Follow TV Tropes


Series / The Middle

Go To
L - R: Sue, Mike, Brick, Frankie, and Axl.
An ABC sitcom about two working-class parents raising three children in small-town Indiana. Rife with narration and flashbacks.

Frankie Heck (Patricia Heaton) and her husband Mike (Neil Flynn) live in the Midwestern town of Orson, Indiana. Frankie first works as a saleswoman at "Ehlert Motors" before moving on to dental hygiene, and Mike is the manager at the local quarry. Their three children are: Axl (Charlie McDermott), perpetually lazy and unmotivated, often to the point of wearing only his boxers; Sue (Eden Sher), the quirky but persistent and energetic middle child who tries out for a number of extracurricular activities...and fails spectacularly at almost every one; and Brick (Atticus Shaffer), the gifted but socially awkward youngest child, who reads a lot and has a tendency to whisper the last words he saidnote .

Other notable characters include Bob Weaver (Saturday Night Live's Chris Kattan), Frankie's coworker at Ehlert Motors for the first few seasons; Don Ehlert (Brian Doyle-Murray), Frankie's first boss; Sean Donahue (Beau Wirick), Axl's highschool friend and neighbor; Lexie Brooks (Daniela Bobadilla), Sue's rich roommate/best friend at college in later seasons; Frankie's parents (Jerry Van Dyke and Marsha Mason); and even Rita Glossner (Brooke Shields), mother of the block's trouble kids.

Along with Modern Family, it was the break-out comedy of the 2009 television season (though Modern Family tends to get all of the entertainment media attention). In 2017 it was announced the show's ninth season would be its last, with its final episode airing in May 2018.

On May 30, 2018, in the works from ABC was a Spin-Off centering on Sue. The pilot was passed over however.

Not to be confused with the 2000 sitcom Malcolm in the Middle (though some comparisons are inevitable).

The show provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer:
    • The creepy Cloudcuckoolander Weird Ashley is uncomfortably attracted to Axl.
    • Axl jokes about Lexie being one to him at first, saying things like she keeps staring at him and throwing herself at him even though he's with April when she's actually just standing there looking puzzled. In actuality, he's this to her as this is his way of stealthily flirting with her while still being loyal to his girlfriend.
  • Abuse Mistake: In "The Scratch," the Heck family quickly throws their garbage together to get to a passing garbage truck in time, and Frankie accidentally scratches Brick's arm with a beer bottle. At school, Brick innocently informs a hall monitor that his arm is scratched is because mother hit him with a beer bottle, and soon Frankie and Mike have to explain themselves to the police. The police send a social worker to the house, and the family desperately tries to look wholesome (and teach Brick not to be so Brutally Honest).
  • Adults Are Useless: If any of the Heck children ever have to deal with an adult to sort out some problem, such as a teacher or school administrator, expect them to be completely unhelpful, if not outright dismissive of them.
  • Aerith and Bob: There's Axl, Brick, and... Sue. It kind of emphasizes her lack of specific talent. It even works with their real actors' names: Charlie... Atticus, and Eden (respectively).
  • Aesop Amnesia: In “The Cheerleader," we find out that Frankie and Mike always bought items with no payments until 2009, only to forget about it by the end of the episode. They were able to get a new credit card to pay off their debts and buy new items with no payments until 2012.
    • Frankie is getting hit by this trope all the time. No matter how many times meddling in other people's lives/insisting on trying to get people to see things her way turns out bad/gets people upset at her, she's doing it again next episode. Once Mike even specifically spelled out to her that she shouldn't do something because it always turns out horribly, and she agrees - one quick Gilligan Cut later, there she is doing exactly what she agreed she shouldn't do. At this point, it's practically a compulsion.
    • No matter how much of a good impression Sue makes on others about who she is by the end of an episode, they’ll all go back to not being able to remember her in future episodes.
    • Axl learns from time to time about how important it is to help Sue out when she needs it and not to ignore and get frustrated with her just because she’s his goofy younger sister. He keeps learning this lesson though. He seems to keep forgetting it.
    • Brick forgets constantly that the family doesn’t really share his interests and constantly develops the impression and treats things as being more popular with them than they truly are.
    • In "Getting Your Business Done", Mike decides that his "business" is to thank his dad for being there for him and Rusty after their mom died. Only a couple of episodes later, in "The Clover", Mike tells his dad that he was a bad father because he was never around.
  • Agony of de Feet: Sue drives over Axl's foot while learning how to drive. His foot remains broken in the next episode before healing in the episode after that.
  • The Alleged Car: Axl's '75 Ford Gran Torino met its end when a county fair official took a guess about the rusty, faded old land yacht and waved Axl into the demolition derby.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Brick's disorder is never specified though he does seem to have several symptomsnote  that relate to Asperger's.
    • Cindy Hornberger, Brick's girlfriend, speaks in a monotone voice, refuses to take her hat off, cannot say something she doesn't mean, and she has little understanding of social etiquette (ex. she has no problem speaking to Brick in the men's room while he's using a stall).
  • Ambiguously Gay: Brad is this for several seasons. In season seven, Brad is finally about to come out but Sue simply says, "I know" and hugs him.
  • Appeal to Flattery: Sue is approached by someone at the mall who tells her she has what it takes to be a model. Of course, she'll have to pay for some classes. Sue is so excited after being compared to a model that she never considers that this could be a scam, and spends the rest of the episode trying to pay for classes through babysitting.
  • Artistic License – History: In Brad's big musical number, he mentions Tina Fey as a high school outcast who ended up getting the last laugh. Except Tina Fey's been very open about actually being one of the mean girls during her school days.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: After Brick reveals he lost his backpack in "The Smell" and Frankie asks where he was when he lost it:
    Brick: That's kind of what makes it lost, mom...
  • Assumed Win: When Brick entered a contest to come up with the town's new slogan.
  • A Very Special Episode. Subverted by the third season premiere, in which Sue gets her first period near the end of the episode.
  • The Baby Trap: One episode had Brick have an unwanted girlfriend that started stalking him. When he tried to break up with her, she said that they were now married and had a baby to apparently keep him from leaving her.
  • Back to School: After being fired from Ehlert Motors in the beginning of the fourth season, Frankie decides to retrain, ultimately as a dental technician.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": This is the result when Brad and Sue write, direct and star in the senior play "The Loneliest Locker."
  • Bad Job, Worse Uniform: Sue and (even more so) Brad's uniforms for their jobs at the mall's food-court chain outlets, as seen in "Vacation Days" during the fifth season.
