One last bite of nightstand cookies. One concluding car ride. One closing ballad from Reverend TimTom. One more trip to the Frugal Hoosier and Bed Bath and Between. One final and absolutely perfect whisper.
After nine seasons, tonight The Middle delivered a delightful finale, homing in on what made the series so great—the natural comic beats of a busy, loving family—while advancing all the characters in positive directions. Axl (Charlie McDermott) agrees to take a job in Denver and Frankie (Patricia Heaton) pretends to put on a brave face. She even celebrates by offering to make Axl a home-cooked breakfast. “I will stick anything in that microwave that you want,” she tells him. Sue (Eden Sher) is devastated, and searches for her big moment with her brother while Brick (Atticus Shaffer) makes plans for an in-room library. Axl thinks Brick doesn’t care that he’s leaving. But Brick does. “I never really had anything that wasn’t yours already,” he says. “I don’t know. You’re like my arm or something.”
Few shows have the chance to go out like The Middle—on their own terms with their ratings still strong, if not spectacular. As Sher said when I interviewed her, since The Middle was never a huge smash hit, the water-cooler show everyone was talking about, it never had the steep decline that befalls so many series. This season has seen the departure of both Scandal and New Girl, but a lot of the appreciations of those shows were about what they once meant to TV. Viewers returned to those series for one last hurrah.
That was not The Middle, which maintained a steady viewership and quality for nine seasons. The series allowed its three children to grow up and its audience with it. When I first started watching the show in 2009, I related to it more as a daughter. Now, I relate to it more as a mom. But mostly I connect with the universal feeling of being part of a family, a community, a neighborhood.
For fans of Sue and Sean (Beau Wirick), there was finally an acknowledgement that they were in love with each other. “Everything about you makes me happy… You are walking sunshine,” Sean tells her. There’s no better way to describe Sue. There was stoic Mike (Neil Flynn) giving Axl his grandfather’s watch, engraved with the longitude and latitude of the house so Axl always remembers where he came from. (That was the first time I got teary, how about you?) There was Mike talking traffic with his buddies while Frankie and Nancy (Jen Ray) hugged. There was Brick hate-watching the Planet Nowhere movie. And Sue rocking her Sue-style sporting jeans with stars all over them. There were great sibling moments as the three fell asleep in the car. “The middle is the safest place to be,” as Sue says of her birth order. “You got love on both sides.”
All the characters were true to themselves. While Sean declared his love, Axl covered his eyes and Frankie took pictures. There were great character returns. I’m so glad to have one last moment with Brad (Brock Ciarlelli), one of TV’s best recurring characters (here’s hoping we see him on TV again soon) and Reverend TimTom (Paul Hipp), who always knows the right song to sing. Ashley (Katlin Mastandrea) popping up one last time was a fun callback for loyal fans. There were references to Sue’s No Cut Acappella group. And the blue bag got left behind. Again.
One of the final moments epitomized the series. Frankie is lamenting that things are never going to be the same again. “It’s the end of an era,” she wails. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Mike tells her. And as parents we know that is so true. Every time the school year ends and the kids move on to the next grade, every time a milestone’s hit—whether it’s toilet training or learning to drive a car—you rejoice in your children’s accomplishments while getting immediately wistful for a moment that will never return. (I mean, I never would have thought I’d be sad not to have to change a diaper again, but I was). “For all the things we didn’t have, we sure did have a lot,” Frankie says, as the camera pans over to her tattered house, broken washing machine and fading wallpaper. Yes, they did. And we viewers did, too.
The Middle understood and celebrated the family unit like few shows do. And the cast is one of the best on TV. I say every year that Eden Sher’s name should be preceded by the phrase “Emmy winner” or at least “Emmy nominee.”
I’m going to go ahead and make the fearless prediction that the finale goes down as one of the best of all time. I loved it (whispers “loved it”) and will miss it dearly. I’ve been glad to be stuck in The Middle for nine terrific seasons.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .