Television is one of the mediums in life where imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery, it’s an absolute necessity.
Take for instance the concept of dancing. A show like “Dancing with the Stars” hits the airwaves and becomes an overnight success. Soon after, “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Dance Revolution” and a million other dance-related knockoffs follow suit.
It’s the age-old rule of television. If something is mildly successful, then there must be 800 subsequent knockoffs (799 of which will suck immensely).
The recently debuted ABC sitcom, “The Middle,” starring Patricia Heaton of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” immediately felt like a knockoff. Upon first view, it felt like something I had seen before. Watching a few episodes, I couldn’t help but feel as if borrowed the exact same concept from another one camera sitcom “" also about “The Middle.”
Yes my first, “This is a rip off of ___” inclination from The Middle was Malcolm in the Middle. By nearly sharing the same name, and both having a cute younger son, it was easily the most comparable. Then I remembered shows like “Home Improvement” and “Roseanne” dealt with the theme of working class struggles long before Frankie Muniz was a household name.
To put it bluntly, “The Middle” is nothing new. It’s middle America and a working class family trying to get by. It’s a mom that cares about her kids, loves her dimwitted husband and STRESSES (stress the stress) through each episode. It’s a tried and true formula. Unless we’re talking about baking a pie, I hate tried and true formulas.
My skeptical nature when it comes to new TV didn’t want me to open up to “The Middle.” Last week, I was burned by Kelsey Grammer’s “Hank,” a lazy rehash of a tired idea. I feared “The Middle” would be the same, and similarly waste Heaton’s talent like Grammer with Hank.
I won’t say I came away completely and utterly surprised. I still feel that shows like “Malcolm” and “Roseanne” did this concept better upon first glance. But there’s something endearing about Heaton’s Frankie and “The Middle” overall. Frankie is easily a character you can root for (unlike Grammer’s Hank). Heaton brings a gee-shucks charm to the character.
In the episode I watched, “The Floating Anniversary” I especially enjoyed her 15 “vacationing” minutes spent in the bathroom of the used car lot where she works. Also, credit goes out to the casting director for bringing aboard Scrubs’ Neil Flynn (aka Janitor) as Heaton’s husband, Mike. Flynn’s classic “I don’t give a shit, I’ll say what I think” attitude from Scrubs is transferred, and perhaps enhanced, to “The Middle.”
Lastly, Heaton’s three kids are well-rounded interesting characters played out perfectly by their respective actors. I especially enjoy watching the daughter Sue (Eden Sher) play the role of the awkward, smart middle child (almost as well as Muniz).
Overall, “The Middle” has a lot of positives. For a show with that “tried and true” formula, it never feels clichƒ© and overdone.
Three Quick Hits of the Week:
The Office: “Niagara”
This is the one “The Office” fans had been waiting for “" present company included. TV’s favorite couple, Jim and Pam, tying the knot and getting married. I loved it. Many critics have said an hour was too long for this episode, but I disagree. The hour made it feel more important than a typical episode. The entire ensemble was on for this one. From Meredith’s cigar to Kevin’s “shoes” and Andy’s tears, it was the best of everyone. For that reason, it felt like a special day for “The Office” and not just Pam and Jim.
The Cleveland Show: “The One About Friends”
I was actually considering writing my main piece about this show, but I decided against it. I vowed not to watch “The Cleveland Show” after it replaced “King of the Hill.” However, with the Pats and Sox losing on Sunday, I needed some kind of distraction and “The Cleveland Show” was just there. Blah. I wish I had stuck to commiserating about the Pats. The show is basically “Family Guy” light. Unfortunately for “Cleveland,” the best part about “Family Guy” is how un-light it is. There were few memorable moments (Cleveland getting arrested for confusing an undercover cop regarding “Cleveland Jr.” was one that comes to mind) and I pretty much liked the theme song more than anything else. Avoid.
Curb Your Enthusiasm: “The Hot Towel” “" This might shock those who know of my admiration for Larry David, but I didn’t like this episode. In it, Larry rekindles an old romance, pisses off Christian Slater and his doctor, and reveals to the world he doesn’t like people signing. In this episode, Larry’s awkward moments, such as stopping Sammy and then also the guy in the restaurant, bordered on cruel and weren’t that funny. The calling his doctor bit was obnoxious and running from the girl’s boyfriend was cowardly. Usually, Larry’s off-putting attitude during the course of an episode will make you like him even more than you did in the beginning of it. Not this time.
Let me know in the comments section if you agree with me or if you want me to cover your favorite show and check back next week for the next “TV Week in Review.”