a joy…and provides one more reason why this episode of ABC’s The Middle is the Best TV Show of the Week.