Archives for posts with tag: The Middle

After what feels like an eternity, I have once again returned to The Middle. My pause from it was caused by my obsession with working my way through all 12 seasons of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. My word, the contrast is huge. It feels like entering a sunny landscape after days of hiking through rough terrain and a biting wind. Not that I don’t love It’s Always Sunny, it does edgy so well after all, but watching a comedy that isn’t full of anger and with people who are at a basic level likeable feels almost a relief.

Not that there aren’t clouds in The Middle. It’s just that it is the clouds are what drives the family together. Financial hardship, the perils of adulthood, dissatisfaction with life – they are all on display. But there is a love between the characters. And that’s why you buy into them as a real family.

Also, like with any family, you find yourself siding with different people each time. I have watched episodes where Brick is almost a hero to me, fighting his social awkwardness with a charming naivety. Then, in the next episode, these very qualities become overbearing and frustratingly child-like. Likewise, Frankie can be too naggy in one episode, wanting too much from her family and life and then giving up on her dreams when a minor bump appears. But then, you suddenly feel sorry for her when you see how much she tries to support her family with little gratification in return.

I’ve said it before, but it’s true – American TV truly comes into its own when it allows over a number of seasons at twenty or so episodes at time the characters to develop. Long-running plots can develop without being rushed and even minor characters can be fleshed out.

I think, more than anything, you come away from The Middle wanting the characters to be happy. Obviously not too happy. There is no comedy or narrative tension in a smooth life. But happy enough so that you come away affirmed that life can occasionally at least go your way.

You don’t always want happy in a comedy. Life isn’t like that and humour can come from the darkest place. But sometimes fiction needs to lift you up, even if it’s not aspirational. And that’s because aspiration alone doesn’t lift. It takes people to do that. Even dysfunctional families can make things better.

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One of the things I find intriguing is the disparity that sometimes occurs between the attention shows get in America and here in the UK. Take The Good Wife for example; it’s adored in America and a comfortable ratings hit. Here in the UK it has some critical love, but is hidden away on More4, presumably to mainstream for Channel 4 itself (which has gone for the more counter-cultural Fargo and the increasingly controversial-yet-dull Homeland as its international centrepieces).

This problem doesn’t just apply to drama. Modern Family is treated with critical fanfare over here almost as loud as it receives in its homeland. I haven’t seen it, but I’m sure it deserves the love it gets. However, The Middle is an equally big show in the states, yet barely gets a nod of recognition in Britain. I have had to resort to Youtube to get decent access to it, as not even subscription services like Netflix carry it.

Perhaps the problem lies in that it is too conventional. This sitcom feels like it could sit as comfortably 10, 20, maybe even 30 years ago. There will always be space for a show about a family struggling to make ends meet, the tempers that fray and the familial bond that just about holds them together. The writing isn’t exactly edgy, the characters aren’t really that new.

Yet that doesn’t stop it from achieving the one thing a comedy always needs to do: being funny. If anything, the gentleness at times helps it, as you are not so distracted by being shocked that you forget to laugh. It could be the heartlessness in me, but highlights have included the decrepit old aunts and their emphysemic dog, Sue’s constant optimism despite repeatedly running into life’s walls, and the unsung hero Bob, the adult who has lost at life and knows it.

Like a lot of American sitcoms, it takes time. The characters need to build layers. But clearly something has clicked across the pond, as it is on its seventh season. Maybe being conventional isn’t such a bad thing after all.