Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Middle Returns: Camping Craziness

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

As you may recall, I caught a bunch of random episodes of The Middle last season. The first few happened because I was too anxious for Better With You (RIP) to air afterward. Then I caught some around the holidays because I become addicted to holiday-themed episodes. And, by Spring, I was settled into liking this show after a while. Over the summer, I Netflixed the first season to catch up, and I'm planning to fill myself in on the remaining episodes of the second season over the next couple of weeks, when it becomes available to stream. So, if you're not a regular The Middle fan but want to join in like I have, let me start with a little background on the show before I look at the first episodes of this season.

Mike is the manager of a quarry. He grew up in Orson, Indiana, the same place where he's now raising his family. His wife, Frankie, was laid off from a dental office before the show began, and now works at a used car lot, where she sells very, very few cars. They have three children. Axl is a junior in HS this year, and plays both football and basketball. He doesn't care much about school, and has a series of girlfriends. Then there's Sue, who is in 9th grade now. She is fairly clumsy and bad at pretty much everything. Nobody ever remembers her, but she's shockingly optimistic and happy-go-lucky about most things. She was part of the cross-country team last year. The youngest, Brick, is in the fourth grade. He's a quirky kid who reads a lot, has virtually no friends, and whispers to himself as a comforting mechanism. The plots are almost always seen from Frankie's point of view, as she narrates throughout the episodes.

The Middle "Forced Family Fun (Parts 1 & 2)" (S03E01 & S03E02): First off, we have multiple layers of flashbacks. The episode begins and ends with the first day of school, but it flashes back to the weekend before as well as Frankie & Mike's honeymoon, 19 years earlier. So that makes it all slightly confusing, but not really.

The first scene, however, is incredibly confusing, and that's why we need the flashbacks. For a family that generally does not show a lot of affection, Sue and Axl in particular are really upset about having to leave one another and the family to go to school. Frankie's narration recognizes the peculiarity and clues in viewers by summarizing the bulk of the summer (the Hecks collected all of the neighbors' mail for them, Axl worked as a lifeguard, Brick spent all of his time at the library, and Sue has been hanging with Carly at the mall), then we start the flashback to the final weekend of the season. Frankie wanted to take the kids on vacation, but Mike reminds her that they don't have the money to do so, unless they do something like go camping. Frankie is not thrilled with the idea, and that's how we start getting the flashback to the honeymoon, which was the last time they went camping. [I laughed pretty hard at Mike's comment, "yeah, this was our master plan - stay poor so in 19 years we can go camping again."] None of the kids are excited about going, as they had their own plans for the last weekend of summer vacation. Sure enough, though, the family heads out. [I love the ongoing joke about how they always forget the snack bag!]

Sue is worried about absolutely everything regarding high school, but Axl doesn't want to help her. [she's so gullible that he tells her about a special type of eraser that is required, LoL.] Axl "forgot" his shoes, though he claims that he'll be fine after being barefoot at the pool all summer. He even goes so far as to say that camping "will be like going on vacation on the bottom of my foot." [LoL. and, side note, how do they have camping gear if they haven't ever been as a family? A few fishing poles, sure. Sleeping bags? okay. But a large tent and everything else? I don't get it.]

Mike carrying Frankie over the
threshold of the tent when they're spooked.
Sue is really shocked that Mike and Frankie went camping for their honeymoon, and the kids start to ask more about it. [can't blame her. 20 years ago that might have been common, but I can't really think of anyone I know who went camping as a honeymoon... most people I know travel internationally, if not across the country!] Why did they camp for the honeymoon? They didn't have a lot of money... though they thought that in 10 or 20 years they might. On the honeymoon, it poured rain. Frankie and Mike run into someone from Mike's high school, who doesn't take a hint and stays around. The guy shares the tent with the newlyweds and Frankie accidentally kissed him, thinking that he was Mike.

Mike tries to take Brick fishing, but Brick just keeps reading. [LoL on the cheap fish sticks joke.] Axl has tied cereal boxes to his feet. ["even in the woods we're the poorest people" was funny.] But the absolute funniest part of the episode? When the family sits down to play Monopoly, the parts are a mix of a bunch of games, so they make up some rules as they go along to accommodate the pieces they have available. And these pieces are from the following and more: Trouble, CandyLand, Scrabble, Mousetrap, Yahtzee, Bingo, Checkers, Connect Four, Hungry Hungry Hippos, and Clue. After everyone is in bed, Sue realizes that she has gotten her period (apparently she's been lying about it for 18 months or so...). She wakes up Frankie to share the news with her, but soon they hear a bear and everyone runs for the car. [hahahahaha.] The bear starts rocking the car and the family sings "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" to get it to go away.

The scared-to-death-that-we'll-be-mauled-by-a-bear experience is what brought the family together into the cohesive unit that was seen when the episode began. It is short-lived, however, as Axl tries to leave Sue at home on the first day of school. [weren't Sue and Axl in the same school when he was in 8th and she was in 6th? why's he acting like this is the first time they might cross paths?]

Overall, a pretty interesting episode. I think that this season has a lot going for it, and reading the few plot points that have been on the internet really bring the quirkiness of the family full-circle. We'll see Frankie's sister in the Thanksgiving episode, and there's some sort of gross-Mom-moment coming up in just a few weeks. Plus, I can't begin to describe how intrigued I am about Sue's freshman experience!
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