The Middle Season 3 “The 100th” (Advance Review)

The Middle Season 5 Episode 4 The 100th (14)

For the past five seasons, The Middle has quietly been a stalwart of ABC’s Wednesday night comedy line-up, garnering little critical attention while consistently being one of television’s funniest comedies. It’s easily the least glitzy show on television that doesn’t involve zombies. The actors look like normal people and their characters face normal problems: financial woes, parenting hiccups, hilarious teen drama and the trials of living in a small town where everyone knows your name. It’s fitting then, that the 100th episode, titled “The 100th,” pays tribute to all of the things that make The Middle and the Hecks a true hidden gem of a sitcom for viewers who have been lucky enough to find it.

The milestone episode centers around The Orsontennial, a celebration of the town’s one-hundredth birthday. Frankie and Mike are less than enthused when they remember they signed up to drive the most coveted float in the parade, which happens to be a giant cow. However, their reluctance soon gives way to nostalgia for the town they love, even if they do hate participating in events. For better or worse, Orson is a part of their identity. It’s where they raised their children, where they work, where they’ve spent 20 years of marriage. It’s their home, flawed and tiny though it may be.

That doesn’t mean things don’t go awry in true Heck family fashion. The episode manages to toss in a classic Mike/Frankie argument (which takes place in the most outlandish place yet), resurrect Axl’s Boss Co. with one of their terrible ideas, forward the Sue/Darrin arc, allow us to witness the wonder of a Brick who cares about something and herald the return of Frankie’s former boss. For longtime viewers, the episode is full of callbacks and a strong reminder of just how far The Middle has come since its bumpy beginning.

Unlike other comedies, The Middle isn’t afraid to change and it’s that willingness to grow and expand its world that has kept the series quietly chugging along. Some things remain the same: Axl will always have horrible ideas, Frankie will always avoid community participation when she can and the family’s financial situation will always be iffy, and the spirit of small town Americana, in all of its messy glory, will always be The Middle‘s strongest asset.

Leaning on Orson to propel the 100th episode forward was an excellent choice. Not only does it give us one of the series’ most heartwarming moments between Frankie and Mike (swiftly juxtaposed with a well-timed joke), it also allows many of the tertiary characters to shine. From Brad to the perpetually perky Donahues, they’re all there reminding us that the beauty and annoyance of small town living is that you can’t escape your community. It’s just as much a part of your life as your decrepit house, job and family. While most other comedies focus in on life in the big city, The Middle‘s sweet-spot is just how personal things become in a tiny town where driving the cow float is an honor and isolating yourself is unthinkable.

A key part of the episode involves a contest to find the winning slogan for Orson’s next hundred years, and I don’t think it’s saying too much to reveal that they pick a motto I’m sure anyone who has ever lived in the middle of nowhere will appreciate. An outstanding episode from an outstanding show– it may have just passed the 100 mark, but it’s not too late to drop in on The Middle. Once you visit Orson, I have a feeling you’ll want to stay awhile.

The Middle‘s “The 100th” airs tonight, October 23rd at 8PM on ABC.

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