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An ABC sitcom about two working-class parents raising three children in small-town Indiana. Rife with narration and flashbacks.

Frankie Heck (Patricia Heaton) and her husband Mike (Neil Flynn) live in the midwestern town of Orson, Indiana. Frankie is a saleswoman at "Ehlert Motors" (where she has the lowest sale record) and Mike is the manager at the local quarry. Their three children are: Axl, perpetually lazy and unmotivated, even to wear a shirt or pants; Sue, the braces-wearing middle child who tries out for a number of extracurricular activities...and fails spectacularly at them all; and Brick, the gifted, but socially awkward smallest child, who reads a lot and has a tendency to repeat the last words he said[1].

Other characters include Bob (Chris Kattan), Frankie's coworker at Ehlert Motors; and Don Ehlert, Frankie's boss.

Along with Modern Family, it was the break-out comedy of the 2009 television season (love it or hate it).


The show provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Weird Ashley to Axl
  • Actor Allusion:
  • Aerith and Bob: There's Axl, Brick, and... Sue. It kind of emphasizes her lack of specific talent. It even works with their real actors' names: Charlie, Atticus, and Eden.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Brick (see under Intelligence Equals Isolation and Verbal Tic on this page)
  • Ambiguously Camp Gay: Sue's temporary boyfriend, Brad, whose talents include square dancing, embroidery, and making centerpieces out of everyday objects. Mike and Frankie have their suspicions, but Sue and Brad are both oblivious of that fact (they broke up because Sue found out that Brad was a smoker).
  • A Very Special Episode. Subverted by the third season premiere, in which Sue gets her first period near the end of the episode.
  • The Baby Trap: One episode had Brick have an unwanted girlfriend that started stalking him. When he tried to break up with her, she said that they were now married and had a baby to apparently keep him from leaving her.
  • Bad Luck Charm: The titular object in the third-season's "The Clover" is an inversion, as a four-leaf cover is usually a good luck charm.
  • Big Eater: Axl has a reputation for having a big appetite
  • Blackmail: In "The Telling", Axl accidentally wakes Sue up late at night while sneaking back into the house via her room. Knowing that he has a big trip to the lake with his friends coming up on the weekend, she holds the threat of telling on him over him to get rides for her and her friends everywhere over the next few days.
  • Bratty Teenage Son: Axl
  • Braces of Orthodontic Overkill: Sue is expecting to get her braces off in the third season's "The Paper Route". Instead, because the braces overcorrected her teeth, she developed a simultaneous overbite and underbite and must wear headgear full-time.
  • Brainless Beauty: Deconstructed in a season 2 episode; Axl's boss is an extremely sexy but extremely dumb party girl who he is at first overjoyed to work with, but eventually grows to intensely dislike, even turning down a date (to his own shock) due to frustration at her thoughtlessness.
  • Brick Joke: No, not with the character. In one episode, Brick tries to make Pizza puffs with the oven and nearly starts a fire because there was a quilt in the oven. In a 2012 episode, Axel and Brick try to bake a dough map of Indiana and after turning the oven on, shout, "THE QUILT!" and take it out of the oven.
  • Brilliant but Lazy: Subverted with Axl in the season one finale. Arguably, Brick is a more straight-up example (though see below)
    • Brick does invert this in one episode. He fails a few math tests, but it's not because of the teacher or the material. He was just curious what getting an F was like.

 Brick: That's probably because I only answered the first five questions.

Brick: Ms. Rinski said we could have free reading time after we finished the test, so I finished in five minutes.

