The Middle

What the heck? Has a TV family ever been more appropriately named than the Hecks of ABC's spectacularly funny, oh-so-relatable and woefully underappreciated The Middle? They can never catch a break or catch up with the frantic pace of chaotic family life. Always strapped for cash, too overwhelmed to keep their ramshackle house in order — "I'm too ashamed to even open the door for the UPS guy," whines the hilariously harried mom Frankie (Patricia Heaton) — they are a mess.

They are also a riot, mostly because they feel so real. Wrapping their third and best-yet season tonight (8/7c), with the Hecks scrambling to make the house fit for an impromptu family wedding, unflappable dad Mike (lovably gruff Neil Flynn) tries to calm his wife's hysteria: "We'll just do the bare minimum like always."

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"The bare minimum's for our private lives, Mike!" Frankie barks. "We can't let others see how we really live. It's embarrassing." Their mortification is our been-there, fudged-that delight. I haven't seen a sitcom world this authentically lived-in since the Conners of the legendary Roseanne, which incredibly was never nominated for a best comedy Emmy.

The Middle may well suffer that same fate. Living in Modern Family's more sophisticated shadow, this series may hit too close to home for an industry more likely to embrace the droll absurdities of a Parks and Recreation. As a former Hoosier, I can tell you the Indiana of The Middle's Orson is more genuine than Peabody-winning Parks' Pawnee, which feels more San Fernando than Wabash Valley.

There's a heck of a lot of talent in The Middle, including the distinctive kids: lazy Axl (Charlie McDermott), oddball brainiac Brick (Atticus Shaffer) and especially gawky hard-luck Sue (Emmy-worthy Eden Sher), who had to create her own Wrestlerettes cheerleading squad to find a place to belong. Saddled with headgear for an unprecedented underbite overbite — her orthodontist overcorrected — and mourning a first love who moved away, but not before introducing her to French kissing ("It's like having an eel in your mouth!" she cringed), Sue somehow never loses hope.

And nor should we, that someday The Middle and the Hecks will someday get their due.

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