I was watching The Middle on ABC the other night.
I really like the show, but not as a realistic comedy – as a fantasy…of sorts.
It’s just not real.
And I don’t mean reality-show real.
And I certainly realize that it’s a TV show and not real life.
I just mean…the characters…I’m just not sure they’re real.
They’re situations appear to be real.
But they aren’t real.
What’s more, they’re not even characters.
They’re caricatures interpreted by actors who are seemingly performing monologues like they were a bunch stand-up comedians who happen to live in some kind of frat fun house of TV surreality. Ah, there’s the word to describe this show: surreality.
Frankly, any fantasy character on any fantasy sitcom from the 1960s (hello Samantha my baby, from Bewitched) is more real than any Mom, Dad or kid on The Middle.
On Bewitched, in fact, both Samantha and Endora actually talk with one another on very real and logical terms within their world of illogic. That’s one of the reasons why that show, and so many like it were and remain successful. While certainly their situations are not real, their dialogue and their relationships are real. What they say and do within the confines of their illogical reality is logical and makes sense.
Not so with the characters on The Middle…specifically the kids. As I say, they all walk around their house performing comedy acts instead of actually interacting with one another.
It’s kinda’sorta what happened with Happy Days after its first two genius seasons, when that show was filmed, one-camera-like, as little 30-minute movies every week, instead of how it changed for the worse later on…and starting filming, three-camera-like, before a live audience. When this transpired, the actors lost their sincere interpretations of Richie, Fonzie, Potsie, etc, and started performing for the camera, too conscious of its presence.
A similar development transpired on the later seasons of Seinfeld. While this show’s first few years were outright genius half-hour little Woody Allen movies with unlikable characters being likably performed by likeable actors, the final seasons morphed into displaying unlikable characters being portrayed with unlikable performances by the actors.
It was all very sad, and even though it clearly did not affect anyone’s paycheck on the show, the fine brilliant touch of Larry David and original director Tom Cherones was missing – and instead of Seinfeld being a unstoppable show about nothing – became an annoying sitcom filled with annoying caricatures portrayed with annoying performances. The culprit again was the actors becoming too conscious of themselves playing characters…and maybe, too, mixed in with a little arrogance of being conscious of being on the top TV series in the history of the world.
In like manner, the cast of The Middle is too conscious that they’re actors playing parts, and deliver overt one-man show performances as if no other characters (or actors) are in the room.
Unfortunately, viewers may start leaving their own living rooms with airings of such over-played shows – and no veteran or novice TV writer would really want that to happen on any of his or her established or potential programs.