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!

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Eden Sher (“The Middle”)

If there’s any question as to whether actress Eden Sher possesses any of the delightful awkwardness of Sue Heck, her character on “The Middle,” it was answered at the precise moment I picked up the phone when she called me for our interview. At first, there is silence, which is quickly followed by an odd muffled sound which can only be described as a high-pitched grunt. Then, a breathless Sher suddenly announces herself and explains apologetically that she’d taken a sip of water the moment before the call connected and was struggling to hurriedly swallow it without choking. (“I’m, like, ‘No, no, I’m not a mute!’”) With her throat no longer parched, Sher discussed the experience of playing one of TV’s geekiest, gawkiest teenagers, getting her big break on “Weeds,” and sharing a tender yet awkward moment with Ryan Hansen on “Party Down.”

Bullz-Eye: With your performance on “The Middle,” you’re quickly developing a reputation as one of the most fearless comediennes on television.

Eden Sher: Wow, thank you! I appreciate that. I’ll try to limit the growth of my head after a compliment like that. [Laughs.] When people say that, though, I’m not sure how to take it, because it doesn’t seem…I feel like if you’re not going big, if there’s any sort of fear in the way or if there’s any thought process that gets in the way of being funny, you’re not going to be funny. So I don’t really consider it to be a special thing. I’m just doing my job!

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BE: Well, you’re certainly not afraid to “Sue it up” as far as your appearance goes, but you also seem to be game for any and all physical comedy gags.

ES: Yes! Yes, I am, because I say the sweatier I am, the more bruised I am, the dirtier I get, the funnier it probably will be! [Laughs.] Because, I mean, you know the scene when I’m practicing to be the mascot, with the cardboard box on my head? I have realized this: falling or hitting something or physically hurting yourself is always funny. In real life or TV. Always is.

BE: So do you have any formal training as far as physical comedy goes?

ES: Uh, you mean aside from being clumsy and accidentally hurting myself? [Laughs.] No! I mean, I’ve taken acting classes forever, but I’ve actually never even taken a class that’s strictly comedy. I’ve taken improv classes before, but not a comedy class, per se. Do they offer physical comedy classes? Is that actually something they do?

BE: Not being an actor myself, let’s say, “Sure, they do!”

ES: [Laughs.] Well, either way, I’ve never actually taken one.

BE: DeAnn Heline has confirmed that it was actually you who went careening across the countertop in “The Test” last season, but did you do the swing set face-plant in this year’s season premiere (“The Last Whiff of Summer”)?

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ES: That was not. I tried to do it, and I just…it was too dangerous. But it did take awhile, because it’s actually the stunt girl you see walking to do it, too, and it was quite an ordeal having to help her master my walk. [Laughs.] I had to show her how to walk like Sue! But I will say, because this is something you don’t even see my face for, that the mascot face-plant…? That was me in the suit. That was actually me.

BE: Is that a regular occurrence? How much of what we see the mascot doing is you inside the suit?

ES: Anytime I’m doing anything physical other than standing, it’s me. All of the dancing stuff, that’s all me.

BE: Regarding to the physical transformation, what’s involved in the process of turning Eden Sher into Sue Heck?

ES: Well, first of all, I appreciate you noting that there is actually a transformation required! But it’s actually helped me to retain my anonymity a lot, because either people aren’t expecting it, or…I usually get, “You know, you look a lot like that girl on that show? Have you seen it?” It’s not actually that extensive of a process, because it’s mostly a case of coming in with dirty hair…oh, but I’m revealing too much. [Laughs.] Seriously, though, what happens is that I usually don’t wash my hair, because they have to flatten it out and make it a little stringy-ish. Or stringier than it usually is, anyway. And then they don’t put any makeup on me. They kind of fill in my eyebrows to make ‘em a little bushier. And then they just put the braces in, and that’s pretty much it.

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