English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Tag: #TheMiddle

All Great Things Must Come to an End

ABC’s The Middle aired its last episode on May 22nd of this year.  However, according to recent news, ABC will pilot a spin off of The Middle featuring Sue Heck as the main character.  This post will dive further into the depiction of Sue Heck on the original show and how this portrayal relates to the typical teenage girl.

News of the spin off appeared just recently.


Sue Heck contrasts with much of the show.  She is incredibly enthusiastic and cheery despite the bland environment surrounding her.  Unfortunately for Sue, she is also very awkward goes largely unnoticed with everything she does.  Much of her storyline consists of her struggles trying to fit in and find any talent through persistent rejection of clubs and activities.  She’s not concerned with, or aware of, what’s cool among her peers.  Often Sue gets very set on her goals and aspirations but goes to the wrong places for success and acceptance.

If there’s any message reminding us that it’s okay to fail, it surely lies within Sue’s story.  It seems as though Sue will never figure out life during her teenage adventures.  She still has her whole life ahead of her, though, and nothing will stop her from trying something and learning from it.  Although the number of failures may be a little bit of a stretch, Sue’s condition isn’t uncommon.  It’s unfair to act as if most teenagers don’t face challenges learning who they are and how life works.  The Middle really nails the parenting situation too, as it’s not easy to be the parents of kids that age.  The important thing to note is that Sue, like most kids her age, has her whole life ahead of her with every option to choose who she wants to be.

Sue always seemed to be on an emotional roller coaster but still somehow kept an upbeat personality.

I am looking forward to learning more of this new Sue Heck spinoff.  Many of today’s popular TV shows fail to capture a teenage girl’s life quite like The Middle does.  The new show will present Sue at an older age.  We know there will be struggles in her future life…how could the show go on without classic Sue screwups?  However, I am excited to see how ABC will illustrate the working life and adult successes of a grown-up Sue Heck, one who never really had life mastered as a teenager.

All great things must come to an end, but the legacy lives on.  Just as Sue will continue the legacy for The Middle, my experiences from this project will carry with me through life.  I’ve truly enjoyed analyzing the various aspects of The Middle.  Although I doubt I will write future blog posts, the way in which I evaluate shows is forever changed from this assignment.

Car Sales(wo)men

One of the greatest strengths of The Middle is its balance in representation/emphasis of characters.  Since the show is derived from the story of a Midwest family, fittingly the main role highlighted is the mother.  The sequence of events is often correlated with Frankie Hess, and the show does not fail to portray her dynamic character qualities.  Although three of the five family members are male, The Middle focuses on the mom’s perspective with the frequent use of commentary.

In regard to occupation, The Middle defies the commonality our group discovered during our gender representation analysis.  Rather than stressing Mike’s job, the show keeps most of the attention centered at the car dealership where Frankie is depicted as working hard for her family.  This contrasts with the many ABC shows our group investigated for our project.  The trend in these shows was to establish the male occupation as the main contributor to the family.  The Middle rarely strays from its documentation of Frankie’s career, and it’s refreshing to be given this rather uncommon outlook.

It’s remarkable Frankie is able to manage all of the things she does for her family.

Outside of the Heck family, many of the characters are male, including Frankie’s workplace (Bob, her boss, etc.).  However, these characters are typically very flat.  In fact, one might conclude that the only truly progressive characters are within the Heck family.  I see Frankie and Sue as more dynamic than the males in the family.  Because of this, I do not see a notable imbalance in gender.  Perhaps more male roles appear, but the divide among the main characters is equitable.

The representation by race in The Middle is atrocious, but one must acknowledge that the show takes place in the Midwest.  From experience, I can attest that the show is accurate…like very accurate.  As much as I support the widening minority roles to improve the accuracy of TV and movies, The Middle is not at fault for its cast.  Also, by design, there seems to be a relatively uniform status across the show.  Most characters appropriately fall into the middle class.  This is essentially the basis for the show, as The Middle defines what is really important in life.

In conclusion, the authenticity within The Middle is translated to gender.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching the Heck family events pan out, told by the most influential family figure, the mother!

Small Town, Big Themes

The ability of The Middle to consistently deliver a relevant theme is remarkable.  How can the depicted small town of Orson having no significance outside a ten-mile radius present so many moving thoughts?  Perhaps it is the producer’s effort to make viewers feel as if they grew up across the street from the Heck family.  Maybe it is the glimpse into a more authentic family life than Hollywood tends to illustrate.  However accomplished, The Middle certainly invokes thoughts that translate to daily life.

The Middle emphasizes the American family.  There are limitless potential messages associated with family life.  From watching the show, I believe the primary focus is how crucial families are to happiness.  Many of the events portrayed on the show reflect financial struggle and the chaos that ensues with raising three children in middle-class America.  In any event, The Middle never fails to show that family comes first.  For example, stress from a difficult work day and managing her kids’ activities may frustrate Frankie, but at the end of the day she can’t deny her love for her family.  The Heck family may not face ideal circumstances, but they have each other and that’s all they need.  This mentality goes on to underscore how happiness is not derived from wealth and status, but from relationships.

There are many instances in which The Middle attempts to present its theme.  The most effective, however, is the show’s spot-on description of American families.  During one episode Frankie claims, “This is an American family. Yeah, we yell and fight, we eat bad food, we watch too much TV…”  The Middle writers do not try to create a false image of a perfect family…like Frankie, they are honest!  Because of this, the audience is more likely to embrace reality and recognize those who prosper surround themselves with those they care about.

So what if you eat take-out in front of the TV sometimes…at least be true to yourself!

Despite the many themes that comprise The Middle, I see its promotion of relationships and deterrence from chasing fame as the most significant.  With every episode, I am reminded to act humbly during my time at Tech and maintain my family relationships and friendships from home.

The Ugly Christmas Sweater

Cinematography in The Middle has unique elements.  The show emphasizes more quick cuts as opposed to long takes.  Perhaps this is done to depict the rushed and frantic mom life Frankie endures daily.  For instance, one shot may capture a brief conversation between Frankie and her boss, followed by a rapid transition to her supporting Sue at a swim try out.  This exemplifies how quickly the Heck family is to support each other.

Lighting in The Middle is abundant, and it is often bright and sunny outside.  Nothing says Flyover country quite like a blue sky over a cornfield.  There are many colors in the indoor shots, but the colors together are not appealing.  The walls in the house are green and the clothes worn are interesting colors, and somehow The Middle can recreate the home you lived in as a child.  The palette of colors used reminds me of those ugly Christmas sweaters that have a lot of colors and look like a mess.  For some reason you love the sweater, but it’s just so hideous.  My interpretation of this is that it resembles the many great qualities in families yet the imperfections within them.  Many facets of life have flaws, but sometimes flaws make things even more lovable; the family portrayed by The Middle is no exception.

Look at the monstrosity of colors used in this living room…I still somehow feel as if I’ve spent every family gathering in this exact room.

In my opinion, The Middle stands out because of its visual authenticity.  The imagery is not deceptive; they don’t attempt to paint a perfect picture like in sunny California or bustling New York.  Rather, they illustrate a humble Indiana town.  As a viewer, it’s refreshing to be reminded that not everyone lives a superlative life surrounded by beauty and modern luxuries.  The Middle derives its success by allowing most of the country to sympathize with its plot.  Each time I watch the show I’m reminded of the many great family moments I’ve experienced inside similar ugly walls.  The use of convincing cinematography establishes a more accurate representation of families and attaches the audience to the narrative.

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