Roush Review: ‘The Middle’ Signs Off in a Side-Splitting & Emotional Series Finale
Never the worst nor best house on the block, the lived-in Heck home of suburban Orson, Indiana, was recently invaded by, of all things, a bat. After the family gave up, as usual, in their frenzied pursuit of the winged creature, it left on its own after a few hours. “’Cause let’s face it,” narrates eternally frazzled mom Frankie (Patricia Heaton), “nothing stays in our house by choice.” I beg to differ.
Nine seasons seems hardly time enough to spend with this frenetic and fondly imagined TV family. If it were up to me, I’d never let The Middle go. Each week was like a happy homecoming, and not just because of my shared small-town Hoosier roots. I’d like to think anyone can identify with the Hecks as they keep their appliances running with duct tape and hope, buy groceries at the Frugal Hoosier (“Yesterday’s food today”), disappoint one another on birthdays and Mother’s Days, eat dinner (usually drive-through) in mismatched chairs — including a lawn chair — and otherwise get by with wry, never-say-die humor.
Like a kinder but not entirely gentler Roseanne, this sorely under-appreciated comedy (with only one Emmy nomination, for makeup, during its entire run) honored the struggles of the heartland middle class without taking itself too seriously. Lacking the popularity and trophies of Modern Family, in whose shadow it lived, or the hip and trendy cachet of a show like Parks and Recreation, whose quirky notion of Indiana seemed born more in the San Fernando than Wabash Valley, The Middle was authentically funny, endearingly real.
This is especially true in the hourlong finale, a side-splitting and emotionally affecting ode to the difficulties of saying goodbye. With sentiment and slapstick, the episode offers each Heck a chance to shine, as always giving equal time to the grown-ups — Heaton as needy, clingy Frankie and Neil Flynn as her taciturn, droll and deeply loyal mate, Mike — and their kids, who defied sitcom convention by staying distinctively hilarious through the years.
Even with pants on, Charlie McDermott is a stitch as reformed slacker Axl, and Atticus Shaffer remains a bundle of comic eccentricity as bookish Brick. I’ll miss Eden Sher’s eternally optimistic Sue most of all. Described in the finale as “walking sunshine,” she embodies The Middle’s manic and unquenchable spirit. This was a heck of a show.
Freeform’s The Middle Cast Favorites Mini-Marathon, Tuesday, May 22, 1-6 p.m. ET/PT, Freeform
The Middle, Series Finale, Tuesday, May 22, 8:30/7:30c, ABC