  • Bears Are Bad News: On their camping trip...
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Axl has two cases of this with his love interests over the season; Cassidy and Lexie.
    • Cassidy is a Cute Bookworm who becomes his tutor in the fourth season but the two immediately clash due to his being the slacker Big Man on Campus and Cassidy a Snark Knight. Their back and forth insults ends up eventually becoming flirting and they become a couple. Unfortunately, their clashing interests and going to separate colleges leads them to breaking up.
    • With Lexie, he teased her with the idea of her being interested in him while showing a thinly veiled interest in her, she'd shut him down and then it turned out, he was right all along about her reciprocating. She only thought he was just enjoying trying to make her uncomfortable, until it turned out he truly did have feelings for her all along.
  • Big Brother Instinct: While Axl shows more affection towards his little brother, Brick, he's more emotionally closed off when it comes to his little sister, Sue. He treats her with disdain, taunts and teases her to no end, and belittles her very existence (he never tells anyone in his school that he has a sister)... but when it comes down to it, Axl shows a softer, comforting side of him when it really counts. Examples would be in episodes like The Block Party (where he gives Sue his old jersey because he felt bad for her not making ball girl), and The Paper Route (where he gives her a little pep talk after her boyfriend dumps her for another girl, and invites her to come watch his game to cheer her up, awww!).
  • The Big Damn Kiss: At the end of "The Par-tay" and after nearly a season of UST, Axl and Lexie's Relationship Upgrade finally occurs when Axl shows up to the apartment and kisses Lexie almost immediately after she answers the door.
    • Practically all their kisses in "The Confirmation" are this, given the sneaking around and dramatic gripping they do to each other.
  • Big Eater:
    • Axl has a reputation for having a big appetite.
    • Brick as well, in "The Map" he and Axl try and create a model Indiana cake out of brownie mix, pancake mix, and pizzas. The brothers end up devouring all of them. As for the pizza model they ordered two so they could eat one and use the other for the model; they end up eating both of them.
    • Brick demonstrated it again in the Season Four Halloween episode, when he ate 20 pounds of candy in 24 hours. As a result, he started behaving more "normal" for a day until he fainted during dinner. His parents resorted to giving him a little sugar for "special occasions".
    Mike: He's more sugar than boy. ... Nobody EVER needs to know about this.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Shannon in "Errand Boy."
    • The Donahues have shown signs of this to varying degrees with Sean's sister being the worst, she's been shown to be a manipulative opportunist. She conned both Frankie and Sue into giving her free stuff in two different episodes.
  • Blackmail: In "The Telling," Axl accidentally wakes Sue up late at night while sneaking back into the house via her room. Knowing that he has a big trip to the lake with his friends coming up on the weekend, she holds the threat of telling on him over him to get rides for her and her friends everywhere over the next few days. Unfortunately, she becomes so drunk with this power that he comes clean with their parents in order to get free of her.
  • Book Within A Show: Brick is a huge fan of the sci-fi series "Planet Nowhere," as revealed in "Twenty Years."
  • Braces of Orthodontic Overkill: Sue is expecting to get her braces off in the third season's "The Paper Route". Instead, because the braces overcorrected her teeth, she developed a simultaneous overbite and underbite and must wear headgear full-time.
  • Brainless Beauty: Deconstructed in a season 2 episode; Axl's boss is an extremely sexy but extremely dumb party girl who he is at first overjoyed to work with, but eventually grows to intensely dislike, even turning down a date (to his own shock) due to frustration at her thoughtlessness.
    • Axl's season 8 girlfriend, April. The rest of the Heck family agrees that she is sweet and cute but utterly brainless and not good enough for Axl.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: In the first part of "Last Whiff of Summer," the fourth-season premiere, the Hecks go to a drive-in where the triple bill is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Fiddler on the Roof, and Serpico.
  • Brick Joke: No, not with the character. In one episode, Brick is home alone and he tries to make Pizza puffs with the oven and nearly starts a fire because there was a quilt in the oven (because they only eat fast food, Frankie puts Aunt Pearl's old quilts in the oven). In a 2012 episode, Axl and Brick try to bake a dough map of Indiana and after turning the oven on, shout, "THE QUILT!" and take it out of the oven.
    • Its return in the next season's "Christmas Pageant" suggests this may be becoming a Running Gag.
    • In "Floating 50", Sue spends the episode searching for a sock she lost while doing laundry in the college dorms. In a later episode, the sock shows up on Sue's back in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it gag.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy:
    • Axl most of the time, but subverted whenever he is motivated to succeed on a test, etc. Arguably, Brick is a more straight-up example (see below).
      • When a football recruiter from East Indiana State visits the Heck home, Axl demonstrates that he can be a polite, charming young man, then goes back to his slovenly self the second the recruiter leaves.
      • In season 9, Axl takes the lazy side to new extremes after spending a summer in Europe. Later, in the episode “Eyes Wide Open”, he visits his college roommate Hutch in Chicago and sees how he is acting more like a responsible adult than when they last saw each other. This inspires Axl to finally shed his slacker image, cut his hair neatly, and find work that makes better use of his business degree.
    • Brick does invert this in one episode. He fails a few math tests, but it's not because of the teacher or the material. He just wanted extra reading time.
    Brick: That's probably because I only answered the first five questions.
    Brick: Ms. Rinski said we could have free reading time after we finished the test, so I finished in five minutes.
  • Broken Aesop: In-universe in the second-season episode "The Quarry." Axl gets suspended from school, so Mike decides to teach him a lesson about how much of a drag the real world is compared to school by taking him to work with him. It backfires when Axl finds one of his temporary co-workers is a cool guy in his early 20s who throws weekend parties attended by lots of attractive women.
  • The Bus Came Back: Averted in "Valentine's Day IV" when Matt leaves a message for Sue to tell her he's back together with his old girlfriend, so he won't be coming back to Orson to take her out to the dance.
    • Carly, Sue's best friend from the earlier seasons, reappears during the New Year's party in season 9. (Frankie mentions her needing to get home to relieve her babysitter, so most likely her lack of appearances was due to being busy with a kid).
    • Most of the major recurring characters from the earlier seasons returned for the final season. Ehlert, Debbie, Courtney, Derrick Glossner, and his brother Donald Wayne, all appeared in the 200th episode, for example. Averted with Bob and Darren, the only two characters who didn't come back.
  • By Wall That Is Holey: In "The Name," Axl is helping out at a Habitat for Humanity house. When asked if he needs help with the bracing, he scoffs and says he knows what he's doing, only to have the wall fall while he stands in the doorway.
