Review: The Middle 1×1

Not quite Malcolm in the…

The Middle

In the US: Wednesdays, 8.30c/7.30c, ABC

Huh. The Middle. Is there a Malcolm in out there somewhere?

Actually, hold it right there. I was going to go into a big long comparison between this and Malcolm and the Middle, but then I realised this starred Patricia Heaton from Everybody Loves Raymond and Back To You, not Jane Kaczmarek from Malcolm in the Middle. So it all fell apart.

Putting that slight issue to one side, there are some obvious comparisons. We have a slight loser mom married to a regular type, loser dad (Neil Flynn from Scrubs). They have three kids. The youngest kid is a bit strange and looks very much like the youngest kid in Malcolm in the Middle. It’s all about the chaos of family life…

You see? It would have worked so much better with Jane Kaczmarek. Why isn’t she in this to make my life easier?

Actually, The Middle (a reference to Indiana, middle America and the middle class not child) is not quite the same as Malcolm in the Middle, even if the tone is the same. Here the focus is very much on the far more regular parents, doing their level best not to cock up in rearing their children – and the rest of their lives – and failing hopelessly, just as their children are.

How much you enjoy this will therefore depend on whether you have kids – and whether you feel like you’re failing in life.

Forget about athletes, movie stars and politicians. Parents are the real heroes — but Frankie Heck (Patricia Heaton), well she’s some kind of superhero. A loving wife and mother of three, she’s middle class in the middle of the country and is rapidly approaching middle age.

Frankie and her husband, Mike, have lived in Jasper, Indiana their whole lives. A man of few words (every one a zinger), Mike is a manager at the town quarry and Frankie is the third-best used car salesman (out of the three) at the local dealership. She may not be a high-powered career woman, but when it comes to her family, she’ll go to just about any length. And with kids like these, she had better. There’s Axel, her semi-nudist teenage son conceived with Guns N’ Roses playing a significant role; Sue, the awkward teenage daughter who fails at everything with great gusto; and their seven-year-old son Brick, whose best friend is his back-pack.

Cast and crew
Patricia Heaton as Frankie
Neil Flynn as Mike
Eden Sher as Sue
Atticus Shaffer as Brick
Charlie McDermott as Axel

Executive Producers: Eileen Heisler, DeAnn Heline

Is it any good?
On the whole, it’s not bad. It raised a few wry grins from me, although never any real belly laughs. The cast is good, the situations are relatively plausible. It’s certainly more engrossing than Modern Family.

Most of the laughs stem from the discrepancies between how the parents always envisioned life and what life for them is actually like, now they’ve lost control, as well as the syndrome-like qualities of youngest child ‘Brick’ (“simply because you give your kids a cool name like Rick, that doesn’t mean they’re going to end up cool”). There’s also a deep vein of “things parents would like to say to their kids but can’t” humour, usually involving their talentless but continually aspiring daughter, Sue, and the occasional cringe comedy moment as well.

Flynn is on the butt-end of too many of the situations, continually failing to do what he’s supposed to have done, leaving his wife in the lurch. But occasionally, he comes through too, so we’re not looking at Everyone Loves Raymond or King of Queens here, since .

All in all, though, it’s not my cup of tea. Good cast, some obvious thought and talent has gone into it. Neil Flynn’s great, and Patricia Heaton manages to wash away the bad taste that was Everybody Loves Raymond with ease. It’s just not something that’s my particular viewing pleasure.

Your mileage may vary.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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