“The Middle” Emerges as Relatable Comedy For Fans

The cast of The Middle

The cast of The Middle

Meagan Sundstrom

The cast of The Middle
The characters on”The Middle” accurately represent common problems in modern America.

While Modern Family has won multiple awards, including an Emmy, and has redefined the modern American family as unconventional, the show fails to address many everyday problems of American families.  The main characters deal with affluent rich people problems—such as accidentally giving a child 100 dollars from the tooth fairy instead of 1 dollar.  However, the series never exploits the reality of financial problems that many Americans face.  Phil Dunphy, a real estate agent, has a gorgeous house and no issues with income or employment.  His wife Claire’s father Jay, the wealthiest man of the entire family, lives with his wife and son in a huge home with a pool.  The lavish lifestyles of the characters in Modern Family do not provide television viewers with relatable problems involving the typical issues with finances.

The Middle, unlike the luxurious suburban setting of Modern Family, appeals to the overlooked demographic of families who are not financially secure.  The comically dysfunctional family that stars in the show depicts “middle”-class citizens and their everyday conflicts against financial shortcomings.  This quirky, family comedy not only provides cathartic reassurance to families struggling with finances, but it also adds funny and entertaining plotlines to restore confidence in the audience that there are many people dealing with financial obstacles.

The main characters of the series are the Heck family: Mike, Frankie, Axl, Sue, and Brick.  Mike, the manager of a quarry, and Frankie, a car salesman and later a dental student, are a married couple full of stress and disputes.  Their struggles, weaved into the comedic storyline of the show, reflect many of the real-life problems that exist within families today.

One of the Heck’s main obstacles is their financial standpoint—a setback that prevents them from doing multiple things, such as buying a car for Axl and repairing the many dysfunctional parts of their house.  Like the Hecks, many people face poverty in the post-recession America.  In most American homes, it is not uncommon to find broken or non-functioning pieces of furniture in one’s house that would be too expensive to repair or replace.  It is also typical that someone cannot pay for amenities, such as a car, to provide teenagers with the things they want.  Frankie loses her job as a car salesman, which reflects the high unemployment rate and the large amount of people with no income to fully support their families.  Also on The Middle, Sue stumbles upon Mike’s paycheck and cannot resist opening it.  When she is surprised to find a very small amount of money, she immediately reacts by offering to stay home from her trip to Cincinatti as a team mascot to help save money for the family.

The kids in the Heck family relate to stereotypes of teenagers in the everyday world.  Axl, a high school senior sports star with no desire to excel in academics, resembles many teenage “jocks.”  He simply enjoys watching television, eating, and talking to girls, much like young boys of the modern population who enjoy using their electronics and video games before even thinking about schoolwork.  When he tries to impress his girlfriend, Cassidy, by singing to her in her backyard at night surrounded by fireworks, he nearly burns her house down in an effort to win back their strong relationship.  This instance comically represents the immaturity of teenage boys and offers reassurance to guys who make dumb moves on girls they like.

Sue, an overly-enthusiastic and optimistic, yet socially awkward girl who is cut from all of the sports teams she tries out for, relates to the unique yet unrecognized students of the high school population.  She fails her license test miserably and must wear headgear and braces to fix her previous treatment’s overcorrection, which are just a few of her personal struggles throughout the series that are present among teenagers in America.  Mike and Frankie’s distraction from the normal amount of attention given to children is evident, for when Sue was born, they filled out her forms so her name is “Sue Sue Heck,” reflecting their carelessness to give her a different middle name. Sue’s quirkiness adds comedy to the plot of the show because she pokes optimism into what would normally be just awkward high school experiences.

Lastly, Brick, a smart and avid reader who possesses eidetic memory—the ability to recall images, sounds, or objects in memory with extreme precision—represents people who may have minor flaws, but still want to pursue their interests and hobbies.  He is part of a social group containing children with different types of problems, from a boy who constantly yells everything he says to a boy who thinks he is a cat, and his wide range knowledge is never appreciated by his seemingly careless parents.  During one episode, Mike and Frankie delegate one whole day for each child to do whatever activities they choose.  But by the time it is Brick’s special day, they are too tired and lazy to do the activities he wants.  The stereotypes of the three children of the Heck family are relevant to the various types of young people found across the nation today, and each character uses comedy to lighten the impacts of their problems.

Mike and Frankie’s busy schedule and sleepiness displays the reality that many parents must put up with tiredness and hectic lifestyles while trying to provide all their children with their individual needs, but most of the time it is not possible to please everyone.   Their failure to keep up with activities and completely provide for the kids shows the impossibility of living a perfect life.  During the show, Frankie hardly ever cooks a full dinner for their family.  Most nights they get take out from fast food restaurants, and in one episode they cannot decide where to go to eat, so the family comes home and eats cereal.  The Heck parents do not have enough time or energy to feed their chidren with healthy or homecooked meals due to time contraints and laziness.  In another episode, Frankie snoops on Sue’s Facebook account.  She finds that Sue does not have as many “likes” on her posts as her peers and that her friends are hanging out without her.  In response, Frankie creates a fake Facebook profile and comments on Sue’s statuses.  After insisting that Sue host a sleepover, Frankie nearly ruins Sue’s friendships by interrupting the girls all night to take pictures for Facebook.  Mike and Frankie’s irresponsibility to properly respond to situations not only displays the funny stories during this television series, but is also reassures struggling parents that everyone makes mistakes.

As audiences turn to television for entertainment, shows need to find common ground with their fan bases to keep viewers attracted.  ABC’s The Middle serves as a comedic, yet accurate representation of the problems found in most modern homes.  Due to the Heck’s inability to keep up with their hectic schedules, supply their kids with what they want, and their struggles to overcome financial hardships, this television series will succeed due to its relativity to modern lifestyles.  In contrast to unrealistic sitcoms such as Modern Family, The Middle achieves a plot that is funny, yet relevant to the imperfect lives of most Americans.