Wednesday, May 23, 2018

In Praise of the Understated Excellence of 'The Middle'

I'm going to admit it: Last night's series finale of The Middle reduced me to a blubbering fool. After nine seasons and 215 episodes, the Heck family said goodbye to their viewers with a pitch-perfect, lovingly-executed swan song titled "A Heck of a Ride" that honored the show's tone, characters, and—most of all—its audience.

For the uninitiated, The Middle is a half-hour ABC sitcom that premiered in 2009 and follows the misadventures of an endearing, perpetually cash-strapped Indiana family. And although the show never achieved water-cooler status, it did achieve an enduring charm. The show boasted no major cast changes over its nine-year run, a narrative consistency that established its own sense of history, and an upbeat warm-heartedness without the saccharine aftertaste. It was one of those shows that I began watching because it was likely wedged between two destination shows and became an accidental favorite over the years.

The end was on par with any of the great series finales in TV history, with Patricia Heaton (as family matriarch Frankie) having a roadside meltdown during a family road trip to deposit oldest son Axl (Charlie McDermott) in Denver for his new job and adult life. “It’s the end of an era,” she laments. “It's never going to be the same again.”

“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Neil Flynn's Mike (husband and family patriarch) says, as we flash-forward to the family's post-Middle lives, which leave every beloved character exactly where our hearts want them to be—especially Eden Scher's eternal optimist Sue. We even get a glimpse of a bright romantic future for her gay bestie Brad (played with such joyful zeal by Brock Ciarlelli, who has been a scene-stealing highlight over the years). The show ends with a certain character's reprisal of a beloved speech quirk, and I (literally) just sobbed.

In a world that moves so fast and in a medium that cancels shows in the space of a few episodes, the comforting consistency and longevity of The Middle is worth noting—and celebrating.

No comments: