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Here I Am, Stuck in <i>The Middle</i> With — Hey, Where’s Malcolm?

When I first heard about The Middle, my first thought was, Hey, that sounds kind of like Malcolm in the Middle! That's interesting." Then I saw it, and discovered that it was, in fact, very interesting, because the show -- a single-camera sitcom about a hard-working couple raising three wacky children who get into zany mix-ups while trying to keep the family running and make ends meet -- feels exactly like Malcolm in the Middle. If you haven't seen it yet, you might say, "Well, that's a tenuous connection -- a lot of shows are about that. And besides, there were four kids on Malcolm." Of course, if you have seen it, then you know exactly what I'm talking about, and would even go so far as to agree with me that the oldest son on Malcolm doesn't count because he was at military school a lot of the time.

Now, Patricia Heaton's character -- the narrator of the show -- is more timid and easily pushed around than Jane Kaczmarek's on Malcolm, who could not only not be pushed around, but was a living terror. And Neil Flynn's dad-type is a lot more mellow and laid-back than Bryan Cranston's quirky, nervous Hal. But the three kids, including a sullen older son, a nerdy, klutzy middle daughter and a legitimately weird youngest son who has whispered conversations with himself, are like Reese, Malcolm and Dewey redux. If one of them was narrating instead of Heaton, the comparisons would be coming fast and furious, because the filmmaking style is incredibly similar.

Heaton works at a car dealership, but can't seem to sell anything, and is constantly getting dragged to school to deal with one of the kids, often using customer test-drives as a taxi service. Flynn works at the quarry, and sometimes forgets it's his turn to pick up the kids. The oldest son is always walking around with no shirt on, the daughter is a klutz who wants to try out for glee club (Glee crossover! Not really.), and the youngest son says cryptic things for weeks until he finally realizes he's actually been telling his mom she needs to dress up like a superhero for his school project. This leads to the endgame of the pilot, in which Heaton puts on some Spanks, squeezes into tights, and shows up at school to find out her son got the day wrong. Taking a sympathetic customer for a test drive, she is lured out of the car (in full costume) to examine a tire, at which point the car is stolen. Wah-waaah!

Ex-SNLer Chris Kattan pops up at one point as her co-worker, and he apparently has an expanded role in future episodes, thank God. (It would seem a waste if he didn't, as it does here.) And while I'm curious to see that, the rest of the show feels like I've seen it already. I don't remember where Malcolm took place, but the title of this show is in reference to where they live -- the middle. So it's clearly aimed at the middle of America, but the title could just as easily describe where the show's creators were aiming creatively, as well.

Did you see The Middle? What did you think?

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