"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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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