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October 10, 2015

'The Middle' - 'The Break Up' Recap

by Jason Hughes, posted Mar 11th 2010 4:50AM
Charlie McDermott, 'The Middle'(S01E16) Sometimes it's important to realize that there are things going on in your kids lives that you know nothing about. It's important, but horrible at the same time. It certainly makes me afraid for when my son becomes a teenager. If they can keep a relationship with a Hollywood superstar a secret, imagine what else you don't know?

Okay, Alexa Vega, of 'Spy Kids' fame, wasn't playing herself but she was playing Axl's secret girlfriend. A girlfriend that on the surface seemed way too good to be true. I certainly didn't trust her.

The remainder of the episode spotlighted an all too common phenomenon. What happens when kids watch scary movies at too young of an age. When I was Brick's age, I made the mistake of walking into the living room to ask my mom a question during the wrong part of 'The Exorcist.' Later, an encounter with 'Psycho' had me showering with my eyes open for more than a decade.

The episode served as a fun reminder that our kids live in a magical world, one that we help perpetuate with our holiday traditions. One in which a kid memorizing a fire safety plan at a school looks like a zombie to his thirteen-year old sister. Eden Sher and Atticus Shaffer were a lot of fun as two kids jumping at their own shadows over a zombie movie, and yet it was all made better -- as Brick said it would -- by mom telling them that if there were zombies, we'd have heard about it by now.

I could appreciate that nothing spectacular happened to the Hecks this week. The events included going to a couple of basketball games and Sue babysitting. That's it. It's a testament to the strength of the writing and acting talent that they could mine so much rich humor out of these mundane activities, while at the same time coming across as fresh entertainment.

The Midwest stoic man with suppressed emotions isn't a myth, but a sober reality. I thought the whole thing was portrayed with painful accuracy through Mike's horror about emotions coming from his son, but even worse from himself. The tip that he gave Axl about emotions scoring women was more a way to try and recover his own damaged masculinity than any kind of real advice, as seen by Axl's miserable attempt to employ it to win back his girlfriend.

Granted, he chose to do so during the final seconds of an important game and cost his school the win, but kids are stupid. They don't think things all the way through. I like that things don't work out the way they do on television on 'The Middle.' The whole thing feels much more authentic that way.

Unfortunately, even the angry fans attempting to tip the Heck car because Axl caused them to lose the game was probably a bit more realistic than I'd even like to admit. People can take their local sports very seriously.

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I just want to say thank Jason for the wonderful reviews for The Middle. This is the only site that I know of that shows love to this underrated show (same goes to The New Adventures of Old Christine). Looking forward to your review every new episode because I love reading your insights.

March 13 2010 at 2:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I came in really not expecting to like this show, but it has totally blown me away; it's firmly entrenched on my favorites list now. Great ensemble cast, great writing.

For me, the best moment of the night was the scene where Frankie is hugging Axl and she thinks to her self, "Oh God, I'd forgotten how soft his skin was." That moment felt so bittersweet and genuine it almost hurt.

That whole break up scene was beautifully constructed and well played from start to finish by everyone involved. Expertly interweaving bits of comedy, pathos and pride. I haven't seen this deft a touch applied in quite some time.

Almost as good in a different way was the refrigerator scene with Axl and Mike. I think the revcap is just a little off here. It wasn't about anything nearly so crass as 'scoring women', I think it was more about how even though letting down the barrier is not what a man normally does, there are times that going to that place, for the right person, at the right moment, can mean the all the difference in the world.

It may have started out as Mike wanting to salvage a little bit of pride, but in the end it was a father passing onto his son a little bit of hard won wisdom. And I loved the 'We now return you to our regularly scheduled program'/'We shall never speak of this again' coda of "I think I see some cheese back there."

Axl's application of this nugget of wisdom was a spot on portrayal of how life works out inside a kid's head vs. how life more often works when the rubber meets the road.

Lastly, I have to applaud the writers for so skillfully creating the character of Axl's lost love. They did a great job of letting her be just as good as she seemed to be and not resorting to demonizing her just because she wasn't Axl's soulmate in the end. Another great moment in showing her gently yet firmly yet honestly letting Axl down while showing just around the edges that there was a little bit of growing pains involved in this for her too; a puzzle piece that just wasn't quite right instead of a straw man harpy.

This show really needs a few, or more than a few, Emmy nominations.

March 11 2010 at 1:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This episode had me cringing the whole time, but in a good way. You do some crazy stupid stuff when you're in love in high school.

March 11 2010 at 11:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thought I was the only gal in the universe to record and keep a sweet phone message from my Ohio husband (who I was just dating at the time). Thanks Frankie ! The funny thing is that when I told my hubby I would play it for our daughter when she was older he got the same horrified look on his face that Mike did.

March 11 2010 at 11:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You hit it all very accurately. We were also treated to some good acting by the actor who portrays Axl (is it Charlie McDermott? He doesn't look like a Charlie,). I'm glad the people that be decided to keep this show. It is fun and funny.

March 11 2010 at 10:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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