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The Light from the TV Shows: The Cast of “The Middle”and Their 10 Favorite Episodes

When it comes to this column, I don’t tend to do a lot of cross-promotional tie-in pieces, but I’m going to make an exception this time because it’s for a show that I have vowed to do as much to promote and to help raise its profile as I possibly can: ABC’s “The Middle.”

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Given that the sitcom was just renewed for its fifth season, it’s hard to call it anything other than a success, and yet I’m still reminded of something Mark Harmon said about “NCIS” back in 2011: “If it’s possible for a No. 1 show to be still be under the radar, then we’re still under the radar.” That’s kind of where “The Middle” stands, if you ask me…or if you ask just about anyone who who’s involved with the show, for that matter: they know they’re doing good work, the viewers know they’re doing good work, the critics definitely know they’re doing good work, and yet as of this writing “The Middle” has only received one Emmy nod to date (for makeup, of all things). That’s just ridiculous…and that’s why, over at the Onion AV Club, I pulled together a TV Club 10 list of the 10 episodes of “The Middle” which best represent the series and reveal what makes it such a pleasure to watch week after week.

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Then, in conjunction with that piece, I thought it might also be interesting to reach out to the cast of the series and see which 10 episodes were their favorites. Not everyone was readily available to contribute, unfortunately, but three out of five ain’t bad, so don’t be afraid to express your gratitude to Patricia Heaton (Frankie Heck), Neil Flynn (Mike Heck), and Eden Sher (Sue Heck) in the comments for offering up their picks.

In closing, I’d just like to say – and I think you’ll probably agree – that there is something so incredibly right about the fact that Eden Sher described the opportunity to select her top-10 episodes as “way too much fun” and then proved it by writing a full paragraph about each one. No actor wants to be told that they’re “just like their character,” but there’s just enough Sue Heck in Eden Sher to make her one of the sweetest and most contagiously enthusiastic young actresses on network TV…but, then, if you read my interview with her a few months ago, then you already know that.

And, now, on with the lists!

PATRICIA HEATON

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1. “Average Rules” (season one, episode 24)

Patricia Heaton: Fun episode for the family, and Betty White guest starred. Enough said!

2. “Foreign Exchange” (season two, episode five)

PH: This was based on a true life experience of mine.

3. “Errand Boy” (season two, episode eight):

PH: Brick/Frankie funny episode about Mother/son relationship. Who doesn’t want to run errands with their Mom?

4. “Taking Back the House” (season two, episode 11)

PH: Fun episode about Frankie and Mike being rebellious parents.

5. “Hecks on a Plane” (season two, episode 16)

PH: The Hecks get the heck out of Orson.

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6. “Mother’s Day II” (season two, episode 21)

PH: The Mother’s Day gift of Frankie having a day to herself turns out to be disastrous and hilarious.

7. “Major Changes” (season three, episode four)

PH: Frankie runs away from home and spends time with her Mom.

8. “The Map” (season three, episode 13)

PH: Hilarious. I laughed out loud when I read the script.

9. “Second Act” (season four, episode three)

PH: Frankie contemplates a new career. What working mother hasn’t?

10. “The Friend” (season four, episode 13)

PH: Everyone loved the “Fame” dance.

 

NEIL FLYNN

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1. “The Block Party” (season one, episode five)

Neil Flynn: Brick tries playing on a basketball team.

2. “Thanksgiving” (season one, episode eight)

NF: We meet Sue’s boyfriend, Brad.

3. “Siblings” (season one, episode 9)

NF: The family plays football in the street, and Aunt Edie works at the quarry.

4. “The Break Up” (season one, episode 17)

NF: Axl is hurt by a break-up, he cries as Frankie consoles him.

5. “The Legacy” (season two, episode 19)

NF: Frankie plays a tape of Mike crying on the phone.

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6. “Back to Summer” (season two, episode 24)

NF: Sue graduates middle school.

7. “The Map” (season three, episode 13)

NF: Car ride home from Aunt’s funeral. It was a long opening scene in the car.

8. “The Wedding” (season three, episode 24)

NF: Brother Rusty’s wedding.

9. “Bunny Therapy” (season four, episode four)

NF: The killer rabbit is loose in the kitchen.

10. “Twenty Years” (season four, episode 10)

NF: The kids plan an anniversary party, but Sue does all the work. The kids were all great in this one.

 

EDEN SHER

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1. “Pilot” (season one, episode one)

Eden Sher: Beginnings are always the most exhilarating. Doing a pilot is an adrenaline junkie / Big Time Feeler’s dream; you’re excited and fearful and hopeful and nostalgic for the immediate past when it’s done because there is a chance you might never see these people again. And it’s so gratifying to see to fruition the actions you imagined would follow the words you read SO many times during the audition process. I’m pretty sure I read those sides a total of 9 times. It’s crazy to me that the people I met during the pilot are the same people I’m so close with now. CHEESEBALL WARNING: I’m so grateful for this experience and knew even then that we were all going to be a part of something beautiful and special. Except the braces. The braces during the pilot were hella cheap and uncomfortable. Also they were my own, so I had to be responsible for them, as opposed to the makeup department now. Way too much responsibility for an actor as flighty as myself.

2. “The Trip” (season one, episode four)

ES: This was the first prominently-featured-Sue episode. I got my first tantrum-esque monologue, my first having-to-remember-a-monologue-for-a-scene-at-the-end-of-the-day-which-was-like-midnight experience. This was also the episode I realized how wonderful my affinity for schmaltz/touchy feely tendencies were juxtaposed against Neil’s aversion to affection. That week started the daily tradition – now four years going – of me hugging him every day and him grudgingly obliging. Only downside, my weeklong proximity to sausage and cheese ruined any chance of me enjoying sausage and cheese in the future. But it’s really not that bad, ‘cause, like, it’s sausage and cheese.

3. “The Neighbor” (season one, episode 11)

ES: The world’s introduction to Sue’s – and my – expert dance skill. To be honest, I am kind of surprised I didn’t get a call from the Alvin Ailey Dance Company asking if I were available to tour with them or something. Also, I met Brooke Shields this week. It took me literally 6 hours of practicing to master the 4-step-barely-moving Kung Fu Fighting dance sequence. Also, Brooke Shields.

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4. “Average Rules” (season one, episode 24)

ES: Once upon a time, I dreamed of getting paid to exhibit my thespian skill, act on ‘camer-uh,’ perhaps perform in a ‘Fil-m’ in Hollywood. Then, my dream came true, I became a Big Time Hollywood Television Star, and people decided my talents were best utilized dragging myself on crutches around a track in the mud, while being blasted with cold fake rain, pelted with grass balls, falling flat on my stomach and army crawling on wet cement. On repeat. For twelve hours. But all for the sweetest victory for a character I had grown to love. I think this might have actually been the best work experience of my career thus far.

5. “Hecks on a Plane” (season two, episode 16)

ES: I don’t actually remember the plot of this episode very well, and I don’t think Sue was heavily featured. But I will never forget the experience of being on that tiny, claustrophobic, hot, cramped airplane set for a 13+ hour day. It was pretty awful, but all five of us were together. We haven’t gotten many all-five-of-us-together-for-a-whole-day days in recent months. It’s kind of stupid how much I love my cast mates and crew. Also, there’s something beautiful about suffering in solidarity.

6. “The Map” (season three, episode 13)

ES: The cold open of this episode was a 7-page scene of the whole family just sitting in the car talking. Much like my feelings towards ‘Hecks on a Plane,’ I will always remember that hot, crowded car with unique fondness. I also think that cold open turned out to be one of the best cold opens, and really best scenes, we’ve ever aired. I am also pretty sure this was the day we were introduced to Neil’s unparalleled Gary Busey / “Sling Blade” impressions. I am also pretty sure we all might have been mildly psychologically disturbed from the lack of oxygen in that car. Neil always hogs up all the oxygen.

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7. “Leap Year” (season three, episode 18)

ES: LITTLE KNOWN INDUSTRY SECRET INSIDER SCOOP WARNING! Mike’s storyline in this episode, a cat he took care of at the quarry dies, was actually inspired by true events. Neil had taken to caring for a stray cat in his neighborhood – I’m not positive, but pretty sure that’s how he acquired this cat, I really only half-listen to sentences that don’t include my name – and earlier in the season the cat died. In fact, there is a line that I’m pretty sure was taken straight from Neil’s actual life. I think his sister told him that loving the cat humanized him, which Frankie also tells him. I just love everything about this whole everything.

8. “The Guidance Counselor” (season three, episode 21)

ES: I have nothing to say about this except: “Flawless Queen Whoopi Goldberg.” Okay that’s a lie I have just a little more to say. This episode might actually rival the Season 1 finale for greatest work experience. The magical two days I got to spend with Queen Goldberg are in my Top 5 Happiest Life Moments, second after my Bat Mitzvah, one above meeting Taylor Swift. I am crying typing this out right now, alone at my computer, reflecting on the experience. So, yeah, thanks for that. Ugh. Making a grown woman cry. Rude.

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9. “Bunny Therapy” (season four, episode four)

ES: This episode included a great family freak-out scene in the kitchen. I live for family freak-out scenes. Additionally, this was the episode I got a mild concussion from doing my own stunt in the mascot suit. I’m not sure what it says about me that nearly half of my favorite episodes are my favorites due to something involving pain or discomfort, but my motto has been, and I’m pretty sure will remain, “If I don’t leave work bruised, scratched, exhausted, sweaty and/or dirty, I did not do my job.”

10. “The Friend” (season four, episode 13)

ES: Okay, I spoke too soon about the Season 1 Finale for sure. The order for greatest work experience thus far goes as follows: 1. The Guidance Counselor, 2. The Friend, 3. Average Rules. Sorry, Average Rules, you’ll still always hold a special place in my heart, but make way for Whoopi and “Fame”! As exhausting as trudging around the track was, it doesn’t hold a candle to the two solid days I spent learning, practicing and perfecting the dance number the wrestlerettes performed in this episode. I treated this dance with an embarrassing amount of gravity. I was completely humorless in rehearsals, which only made for an even more mortifying reveal when I finally saw how it turned out. I loved every second of learning and doing this number. I am so happy not only that it was documented on film, and now a part of Primetime Television History, but also that I have a 45 second video of my friend, a fellow wrestlerette, secretly filming me watching a video on my phone of a 6 year old krumping and attempting to imitate everything he did. I spent a lot of time this week studying the Art of Krumping.

  

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