The Middle Season 5 “The Christmas Tree” [Advance Review]

The Middle Season 5 Episode 9 The Christmas Tree (6)

The Middle always delivers quality holiday episodes, but tonight’s outing “The Christmas Tree” is particularly poignant for anyone–parent or child–who has dealt with the landmine that is the first Christmas break from college. For the child, it marks a homecoming during their first year of independence, but for the parent it is a chance to hold onto their baby (who is rapidly approaching adulthood) just a little bit longer. This push and pull is what makes up the heart of “The Christmas Tree” as Frankie and Axl try to negotiate an agreement, splitting Axl’s time with his friends and his family.

At first the plot is just another clever piece of an episode overstuffed with Christmas fun. The beauty of The Middle is that it often lures you into a false sense of security by throwing hilarious slice of life storytelling at you before swerving to deliver something more sincere. Such is the case with Axl’s first extended stay at home. What begins with Frankie forcing him to divide his time (trading baking cookies with the family for a party at his friend’s house turns out to be a terrible deal), ends with a touching moment that could be one of The Middle‘s finest portrayals of family life.

There are a lot of laughs before that moment comes though and I don’t want to undersell just how funny “The Christmas Tree” is. Axl, Frankie and Mike get the heavier A plot in the episode, leaving Sue and Brick to carry the smaller, sillier subplots. Brick’s plot works for its complete and utter Brickness. He finds himself involved in a complex Ponzi scheme of his own making that begins with him not selling wrapping paper, but leading his school to believe he did. In true Brick fashion, he is unfazed by his accidental deception or the resulting predicament it puts him in. This leads to a running joke where Brick continues to dig himself into a deeper and deeper hole financially in the background, and when Frankie calls him on it, he innocently asks, “Isn’t this what you and dad do with credit cards?”

Meanwhile Sue is, as Eden Sher revealed in our exclusive interview, “allergic to Christmas.” The episode gets its name from the Hecks’ impressively large real Christmas tree that they purchase at a fraudulent discount price. Unfortunately for Sue, she happens to have an allergy. A little thing like potential death by Christmas tree can’t stop Sue from enjoying the season though, so she does what Sue does and finds a way to admire the tree and survive its effects on her immune system. Her solution involves a sheet of plastic that allows Sher to break out her always impressive physical comedy skills.

As always, the Heck family Christmas spirals out by the end, devolving into bickering, self-imposed bubble isolation and a botched attempt to watch White Christmas that is far funnier than it has any right to be. As I mentioned earlier, though all of the comedy is grounded in real emotion, leading to a heartfelt ending that reinforces the importance of family without sacrificing the inherent comedy in trying to have the perfect Christmas.

“The Christmas Tree” airs Wednesday, December 11th at 8/7c on ABC.

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