  • Butt-Monkey: Sue and, to a lesser extent, Frankie. You could argue that it's an entire family of Butt Monkeys, but those two stand out the most.
    • Brick gets a lot of this - by virtue of being the third child, his own parents often seem to forget he even exists. This goes all the way back to his birth when they managed to take the wrong baby home and not realize it for a month. More recently, with both Axl and Sue in college, Mike and Frankie have more or less phoned in the job of parenting the poor guy.
  • Bumbling Dad: Subverted with Mike, as he is a streetsmart man, who knows what he is talking about.
  • Call-Back:
    • In "Halloween III: The Driving," Sue mentions her "near-death experience" secretly driving the Donahues' car (see Product Placement, below) in the previous season's "Hecking it Up."
    • In the very next episode, Sue and Brick accidentally reopen the same hole in the wall from the second season.
  • Can't Get in Trouble for Nuthin': In "The Last Whiff of Summer," Sue attempts to get attention from her father by deliberately misbehaving so he will have to punish her. However, her attempts to be a 'bad girl' fall solidly in Poke the Poodle territory and Mike fails to even notice.
  • Captain Oblivious: Sue is the only one who seems to have no idea that her former boyfriend Brad is very probably gay. When he finally comes out to her, it turns out that she's figured it out (though exactly when she became aware is up for debate).
  • Celebrity Paradox: Frankie says that Axl impressed a college professor with facts he learned from watching Hot Tub Time Machine 27 times. Charlie McDermott, who plays Axl, was in Hot Tub Time Machine.
  • Characterization Marches On: In the earlier seasons, Sue had a lot more of "Hollywood teenage girl" moments, and sometimes even mouthed off to her mother a few times, a notable example being an episode where Frankie ruined a pair of jeans that she bought Sue that were popular at the time. In later seasons, imagining Sue doing such a thing would be impossible, especially with how much she values being the "good child" in comparison to Axl. Quite a few later episodes actually have her reach a nervous breakdown level over her parents finding out she did something incredibly minor, and likely wouldn't care about.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In the opening of the Season 5 episode "Sleepless in Orson", Sue brings a balloon home from work. Later on in the episode, Mike tackles the balloon during the night thinking it's someone breaking in.
  • Child Prodigy: Youngest son Brick is prone to philosophical thoughts about the meaning of life.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: In the early seasons, Axl was almost never seen without his two best friends Sean & Darren; Sean continued to appear frequently and eventually ends up marrying Sue, but Darren disappeared after dumping Sue when she she turned down his proposal.
    • Also, Sue's best friend Carly stopped appearing after a while, although Sue does reference her on occasion. Averted in season 9 where she does come back for one episode (dialogue from Frankie revealed she had a child, so that might explain her absence).
    • Frankie's co-worker Bob (Chris Kattan) was a regular when the show first started but was eventually phased out after a few seasons and was never mentioned again (justified, as Frankie no longer worked at the car lot that Bob worked at).
  • Clip Show: Subverted: "Back to Summer" had a subplot where Brick had to fill out a journal covering everything he did that school year (or, in other words, covering Season 2). Only problem is that neither Brick or Frankie could actually remember anything that happened that year, so they have to resort to making stuff up.
    Brick: "Today I wrote a letter to President Nixon?"
  • Comic Trio: Axl, Sean, and Darren, in an obvious tribute to The Three Stooges.
    • Axl's the snarky leader who invents crazy schemes. And he has black hair like Moe Howard's.
    • Darren, ever the fool, blindly goes along with them. And he has a blond crew cut not unlike that of Curly Joe Howard.
    • Sean is the only sane man with a dash of nice guy and hair as red as that of Larry Fine.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • In "Friends, Lies and Videotape" during the second season, Mike confronts Sue about a ticket stub to an R-rated movie she and her best friend sneaked into earlier in the episode. Sue responds by tearfully confessing every (actually relatively minor) transgression she's committed recently. In the process she reveals the hole in the wall she and Brick enlarged while trying to fix it four episodes earlier in "The Big Chill."
    • In "The Friend," we learn who fixed it, and Sue confesses to it again (even though it's fixednote ) in "Wheel of Pain."
    • In "The Clover," Mike takes the Heck's old dishwasher from "Valentine's Day III" to his father.
    • In "The Telling," Sue is shown sleeping with her headgear, which she got earlier that season, in "The Paper Route". During "Last Whiff of Summer (Part 2)" she takes it off in a desperate bid for attention, loudly announcing she's doing so, but no one notices. She sleeps with it yet again in "Bunny Therapy."
    • In "The Wedding," Sue looks for ideas for Rusty's wedding in a notebook she kept when she was imagining that she and Matt (whom she'd broken up with long distance earlier in the season) would someday get married.
    • In "Bunny Therapy," Axl and his friends are shown raking leaves in the "Boss Co." shirts they had printed up for the previous season's finale, "The Wedding," And they're seen again in a couple of other episodes that season.
    • In "The Friend," Cassidy turns out to be a big fan of the Planet Nowhere series that Axl spoiled for Brick in "The Smile," and in "Wheel of Pain," we see some of the books stacked next to Brick's bed.
  • Covered in Mud: Mike, in "The Ditch," during the fourth season, after trying Axl's plan to get the car and boat unstuck.
  • Crappy Holidays:
    • As of its sixth season, the show has done a Thanksgiving, and a Christmas episode every season. An annual Halloween Episode started in the second season, and each season except the fifth he got a Valentine's Day Episode. The first two seasons also featured Mother's Day episodes, and then "Hallelujah Hoedown" in the fourth season had Mother's Day (the Sunday after it aired) as one of its plot threads.
    • The first Mother's Day episode sneaked in a Father's Day episode via flashbacks. A third-season episode was also devoted to the Hecks trying to keep their New Year's resolutions.
    • And the show has also built episodes around the 2010 Final Four and Super Bowl XLVI, both of which in real life took place in Indiana. And episodes around the 2011 and 2018 Royal Weddings.
    • On Feb 29, 2012 the show aired the episode Leap Day.
    • The two-part fourth-season premiere, "Last Whiff of Summer," had one act set on Fourth of July.
    • "The Trip" ends like this when Sue forces her way onto a field trip after she collected the necessary money (which her mother forgot to turn in) to go. Needless to say, because the field trip wasn't prepared for an extra student, it was a miserable experience for her. She couldn't go in the state capital building, had to sleep on the floor in the hotel, and numerous other things that combined to make the trip awful.
  • Crossover: In the episode "Operation Infiltration," Troy Gentile made a non-canon appearance as his character Barry Goldberg from the Eighties-centric sitcom The Goldbergs (a fellow ABC sitcom). Complete with a Philadelphia Flyers shirt, Barry's favorite choice of clothing.
    • Maybe. While the ads for the episode certainly implied that, Gentile is uncredited and it never explicitly says it's Barry, it could just be another kid from their school.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Subverted when Frankie tosses an empty bottle to Sue, which accidentally hits Brick in the arm. Later at school when asked about the injury, Brick innocently says, "My Mom hit me with a beer bottle," not intending to make it sound the way it did.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Sue wins an MVP award for her participation on the Cross Country Team. Unfortunately, the specific award is "MVP Most Punctual," and everyone on the team gets some sort of an "MVP" award. Sue being Sue, she's still genuinely excited to win something.
  • Demoted to Extra: Bob was a regular for the first season or so, but after the show began to focus more on the Hecks' lives and less on Frankie's job, he had little use on the show and was relegated to the end credits.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Axl most of the time, but everyone has their snarky moments.
    • Mike, especially to Frankie and Axl.
  • The Determinator:
    • Sue. No matter how many times she fails to make any team or club, she never gives up. This extends far enough that, in that Season Finale, she "runs" five laps around a cross-country track with a twisted (and possibly broken) ankle, only for it to start raining while she's on her final lap. Then, after being splashed with mud and grass and losing a crutch, she drags herself across the finish line with only her arms. Did we mention that the entire time the theme from Chariots of Fire was playing?
      • Not to mention the fact that every one of her schoolmates watching and cheering for her cheered the wrong name until the family corrected them!
      • And presumably had been for the first four and a half laps. That makes the support of the family even more heartwarming!
      • In the second episode of the third season it's lampshaded when Axl pays her a backhanded compliment, calling her a "dork optimist."
      • It's lampshaded again in "Twenty Years", when she says "Sue Heck will never give up!".
    • Frankie could be one too, given her various quests to help out her family (during which she is inevitably faced with several obstacles).
      • Her speech in the dental-assistant class at the end of "The Safe" pretty much confirms it.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Sort of. Sean has no romantic interest in Sue (At least for the majority of the show) but he has twice, out of the kindness of his own heart, driven all the way down from Notre Dame (blowing off his own studies in the process) to be Sue's date only to be rejected because Sue found someone else at the last minute.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off!: Mike's father had a belt he called "the Enforcer" that he threatened to use frequently on his sons. It is implied that this is the reason Mike never even considers Corporal Punishment for his children.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The name of the series actually has a triple meaning. It's about a middle-aged mom, in a (lower) middle-class household, living in the Midwest. The family also tends to consciously or unconsciously avoid the winner obsession usually attributed to American society. They represent Aristotle's aurea mediocritas (golden mediocrity, another way of being in the middle) and this is shown as the basis for their simple yet beautiful happiness, much in the vein the Greeks understood it.
  • Downer Ending: In "The Sit Down," the Heck family merely pretends to listen to the ER doctor's lecture, regarding the recent feuding between the nagging parents and irresponsible children. And when they leave the hospital, Sue loses her jacket once again.
  • Driving Test: Sue spends the fourth season trying to get her license. By "Hallelujah Hoedown," when she's alone among her like-aged friends, in which we learn she's failed her road test six times and must wait another month.
    • After which, in the season finale, she passes at last.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Each member of the Heck family by the series finale.
    • Axl moves back to Orson and marries Lexie. They eventually have three sons, who behave just like he did when he was a teenager (Frankie called it the "greatest revenge" for her and Mike). By the time of Sue's ending (see below), they seem to be expecting a fourth child.
    • Sue, after several breakups and reconciliations, marries Sean Donahue with her mentor Reverend Tim-Tom presiding over the ceremony and her family and best friends in attendance.
    • Brick married his long-time girlfriend Cindy and became a best-selling author, with his best-selling series being about a quirky kid who got sucked in his magical microfiche and travelled through time with a trusty backpack.
    Older Brick: I had a very interesting childhood.
    • Mike and Frankie...stayed the same. But in the end, they were definitely proud of their children and had a lot of memories with their family.
  • Egg Sitting: Axl gets this assignment in sex ed. Needless to say, he is a less than perfect parent.
    • In a later season 9 story arc, Brick is given the same assignment, and forced to use the same (now virtually destroyed) doll Axl used.
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Sue Sue Heck. Her first name was accidentally written twice on her birth certificate. Frankie and Mike have been meaning to get that changed. When they finally get around to it in "The Name," the government worker at the courthouse thinks her name is interesting. Sue, delighted that someone has finally found something about her unique and special, decides not to have it changed after all.
  • Ending Fatigue: Happens In-Universe (thankfully mostly off-screen) with Sue and Brad's school play in "The Loneliest Locker". Unable to agree upon an ending, they use all of the endings they came up with. This leads Brick to comment that he likes the third ending the best.
  • Eskimos Aren't Real: In a Christmas Episode, Brick explains that Eskimos know how to put a fire in an igloo, only for Axl to snap that back that Eskimos aren't real, but are made-up creatures like leprechauns.
    Axl: You can't put a fireplace in an igloo.
    Brick: The Eskimos do it all the time!
    Axl: Oh my god, Brick. Eskimos aren't even real. They're just in stories like leprechauns and trolls.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Near the end of "The Test," Mike finally manages to get Brick to stand up for himself, something he wanted throughout the entire episode. However, as he tells Frankie, he realizes that Brick tricked him when he thinks back to how Brick deals with bulliesnote .
  • Exact Words: In "The Clover" during the third season, Frankie, worried about Aunt Edie's ability to continue on her own after her sister's death, visits her. While there, she points to the phone with extra large buttons and pictures of her, her mother and her sister on the numbers in memory:
    Frankie: Press my face if you want to talk.
    Aunt Edie: (reaching out and actually pressing Frankie's face) Hello? Hello?
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: At a religious camp, Brick meets Blake Ferguson, the boy the Hecks accidentally took home from the hospital and kept for a month before realizing their mistake. Brick is excited to meet his "brother," hugging him and laughing about the mix-up...until it hits him that Blake's parents never told him about it.
    Brick: We were switched at birth! I spent the first month of my life with your family and you spent the first month of your life with my family! Why aren't you more excited about this? You're acting like you've never heard this story've never heard this story before.
  • Fanservice: Axl. He's played by a young adult actor with a lean, ripped body.