    • When a football recruiter from East Indiana State visits the Heck home, Axl demonstrates that he can be a polite, charming young man, infuriating his parents, because at home, he doesn't bother.
  • Broken Aesop: In-universe in the second-season episode "The Quarry". Axl gets suspended from school, so Mike decides to teach him a lesson about how much of a drag the real world is compared to school by taking him to work with him. It backfires when Axl finds his temporary co-workers are cool guys in their early 20s who throw weekend parties attended by lots of attractive women.
  • Butt Monkey: Sue and, to a lesser extent, Frankie. You could argue that it's an entire family of ButtMonkeys, but those two stand out the most.
  • California Doubling: Normally averted, except for the roadside scenes in "The Concert."
  • Captain Oblivious: Sue is the only one who seems to have no idea that her former boyfriend Brad is very probably gay.
  • Child Prodigy: Youngest son Brick is prone to philosophical thoughts about the meaning of life.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Brick Heck.
  • Continuity Nod: In "Friends, Lies and Videotape" during the second season, Mike confronts Sue about a ticket stub to an R-rated movie she and her best friend sneaked into earlier in the episode. Sue responds by tearfully confessing every (actually relatively minor) trangression she's committed recently. In the process she reveals the hole in the wall she and Brick enlarged while trying to fix it four episodes earlier in "The Big Chill."
    • In "The Clover," Mike takes the Heck's old dishwasher from "Valentine's Day III" to his father.
    • In "The Telling," Sue is shown sleeping with her headgear, which she got earlier that season, on.
    • In "The Wedding," Sue looks for ideas for Rusty's wedding in a notebook she kept when she was imagining that she and Matt (whom she'd broken up with long distance earlier in the season) would someday get married.
  • Crappy Holidays: As of its third season, the show has done a Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine's Day episode every season. An annual Halloween Episode started in the second season. The first two seasons also featured Mother's Day episodes.
    • The first Mother's Day episode sneaked in a Father's Day episode via flashbacks. A third-season episode was also devoted to the Hecks trying to keep their New Year's resolutions.
    • And the show has also built episodes around the 2011 Final Four and Super Bowl XLVI, both of which in real life took place in Indiana. And an episode around the 2011 Royal Wedding.
    • On Feb 29, 2012 the show aired the episode Leap Day.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Subverted when Frankie tosses an empty bottle to Sue which accidentally hits Brick in the arm. Later at school when asked about the injury, Brick innocently says, "My Mom hit me with a beer bottle", not intending to make it sound the way it did.
  • Dawson Casting: Axl is a high school freshman and he's played by a 19 year old. Sue, a seventh grader, has an 18 year old actress. Brick is supposed to be in second grade, but the actor playing him is 11 years old. To be fair, the actor playing Brick (Atticus Shaffer) has Type IV Ostogenesis Imperfecta (also known as brittle bone disease), which causes him to be a lot smaller than average.
    • For the same reason, he is almost never filmed walking all by himself within a certain distance of the camera, as he has a noticeable limp.
  • Daydream Surprise: "Ok...that didn't really happen..."
  • Determinator: Sue. No matter how many times she fails to make any team or club, she never gives up. This extends far enough that, in that Season Finale, she "runs" five laps around a cross-country track with a twisted (and possibly broken) ankle, only for it to start raining while she's on her final lap. Then, after being splashed with mud and grass and losing a crutch, she drags herself across the finish line with only her arms. Did we mention that the entire time the theme from Chariots of Fire was playing, timed out well enough that what is usually a cheesy Stock Parody turned into a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Sue?
    • Not to mention the fact that every one of her schoolmates watching and cheering for her cheered the wrong name until the family corrected them!
    • Frankie could be one too, given her various quests to help out her family (during which she is inevitably faced with several obstacles).
  • Egg Sitting: Axl gets this assignment in sex ed. Needless to say, he is a less than perfect parent.
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Sue Sue Heck. Her first name was accidentally written twice on her birth certificate. Frankie and Mike have been meaning to get that changed.
  • Eskimos Aren't Real: In a Christmas Episode, Brick explains that Eskimos know how to put a fire in an igloo, only for Axl to snap that back that Eskimos aren't real, but are made-up creatures like leprechauns.
  • Everything's Worse with Bears: On their camping trip...
  • Exact Words: In "The Clover" during the third season, Frankie, worried about Aunt Edie's ability to continue on her own after her sister's death, visits her. While there, she points to the phone with extra large buttons and pictures of her, her mother and her sister on the numbers in memory:

 Frankie: Press my face if you want to talk

Aunt Edie: (reaching out and actually pressing Frankie's face) Hello? Hello?

  • Expy: The title, characters, setting, and family dynamics have a resemblance to Malcolm in the Middle.
  • Fail O'Suckyname: Axl and Brick. Not surprising with a family name like Heck.
    • Justified, sort of, as they are from, presumable central Indiana... where the "BRICKyard" is. That is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for those who didn't know.
  • Fan Service: Axl. He's played by a 19-year-old actor.
  • First Kiss. Subverted somewhat in "Valentine's Day III" in the third season. Sue and her new boyfriend have admitted to each other that his French kisses have been a problem for them both—she doesn't like the feel of an other person's tongue in her mouth, and he's been trying to avoid cutting his tongue on her braces. So the show ends with a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming on the Hecks' doorstep, as they kiss on the lips, limned by sunlight. It's not her first kiss per se but it's her first real one.
  • Flyover Country: The show is set in the U.S. Midwest, and the title, "the middle," is a colloquialism used by inhabitants of places like Orson to describe where they live.
  • Four-Philosophy Ensemble: Axl (Cynic), Mike (Realist), Sue (Optimist), Brick (Apathetic), and Frankie (Conflicted).
  • Gilligan Cut: Used often.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: The third season's Thanksgiving episode introduces Molly Shannon as Frankie's sister Janet. Frankie resents the fact that she's married to a chiropractor and has a higher standard of living than the Hecks do, while Janet in turn resents that Frankie didn't need medical assistance to conceive and has three children whereas she only has one.
  • Going to See the Elephant: In "The Bee," the family forgets Sue's birthday in the runup to the road trip to Chicago for Brick's appearance in the regional spelling bee, so they make it up to her by letting her plan the trip from a guidebook. Sue winds up wanting to see hilariously minor tourist attractions.
  • Golden Moment: Usually with Frankie, but when it's Mike, expect a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.
  • Happily Married: Frankie and Mike
  • Horrible Camping Trip: The two-part third season premiere, which doubles down on the trope by flashing back to a similar trip 20 years earlier—which was the Hecks' honeymoon.
  • Hot Dad: Neil Flynn. YMMV Even the Guys Want Him
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Lampshaded in the episode "The Final Four" when Mike meets Frankie's boss for the first time and Mr. Ehlert remarks "Short woman, tall guy...always funny!".
  • I Ate What?: Axl's toenails, clipped into a bag of Doritos.
    • In "The Map", Axl eats Brick's school project, a baked clay relief map of Indiana, after it breaks. Subverted, weirdly enough, in that he doesn't seem as bothered by this as much as he is at the fact that everybody else finds this almost too stupid to believe.
  • I Call It Vera: Mike's father nicknamed his belt 'The Enforcer'.
  • I Want You to Meet An Old Friend of Mine: Doris Roberts as Brick's teacher during the second season and Ray Romano in the third-season premiere—both costars with Patricia Heaton in Everybody Loves Raymond.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Brick, who'd almost always rather read
  • Ironic Echo: Plenty.

 Mike: I'm done talking to you now.

  • Inept Aptitude Test: Sorta played around with in the season finale. Axl's score says that he's Brilliant but Lazy, so Sue and Mike try and push him harder. It turns out that some results were switched, but because of his hard work, Axl gets the best score he's ever gotten- a B minus.
  • It Got Worse: Sue and Brick's attempt to fix a small hole in her wall in "The Big Chill" only makes it larger.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Axl, who usually treats Sue with disdain, will nevertheless protect her and help her—but only when she'll never know he did.
  • Laxative Prank: Axl does this to Sue in "Foreign Exchange", just before the family takes a long car trip.
  • Leap Day: Sue was born on February 29th and is technically four years old.
  • Lemony Narrator: Each episode begins with Frankie narrating over a short montage of Stock Footage, going from describing some general aspect of life in "the middle" to the specifics of the episode. The narration returns when needed later in the episode, sometimes describing things Frankie couldn't be aware of, and usually taking a somewhat Garrison Keillor-esque tone.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Axl again. To the point that his wardrobe seems to consist solely of boxers.
  • Long-Distance Relationship: Sue tries to have one with Matt in "The Paper Route." Axl warns her it won't work, and they break up by the end of the episode.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Sue seems to be unable to succeed. On the bright side, she at least appears to be cheerfully unaware of it or undaunted. Either way, you gotta give her credit for trying.
  • My Beloved Smother: Brick's teacher accuses Frankie of this.
  • Never Mess with Granny: though Aunt Edy is very old and senile, in "The Math Class" episode she sprays a guy with a garden hose.
  • New York City: Sue wins a trip there in the second-season episode "Hecks on a Plane". However, when they arrive, after the expected plane trip in which everything that can go wrong does, it's snowing and they can't really see anything.
  • Nonverbal Miscommunication: When Sue is at the meeting listing all the activities she tried (and failed) at in a speech, Frankie gives her a 'hurry up' gesture from the audience. Sue sees this and concludes "Oh, yes, and tumbling."
  • Once an Episode: Brick will whisper something to himself.
    • Less common, but Axl will usually wind up in his boxers at some point in the show.
  • Only Sane Man: Mike is usually the first to acknowledge the craziness going on in the house.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Subverted in "The Concert", Brick is angry and depressed after washing out of the school spelling bee on the first word (after he had gone to the regionals in Chicago the year before). His parents are actually happy about this since it's an emotionally appropriate response (normally, he responds to his failures philosophically).
  • Persona Non Grata: : Mike is banned from Brick's school after his attempt to help at the Valentine's Day craft project ends up ruining Valentine's Day.
  • The Pratfall: Sue specializes in this.
  • Product Placement: "Hecking it Up" in the third season is a drawn-out ad for the Volkswagen Passat.
    • Later in that same season, "The Guidance Counselor" has Frankie announcing dinner's ready while the camera pans across some ostentatiously placed Subway sandwiches and wrappers.
  • Put on a Bus: Sue's boyfriend Matt moves to another town in "The Paper Route."
  • Reality Subtext: Plots in two episodes are based on events from the actors' real lives. Atticus Shaffer once went out for Halloween as the same obscure Scottish World War I hero Brick did in the first Halloween episode, and Patricia Heaton's family once hosted a Japanese exchange student who didn't say a word to them for two weeks—just like what happens in "Foreign Exchange".
  • Recycled in Space: Some people feel like it's a rip off of Malcolm in the Middle.
  • Rule of Three: Whenever a character thinks about previous examples - Sue's past Halloween costumes, Brick's suffering though Frankie's errands etc - they generally think about three examples.
  • Running Gag:
    • The announcer on the P.A. system at the car dealership constantly paging Frankie about weird home situations.
    • Brick occasionally repeating the last word or phrase he says under his breath.

