The Middle: The Complete First Season on DVD

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Patricia Heaton stars as Frankie Heck in this warm and witty single-camera comedy about raising a family and lowering your expectations. Frankie Heck is a superhero. Well, no, not an actual superhero – but sometimes it seems to Frankie as though getting her kids out the door for school every morning is a superheroic act. Middle aged, middle class and living in the middle of the country, this harried wife and working mother of three uses her wry wit and sense of humor to try to get her family through each day intact.

Eldest son Axl (Charlie McDermott) is in jaded teen mode; he is unenthused, unmotivated, and often undressed. Overlooked middle child Sue (Eden Sher) is a notorious underachiever who has tried and failed at nearly every extracurricular activity, but persists with a braced smile. The youngest, quirky 8-year-old Brick (Atticus Shaffer) is a self-whispering social outcast and a bookworm.

Some viewers have cited things like the Hecks are a positive depiction of a healthy family or that they are fundamentally good people. To be sure, those are both nice qualities, but as a television comedy, the more important thing is, are they entertaining?

“The Middle” is a crowd pleaser that is refreshing and appealing to its core. The casting and characterizations are enough to hope the series endures. The staff concocts enough strong, organic storylines to carry them through a debut season with very little evidence of weakness or fatigue. Heaton (who also ably narrates) and Flynn both regularly entertain, without us connecting them to their long-running past TV roles. Each is comfortable with the parental material, which largely steers clear of jokes for more satisfying and nuanced humor of interaction. The fine deliveries of the two actors elevate already sound writing.

Rounding out the principal cast are Chris Kattan as Frankie’s sympathetic co-worker, a recurring Brian Doyle-Murray as her sexist old boss, and an unseen, uncredited Bob Clendenin who is funny.

“The Middle” puts a modern spin on the now archaic design of brightly-lit three-walled sets and warmed-up studio audiences. Also, things are more subtle, less broad and rigidly structured here, not to mention that the mother is the lead and the father is not a dunce. Still, the humorous but heartfelt approach to family life renders this a mature, in a likable long tradition.