    • Don't forget about his two buff football buddies who have had multiple shirtless scenes. Sometimes the scenes are even homoerotic. Case in point: the first Valentine's Day episode, where Darren takes a picture of the three of them sitting side by side, flexing for the camera.
      Axl: Dude, we look like three naked guys huggin' each other.
      Sean: Yeah, and you can't see what our hands are doing...
      Darren: And...send! High five, my brothers!
      (Axl and Sean look at each other in disgust before fleeing the scene)
      • In "Hecks at a Movie", it's revealed that Axl and Sean's first kiss was with each other.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Frankie being arrested for an overdue library book - "Stormy Moon."
  • First Kiss: Subverted somewhat in "Valentine's Day III" in the third season. Sue and her new boyfriend have admitted to each other that his French kisses have been a problem for them both—she doesn't like the feel of another person's tongue in her mouth, and he's been trying to avoid cutting his tongue on her braces. So the show ends with a nice moment on the Hecks' doorstep, as they kiss on the lips, limned by sunlight. It's not her first kiss per se but it's her first real one.
  • First Period Panic: Played for laughs. During a camping trip with her family, Sue discovers she's having her first period, and her period blood has attracted the attention of a bear nearby.
  • Flanderization:
    • Sue seems to be becoming even more hopelessly naive and clueless than ever in recent episodes, to the point of ridiculousness (especially in "Halloween III," when she becomes so nervous about driving that she accidentally runs over Axl's foot and potentially ruins his football scholarship). Rule of Funny aside, Sue has not shown very much depth or personality change, and some are finding her perpetual enthusiasm stale - not to mention fast becoming unrealistic (underbite-crossbite, anyone?)
      • This was addressed in the fifth season's Halloween episode when Mike showed legitimate concern that Sue's "extreme innocence" (which he referred to as being normal for a child but not for a 16-year-old) will make her look crazy and the victim of bullying.
    • Brick, too, has been affected by this. As of "Bunny Therapy" he's acquired a whole new odd Verbal Tic for no apparent reason, other than perhaps to make him seem even weirder.
  • Flipping the Bird/Relax-o-Vision: In Signals, when Frankie is about to give Mike the middle finger for making fun of her, the scene cuts to a shot of the Hecks' house so Frankie can continue telling the audience about signs.
    Frankie: Well, read this sign. [Scene cuts to the Hecks' house] Yep, some signs are unmistakable...
  • Flyover Country: The show is set in the U.S. Midwest, and the title, "the middle," is a colloquialism used by inhabitants of places like Orson to describe where they live.
    • The pilot episode even goes so far as to show a plane flying overhead, and the passengers not caring when the flight attendant tells them that if they look out their window, they can see Indiana.
  • For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself: Invoked in the seventh-season Halloween episode when Axl's friend suggests that the mysterious trick-or-treater in The Grim Reaper costume they keep seeing might actually be Death, since Halloween is the one night of the year Death could walk around like that without anyone thinking anything's amiss.
  • Four-Leaf Clover Brick finds one in the "The Clover" episode and it brings him all manner of bad luck.
  • Four-Philosophy Ensemble: Axl (the Apathetic), Sue (the Optimist), Mike (the Cynic), Brick (the Realist), and Frankie (the Conflicted).
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble
    • Heck family combo ensemble: self-centered person-user Axl (choleric-sanguine), non-sentiment Mike (melancholic-choleric), Aunt Edie (phlegmatic-melancholic), Wide-Eyed Idealist Sue (sanguine-phlegmatic), and Frankie and Brick (eclectic).
    • Recurring secondary characters: Don Ehlert (choleric), Bob Weaver (melancholic), Darrin (phlegmatic), Brad (sanguine), and Sean (eclectic).
  • From Bad to Worse: Sue and Brick's attempt to fix a small hole in her wall in "The Big Chill" only makes it larger.
  • Funny Background Event: While Frankie is talking to Mike and bemoaning her inability to figure out who she really is, Brick can be seen in the background trying to get himself into a sleeping bag, and failing miserably.
    • This gag is repeated in a later episode. Frankie and Mike have a conversation while Sue is shown in the background learning to row a boat in the above-ground pool and, also, failing miserably.
    • In the final episode, Axl tells Sue and Brick that he's moving to Denver. While Axl deals with an inconsolable Sue, Brick is in the background measuring their bedroom. Later in the same episode, Brick is pushing a bookcase down the hallway while Frankie and Mike are having a conversation. They don't notice until Brick gets the case stuck in the doorway.
  • Funny Foreigner: Subverted in "Foreign Exchange". The Japanese exchange student who comes to stay with the Hecks has zero personality and says almost nothing to the family the entire time. Only when he returns home and a brief shot of him with his Japanese family is shown in The Tag, is it revealed that he's basically a sullen teenager with some of the same personality traits as Axl and Brick.
  • Games of the Elderly: In one episode, the Hecks give up TV in order to help pay off their debt. While the children do fine, Mike and Frankie are bored. Their elderly relatives invite them over to play bingo. Mike notes that any other time they'd turn down the offer, but they're desperate for free entertainment, so they take them up on their off. They end up winning a cash prize.
  • Genius Book Club: Brick is often shown reading something incredibly advanced for his age. This leads to the hilarious "I googled Moby-Dick - the hard edition - and guess what I found?" line.
  • Generation Xerox: Sue and Frankie, at least to some extent. Both are redheads, both have sanguine-phlegmatic personality types, and they have some of the same mannerisms (see Inelegant Blubbering below).
    • Frankie frequently lampshades this when talking about stoic Mike and his equally stoic father.
    • The Grand Finale shows that in the future, Axl has three sons who are just as lazy and snarky as he was as a teenager. Frankie says it's retribution for what Axl put her and Mike through.
    • It's once implied that Brick gets his social awkwardness from Mike. It's just that being "weird" and "anti-social" comes off as "solitary" and "stoic" when you're tall. That said, Mike tends to be slightly more outgoing than Brick, and unlike Brick, Mike actually knows how to socialize; he just hates doing so.
  • Getting Suspended Is Awesome: In the episode "The Quarry", Axl gets suspended from school for playing hooky and plans to watch TV the whole week. Mike says it's supposed to be a punishment, so he takes him to be put to work at the quarry to teach him a lesson... and Axl ends up enjoying it more than school, much to Mike's dismay.
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: When Frankie talks about baby showers, she makes Rusty think she takes showers with other women. His immediate response is, "Oh, that is hot".
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: The third season's Thanksgiving episode introduces Molly Shannon as Frankie's sister Janet. Frankie resents the fact that she's married to a chiropractor and has a higher standard of living than the Hecks do, while Janet in turn resents that Frankie didn't need medical assistance to conceive and has three children whereas she only has one.
    • This builds up to Frankie telling her off during "The Name," when Janet shows up all by herself ostensibly to give Frankie some time and space to study for her dental-hygiene final, but seems only interested in showing her sister up. A short time later, Janet admits to Frankie that her daughter has severe tantrums and has been sent to a special camp during spring break, and as such she envies Frankie.
  • Going to See the Elephant: In "The Bee", the family forgets Sue's birthday in the run-up to the road trip to Chicago for Brick's appearance in the regional spelling bee, so they make it up to her by letting her plan the trip from a guidebook. Sue winds up wanting to see hilariously minor tourist attractions.
  • Golden Moment: Usually with Frankie, but when it's Mike.
  • Good Girl Gone Bad: Subverted in "Last Whiff of Summer," the fourth-season premiere. Sue realizes that even the negative attention her older brother gets is attention, and decides to start going bad to get some of that from her parents. However, the transgressions she comes up with—not wearing her headgear at night, wearing a red hair extension, and not taking her multivitamins—aren't really that serious. Double subverted by her parents not noticing or caring.
  • Grand Finale: The hour-long "A Heck of a Ride". The family drives Axl to Denver for his new job, and it ends with a Flash Forward to show how their lives change after that.
  • Great Escape: Brick is terrified of the schoolyard and prefers to spend recess in the library, reading. When forced to spend recess outdoors in one episode, he and his friends devise a scheme for distracting the teachers and getting back into the library that plays out as a pint-sized prison break.
  • The Grim Reaper: Cindy's costume in the seventh-season Halloween episode
  • Happily Married:
  • "Halloween VI: Tick Tock Death" reveals the same for Brick and Cindy with four kids in the future.
  • The finale also shows Axl and Lexie and Sue and Sean as such too with the former having at least three kids.
  • Hate Sink: Don Ehlert is the owner of Ehlert Motors and a greedy and very unscrupulous businessman. He constantly exhibited sexist and racist behaviors, constantly made Francis "Frankie" Heck's life difficult when she worked for him and encouraged employees to sell to people who were drunk because they'd be easy to take advantage of. By the time Ehlert made his final appearance in the series, his business seemed to be failing and no one cared about or appreciated his attempts to try to force interest in advertising it anymore.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • In "Twenty Years," Axl spoils the ending of the final "Planet Nowhere" book for Brick, sending him into a catatonic state for much of the remainder of the episode.
    • Sue gets one in "Life Skills" after realizing that she has brought the wrong bag to school, and she is afraid she'll now get an F.
  • High-School Hustler: Axl unexpectedly becomes this in "Life Skills," as he manages to extract favors from a huge number of students to help him design a "How to Run an Italian Restaurant" project demonstration for himself and Sue in less than an hour.
  • Horrible Camping Trip: The two-part third season premiere, which doubles down on the trope by flashing back to a similar trip 20 years earlier—which was the Hecks' honeymoon.
    • Early in the show's run also features a horrible field trip for Sue, where she forced her way onto a bus that was for kids that had sold a certain amount of cheese and sausage for a fundraiser so that they could go to the state capital. It turned out that her mother had forgotten to mail the money, resulting in Sue having to sleep on the floor in their hotel, not having a seat on the bus, having to sit out on the steps of the state capitol with an orderly because she wasn't authorized to come in, and a whole other list of horrible things that happened because of it.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Lampshaded in the episode "The Final Four" when Mike (6'5") meets Frankie's (5'2") boss for the first time and Mr. Ehlert remarks "Short woman, tall guy...always funny!"
    • Not exactly a considerable height difference, but Axl is noticeably taller than Lexie as well.
  • Hypocritical Humor: After loudly complaining she wasn't that old in "The Diaper Incident" when the store clerk assumed she was looking for adult diapers, Frankie takes out her reading glasses to look at the fine print on a package of child diapers he finds for her.
  • I Call It "Vera": Mike's father nicknamed his belt 'The Enforcer'.
  • I Take Offence to That Last One: In "Dollar Days," when Frankie, after a fruitless day of job interviews, asks her kids for one word to describe her. They offer "lazy," "angry" and "tired," prompting Mike to defend her:
    Mike: The reason your mother is tired, lazy and irritable is because of you kids.
    Frankie: No one ... said ... irritable (walks offscreen).
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: Doris Roberts as Brick's teacher during the second season and Ray Romano in the third-season premiere—both costars with Patricia Heaton in Everybody Loves Raymond.
  • Idiot Ball: Brick. Axl and Sue's stupidity have always been consistent but Brick's intelligence will disappear depending on the episode or situation.
  • Important Haircut:
    • Sue gives herself one of these before heading off to college. Though she got a little push from a malfunctioning curling iron that burned off part of her hair first.
    • In Season 9, Axl gives himself a strikingly shorter haircut to reflect the more mature attitude he adopts after visiting former college roommate Hutch in Chicago and seeing how well he's doing.
  • Inept Aptitude Test: Sorta played around with in the season finale. Axl's score says that he's Brilliant, but Lazy, so Sue and Mike try and push him harder. It turns out that some results were switched, but because of his hard work, Axl gets the best score he's ever gotten- a B minus.
  • Informed Attribute: It's a little hard to believe that Axl could be a self-professed "football hero," largely due to his slim build and relative lack of muscle (just compare him to his buddies Sean and Darren for proof.) He's also a little on the short side for playing basketball.
    • Actually, Axl is usually praised when it comes to football, as being quick and agile. For a small high school in a small town in Indiana, he could easily stand out. And while Sean, who is broader and has more future potential, is recruited to Notre Dame, Axl gets into a state school.
    • Lampshaded in Season 7 when Axl complains that the incoming freshmen players are bigger than him:
    Axl: I'm not gonna play Pro Bowl anyway.
    Brick: It's true. I have always felt he has more of a dancer's body.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Frankie lapses into this when she's really upset, once prompting Mike to call her on it. Sue has lapsed into it at least once over the years.
  • Inspiring Sermon: In "Get Your Business Done", the Hecks decide that their normal church service is too boring and decide to go to one with a church with a more enthusiastic pastor. This pastor gives a sermon about a parishioner who died with some unfinished business. He tells those in attendance to "get their business done." The Hecks all decide to do this, setting the episode's plot in motion.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Brick, who'd almost always rather read. His speech to Axl in "Twenty Years" about how he reads so much because he doesn't have many friends otherwise.
  • Internet Stalking: Frankie Facebook-stalks one of Sue's friends on social media after her daughter wasn't invited to a slumber party.
  • Ironic Echo: Plenty.
    Mike: I'm done talking to you now.
  • It Makes Sense in Context
    Sue: I'm allergic to Christmas!note 
  • Jerkass: Frankie and Mike in "Cutting the Cord". For some reason, they think it's perfectly fine to tell Brick that they're going to willfully neglect him for a couple of months simply because they need a break now that Sue and Axl are both in college. They start by not feeding him dinner because they already ate and didn't bother getting him anything. They proceed to tell him that they're not going to care about any of his school stuff because 8th grade isn't that big of a deal.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: In the 2013 Christmas episode, Axl and Frankie negotiate when and how they will spend Christmas together. Frankie's non-negotiable is watching a Christmas movie. Problem, she got it in German. Axl, having been denied the right to go to a bonfire to watch this, determines that this sucks and goes to his old room. Frankie says that he's right, and this Christmas is terrible. Don't worry, it gets better.
    • While Sue’s roommate proved to be incredibly selfish many viewer’s probably pictured that exact same conversation long before she appeared.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Axl, who usually treats Sue with disdain, will nevertheless protect her and help her—but only when she'll never know he did.
  • Jock Dad, Nerd Son: Mike and Brick they still get along pretty well though.
  • Killer Rabbit: The title creature in "Bunny Therapy" eventually takes over one of the Heck's bathrooms due to its vicious attitude.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Played with hilariously for Axl in ‘From Orson With Love' when Axl correctly explains to Brick that he can’t just release domesticated animals into the wild then started spewing a bunch of gibberish.
  • Last Minute Hook Up: Sue and Sean finally get together in the series finale after the final season constantly continued to set up the idea with little to no reason to drag it out so long, but then again, with how big the moment was, it feels earned and almost makes up for everything.
  • Laxative Prank: Axl does this to Sue in "Foreign Exchange," just before the family takes a long car trip.
  • Lemony Narrator: Each episode begins with Frankie narrating over a short montage of Stock Footage, going from describing some general aspect of life in "the middle" to the specifics of the episode. The narration returns when needed later in the episode, sometimes describing things Frankie couldn't be aware of, and usually taking a somewhat Garrison Keillor-esque tone.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Axl again. To the point that his wardrobe seems to consist solely of boxers.
    • Lampshaded in Mike's case in "Wheel of Pain," when he observes that he seems to have an awful lot of plaid shirts.
  • Lives in a Van: After getting kicked out of his college dorm, Axl buys an RV and moves there with his roommates, parking it where ever he needs to be.
  • Long-Distance Relationship:
    • Sue tries to have one with Matt in "The Paper Route." Axl warns her it won't work, and they break up by the end of the episode.
    • With Axl saying he’s taking the Denver job, he and Lexie are forced to have one, but it doesn't matter because the two are eventually Happily Married with at least three kids.
  • Love at First Sight: Axl immediately wants to personally introduce himself the first time he encounters Sue's roommate Lexie and on her end, she's looking intently at him when he first comes in, does attempt to shake his hand when he extends it and at that is also shown to be flattered when he says that if he wanted to date her, he'd have no problem winning her over with how irresistible he is.
  • Mama Bear: Frankie serves as this to her kids, no matter how embarrassing or difficult it is for her.
  • Messy Hair: Sue. To further cement her loser status, it always looks like she just got of bed and forgot to brush it.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Sue seems to be unable to succeed. On the bright side, she at least appears to be cheerfully unaware of it or undaunted. Either way, you gotta give her credit for trying.
  • Multi-Part Episode: The third- and fourth-season premieres are Type 1: "Forced Family Fun (Parts 1 and 2)" and "Last Whiff of Summer (Parts 1 and 2)," respectively.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Sue starts drinking coffee after becoming a senior, which makes her act more hyperactive. She crashes on the night after the second day.
  • My Beloved Smother: Brick's teacher accuses Frankie of this.
  • Never Live It Down: Brick was switched at birth, spending the first month of his life with the Fergusons. Brick usually brings it up whenever his family annoys him, and [if the Fergusons are right] the authorities blamed the Hecks for bringing home the wrong baby.
    Anna Ferguson: People who steal babies shouldn't throw stones.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Though Aunt Edie is very old and senile, in "The Math Class" episode she sprays a guy with a garden hose.
  • Never My Fault:
    • Practically Axl's catch phrase. He's convinced that his parents only punish him to ruin his life and is oblivious to the fact that his actions are completely selfish. When he gets caught he blames everyone else for his own stupidity.
    • All of the kids have many instances of this.
  • Nice Mean And In Between: The studious, inoffensive Brick and spirited, encourager Sue; the vain, pompous, opinionated and tyrannical coolness policeman Axl, who cracks down on all "dorks"; and the parents in the middle, each in a unique way: the major McCoy-like Frankie and the stoic, distant Mike.
  • Nonverbal Miscommunication: When Sue is at the meeting listing all the activities she tried (and failed) at in a speech, Frankie gives her a 'hurry up' gesture from the audience. Sue sees this and concludes "Oh, yes, and tumbling."
  • Noodle Incident: One of the many things Tag tells Mike about in "From Orson With Love" is this, because all that is known about it is that Tag is no longer allowed at the Panama Canal.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: In "The Wedding", it's revealed that Rusty's actual name is Orville.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Mike is usually the first to acknowledge the craziness going on in the house.
    • Brick also falls under this category, as he's usually the only calm one in the family.
    • Invoked by Frankie early in "Vacation Days," when Mike is at odds after being forced to take a paid vacation and Sue reacts with joy when she learns she'll get double shifts at her job while her coworkers are on Spring Break.
    • Axl constantly labels himself as this when compared to the rest of the Hecks.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • Subverted in "The Concert," Brick is angry and depressed after washing out of the school spelling bee on the first word (after he had gone to the regionals in Chicago the year before). His parents are actually happy about this since it's an emotionally appropriate response (normally, he responds to his failures philosophically).
    • Played straight in "Halloween III: The Driving," when Brick eats all his Halloween candy that night. The resulting sugar high makes him much more normal, to the point that one of his teachers says to keep doing whatever it is they did. However, Frankie and Mike miss the old Brick and are relieved when he returns after passing out.
    • Played straight again in "Wheel of Pain." When the kids are nice and civil to each other the morning after the window was broken, Frankie knows something's up.
    • "From Orson With Love" starts with Sue lying on the ground moping because she didn't get invited to another girl's party (but her best friend Carly got to go). This prompts Frankie to finally take an active interest in improving Sue's social life.
