"The Middle" Season 3 Premiere Recap: "Forced Family Fun"
Disaster and hilarity, of course.
The special hour-long season premiere of "The Middle" started as the dysfunctional family’s summer ends, and mother Frankie (Patricia Heaton) realizes the family went the entire summer without spending time together.
Axl (Charlie McDermott) spent the summer working as a lifeguard, flirting with cute girls to his heart’s content. Sue (Eden Sher) spent her summer at the mall with best friend Carly, trying to prepare herself for high school. Brick (Atticus Shaffer) spent his summer working in the library, reading every book he possibly could.
It’s not surprising that father Mike (Neil Flynn) can’t think of three times this summer he actually saw his kids. Like always, Frankie has a plan to fix this. She wants to pack in the family memories during the final weekend of summer with a family vacation. Previous episodes have proven family vacations never turn out right for the Hecks, but Mike’s suggestion to go camping spells disaster, especially when Frankie reminds him of their honeymoon: a camping trip that nearly ruined their marriage from the start.
As expected, things go wrong before they leave the house: Frankie forgot to pack the snack bag. Again. The car ride promises to be a long one as Sue and Axl are immediately at odds over Sue’s constant questioning of trivial details of high school. Brick plays the typical know-it-all, reading pointless details of the Indiana wilderness aloud to his annoyed family.
They stumble through a series of failures, as Mike unsuccessfully tries to teach Brick how to appreciate nature, Frankie tries to reassure Sue she will do well in high school, and Axl and Sue still cannot get along. The disaster culminates in a game of “Battle Boggle-opoly,” an improvised combination of classic board games, such as Monopoly, Candyland, and Scrabble. Naturally, the game ends in argument and the family resigns to the tent, more angry and annoyed than ever.
The trip ends in a comedic, yet heartwarming family moment. Sue finally finds the confidence to believe she will succeed in high school, proclaiming her "maturity" to her mother in the middle of the night. The episode would not be complete, though, without a comedic twist on a camping cliché: a bear attack. The Hecks flee to the car, where Brick informs them that bears are attracted to not only improperly packed food, but also menstruating women. A rousing, out-of-tune chorus of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” finally scares the bear away, and the family comes out of the trip with Frankie's desired memories, and a newfound love for each other.
While this camping disaster contained enough classic Heck humor for a strong season opener, about half of the episode was told in flashback, as Frankie and Mike related the current mishaps to the events of their wedding night 19 years earlier.
Ray Romano guest starred as Nicky, a former high school classmate of Mike’s who interrupted the honeymoon when he wandered, lost, into Mike and Frankie’s campground. The reunion of Romano and Heaton, a comedic powerhouse couple in "Everybody Loves Raymond," should have stolen the show, but Romano’s scenes fell flat and his character was forgettable, simply an old classmate who always wanted to be like Mike.
Instead, the episode went to the kids. For every time Romano’s humor failed, there were dozens of moments when Axl, Sue, and Brick more than made up for it with hilarious scenes showcasing what each of them does best.
"The Middle" didn’t need a big-name guest star to start the season on a high note. The Hecks are back, funny as ever, and this season has nowhere to go but up.
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