 Brick: My egg hatched! There's a chicken in the house! (Stage whisper) Chhhhhhicken in the houuuuuuse...

    • When Betty White made a cameo in the season finale as an authoritative librarian, she was seen to share this habit.
      • Or she was making fun of his tic, she was playing a character just mean enough to do that.
    • Did Sue mention that she was on her school's cross-country team throughout the second season?
    • Various things ending up in kitchen appliances that you wouldn't expect or want to be there (i.e., a quilt in the oven)
    • Mike's father and brother rarely informing him about major events in their lives, such as a health problem or getting engaged, because he didn't ask, and their general tendency towards almost no verbal communication when they're together.
  • Sexy Priest: Rev. TimTom, youth pastor at the Hecks' church.
  • The Character Died With Her: Aunt Ginny. At the end of the third-season episode "The Map", which had begun with the Hecks coming back from her funeral, there was an In Memoriam to Frances Bay, the actress who had played her until her death several months earlier.
  • Shout-Out: In "The Map":

 Frankie: How is it that we've missed all these milestones in our children and family's lives, but we haven't missed a single episode of Celebrity Rehab?

    • In "Year of the Hecks", two of the four girls who try out for the "wrestlerette" cheerleading group that Sue organizes decide to go home and watch Phineas and Ferb instead.
  • Significant Reference Date: The episode Leap Year aired on Feb 29, 2012.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Brick, who we learned in the third season episode "The Telling", has been rewarded by Frankie with candy cigarettes for years for informing on Axl and Sue.
  • Teen Pregnancy: In "Valentine's Day III", Frankie expresses her amazement at Sue's mistaken belief that a French kiss was one given under a rainbow by reminding her that at least two girls in her high school class (she's a freshman) are pregnant.
    • In "The Clover", Axl and his friends recall that at last year's prom, a girl gave birth.
  • Title Drop: Just about every episode starts with Frankie's narration saying some version of "Here in The Middle...."
  • Title-Only Opening
  • Tomboyish Name: Frankie
  • Transparent Closet: Brad Bottig
  • Verbal Tic[2]
    • "It soothes me."
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: It's easier to count the number of times Axl has worn a shirt.
    • He seems to have finally stopped doing this in season 3.
  • Wedding Day: The third-season finale, "The Wedding", built around Mike's brother Rusty's wedding at the Hecks' house.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Axl and Brick?
    • Cool name makes a cool kid, right?
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Brick is afraid of bridges.
  • You Can Always Tell a Liar: For Brick its when he says "I'mmmmmmmmmm lyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyingggggggg" to himself out loud.
  • Your Favorite: For Frankie, the way her Mom makes grilled cheese sandwiches with potato chips in the middle.

Notes

  1. last words he said
  2. verbal tic
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