My all-time favorite sitcom is The Middle, starring Patricia Heaton, Neil Flynn, Charlie McDermott, Eden Sher, and Atticus Shaffer. Why is it my favorite? My family and I relate to the characters to a T, and I’ve heard many others say the same thing about the show.
So, what has The Middle taught me about storytelling?
Lesson 1: Characters Matter More Than Plot
I cannot stress this enough, The Middle is a perfect example of why writers need to take time to create well-developed characters and have them navigate the story, rather than the plot.
Does the Plot Matter?
Want to know the overarching plot of The Middle? For nine seasons, we literally follow the Heck family’s daily life in small-town Indiana. Going by the plot alone, that sounds boring as heck, doesn’t it? No pun intended. 😛
Sometimes. But Characters Matter More.
But, that’s where the characters come in and make the series the hilarious, epic creation it is! Each and every character, even the minor characters, are so jam-packed full of personality, quirks, desires, and fears that they are the most relatable cast of characters I’ve ever come across in a TV series.
The Middle didn’t last on ABC for nine years because of a fast-paced, epic plot… its longevity is solely due to the fact that the Hecks, and their town of Orson, were written to represent the heart and soul of small-town American families, and families see themselves in the characters.
Lesson 2: Characters Should be as Relatable as Possible
As I said in the section above, the fact that the characters in The Middle are so relatable saves the series from its decided lack of plot. What makes the characters relatable small-town Americans?
The characters are fleshed out to. the. max.
Example 1: Frankie Heck
Out of the Heck family, I can easily name at least five different aspects about each member. For example, Frankie loves Collin Firth (to the point of naming the family’s dog after him), hides a tube of icing in the garage, often feels inferior to her sister and her next door neighbor, is a hopeless romantic, and often overthinks everything.
Example 2: Brick Heck
Her son, Brick, on the other hand has Asperger’s Syndrome (though it is never explicitly diagnosed), whispers to himself, reads obsessively, expresses his unbelief in God (despite his family being Christians), and is known for his awkward social skills.
Without going into detail on the remaining three members of the Heck household, you can tell that these characters have many layers to their personalities. Each episode explores different quirks and personality aspects of the characters, therefore showcasing their relatable qualities to viewers, showing them that they are not alone.
Lesson 3: Contemporary Fiction is Impactful When Real-Life Issues are Faced
The best part about The Middle, to me, is that the writers didn’t create a family that is lovey-dovey to the point of gagging nor a family that hates each others’ guts. Instead, they found a middle ground, the perfect place to insert real-life issues into the story without making them seem contrived.
Example 1: Handling Disabilities
When I described Brick earlier, I mentioned he has a condition similar to Asperger’s, despite it never being outright said in the show. I love how the writers never include the actual diagnosis, as they instead allow viewers to get an accurate depiction of what Asperger’s looks like without putting a label to it, therefore disarming any stigma against Brick that could have occurred if his condition had been labeled.
Example 2: Handling Parent/Child Relationships
Another issue that is heavily faced in the later seasons is Frankie’s empty nest syndrome when the oldest kids, Axel and Sue, move to college. Many parents on television today, especially on networks aimed at kids, depict parents as being unloving, or for lack of a better word, stupid. Frankie’s display of love and anguish over watching her kids get older is heartwarming and provides a much better depiction of how real parents act.
The Middle has taught me the following about storytelling:
- Lesson One: Characters Matter More Than Plot
- Lesson Two: Characters Should be as Relatable as Possible
- Lesson Three: Contemporary Fiction is Impactful When Real-Life Issues are Faced
Talk to Me, Arrowheads!
Are you a fan of The Middle? What else has the show taught you about storytelling? Drop your lessons learned in the comments!
Aim high, stay strong, and always hit your mark.