Terry Morrow: With Whoopi Goldberg, 'The Middle' goes beyond mediocrity

Jean (Whoopi Goldberg) and Sue (Eden Sher) make a connection on "The Middle" tonight.

Photo by Eric McCandless, © 2012 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.

Jean (Whoopi Goldberg) and Sue (Eden Sher) make a connection on "The Middle" tonight.

"The Middle" has perfected the art of mediocrity.

It's not terrible or classic. It's far more than merely watchable. It's entertaining, light and, on occasion, very smart.

What it is not is outstanding, and it can be.

But sometimes even vanilla hits the spot.

In the next episode (airing 8 p.m. Wednesday, WATE, Channel 6), "The Middle" presents itself in fine form, at least by its own standards. Whoopi Goldberg has a guest stint as Jean Marsh, a guidance counselor who, for all intense and purposes, is the all-but-forgettable Sue Heck (an excellent Eden Sher) in 30 years.

"A bunch of years ago, I was a student here, too, and nobody knew who I was — and I was the only black kid!" Jean tells a frustrated Sue.

With her encouragement, Sue goes out to prove herself and try to stand out a little more. Of course, this is Sue we're talking about, and she's never going to make such a goal easy to achieve.

Meanwhile, Sue's bickering parents Frankie and Mike (Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn) argue over getting a new bed and how to assemble it. This is a snoozer of a secondary story, but that pretty much sums up why "The Middle" will never live up to its potential.

The spry comedy, like the characters inhabiting its world, never aims higher and wants to achieve more. "The Middle" is happy to stay under the radar, not making waves.

As a cute and often adorable character study, "The Middle" is satisfactory. Sher, along with juvenile co-stars Charlie McDermott and Atticus Shaffer, give the show its drive and heart. As for Heaton? She actually chokes the life out of it. Get rid of her, and "The Middle" has a fighting chance to be more.

Score: 4 stars (out of 5)

Terry Morrow may be reached at 865-342-6445 or morrowt@knoxville.com.

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Comments » 3

VictorKruger writes:

I could not disagree more. The show nearly perfectly captures the typical life occurrences of a middle-class working couple with multiple adolescent children. I suspect that you're not married and you don't have kids. Have you watched any episodes of the show besides this one?

Indiana writes:

I would love to know which shows you feel "live up to its potential" Let me guess what it takes, at least over the top gay person, lots of cussing & mocking anyone with traditional beliefs?

Newfies writes:

The Middle is one of he best shows on TV and doesn't get the credit it deserves. Every Thurs morning my co-workers and I talk about it and laugh and laugh. It's not flashy----there are subtle jokes sometimes that you can miss but it's relatable and what's not to love about Sue? She's hysterical!

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