    • "The Shirt" in the seventh season is built around this trope, when Mike's decision to wear a Hawaiian shirt out to dinner (instead of his usual plaid) with another couple becomes a joke that neither Frankie nor the other couple can stop making the whole evening.
    • This becomes a bit of a Running Gag whenever either parent suggests that the family eat around the dinner table. Sue immediately panics, assuming the family needs to talk about something serious, which must mean that either her mother or father is dying.
    • Axl's dormmate Kenny is usually only seen from behind and never speaks, so when he suddenly looks up from his laptop and talks in "Halloween VI: Tick Tick Death", Axl is startled.
    • In "A Very Marry Christmas", Axl marries April. Afterwards, he asks Sue for help, and she can tell that things are bad because he hugs her and doesn't make any barfing noises.
  • Papa Wolf: Mike has this towards his children.
    • An example toward Sue would would be in season one's Valentine's Day.
    • In season 3, he chastised Rusty for not showing up for Brick's "special friends" presentation at school.
  • Parental Favoritism: Deconstructed by "Last Whiff of Summer," the two-part fourth-season premiere. The kids' debate among themselves as to which of them their parents like more soon turns into a question to them, and their answers and non-answers (Frankie denies that parents favor any of their children) drive the plot. Then Frankie and Mike ask the kids which parent they prefer, which leads to a competition between the two of them.
  • Persona Non Grata: Mike is banned from Brick's school after his attempt to help at the Valentine's Day craft project ends up ruining Valentine's Day.
  • Plot-Driven Breakdown: Axl's car breakdown in "Vacation Days" sets him up for a climactic chat with his mother on the way home. Justified by Axl not being the kind of person who would be expected to regularly maintain his car, as his father points out.
  • Poke the Poodle: Sue trying to act out so that her parents will notice her. It doesn't work - not only do they not notice her, they don't even notice her acting out, because her rebellions are so thoroughly this trope.
  • Potty Failure: It's stated many times that Frankie pees herself a little anytime she runs, jumps, or sneezes.
  • The Pratfall: Sue specializes in this.
  • Prima Donna Director: When Brick makes a Knots Landing remake for school, he mistreats Cindy and Troy so much they both pretend to be sick and have dead relatives.
  • Product Placement:
    • "Hecking it Up" in the third season is a drawn-out ad for the Volkswagen Passat.
    • Later in that same season, "The Guidance Counselor" has Frankie announcing dinner's ready while the camera pans across some ostentatiously placed Subway sandwiches and wrappers.
    • And, in "Twenty Years" next season, the family is again seen conspicuously dining on Subway fare.
    • In "Halloween III: The Driving", Frankie sneaks a Kit Kat out of Brick's bag of candy.
    • In the original broadcast of "The Smile" Axl talks the family into going to Red Lobster to tell them that he got accepted into college. Next commercial break — "ABC's The Middle—brought to you in part by Red Lobster, followed by a Red Lobster ad.
      • That episode also had a subplot in which Brick successfully persuaded his parents to get him an iPad. One was shown briefly near the end, but unlike Red Lobster Apple wasn't credited with promotional consideration.
      • When the episode was rerun on 5/29/13, Red Lobster again sponsored it, complete with another 'brought to you by' bumper and commercial.
    • A subplot of "The Bachelor" is built around Frankie's shock at the resolution of that season of that eponymous reality show, which like Castle also just happens to air on the same network.
    • In the episode "From Orson, With Love," an ad for the upcoming movie Disney's The Lone Ranger appeared alongside Frankie's Dad's YouTube video. Disney owns ABC.
    • The very next episode, "Hallelujah Hoedown," had Frankie's perennial concern about the Mother's Day gifts she got as one of its subplots. She dropped hints to all three kids about a Brookstone back-rubber that she wanted, in the hope that one of them would tell Mike (it backfires when none of them can remember exactly what she wanted). Twice she described the product in detail and told them how much it cost, and then Mike and Brick went on an extended visit to Brookstone to get it, with the store's logo conspicuous in the background and on product boxes.
    • "Orlando"/"The Wonderful World of Hecks" is another of a long line of ABC sitcoms promoting the Disney Theme Parks. A prize of what is assumed to be tickets to Walt Disney World turns out to be tickets to Disneyland, 2,500 miles in the other direction. WDW is magnanimous enough to accept the Hecks' tickets anyway, and then proceeds to upgrade their hotel room when the park runs out of standard rooms (an incredible unlikelihood given the amount of hotels either owned by Disney or on their property in Orlando).
    • Sue can be seen eating from what is clearly a Kroger yogurt cup.
    • Star & Stripes cola bottles can be seen in one episode.
    • There's a twofer in one episode where a box of Fruit Loops with the Moana packaging can be seen.
  • Pungeon Master: Sue will do this with any word that she can use as a pun on her own name, e.g. "Sue's Babysuetting Service" or "Sue-weet Sixteen."
  • Put on a Bus: Sue's boyfriend Matt moves to another town in "The Paper Route."
  • Rage Breaking Point: Downplayed in "A Christmas Gift": Mike brought Frankie a dishwasher to give her as a surprise gift. Frankie, not knowing this, spent the entire episode along with everyone else belittling Mike over the fact that not only is he a horrible gift giver, but also because he refused to buy a new dishwasher. This culminates in her and her friends (drunkenly) singing a Take That!-version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" at their Christmas party. During this, Mike quietly left the room, rolled in the dishwasher (which shut everyone up), sarcastically said "Merry Christmas", and retreated into the bedroom (after stealing a beer from one of the guests).
  • Relationship Upgrade: Axl and Lexie, after being briefly ship teased with their first encounter in Season 7 and then ship teased HARD in five episodes of Season 8 spread across 17, finally got this without warning by the end of the season's episode 18.
  • Ridiculous Procrastinator: Brick has a habit of forgetting to tell his parents about school projects he needs their help with until the last minute.
    • An extreme example of this is in the Season 4 finale when Brick tells Frankie he needs a slideshow of his 5th grade class's graduation ceremony. When asked by Frankie how long he knew about the assignment he says "about 3 years". (A Call-Back to his election as class historian in Season 1)
  • Roadside Wave: Happens to Sue when she is walking home from a football game in the mascot costume in the episode where she breaks Axl's foot.
  • Romantic False Lead:
    • April is this to Axl in Season 8. After the previous season ended with the tease of Axl meeting "the love of his life", the rest of the family thought April was the absolute wrong choice for him. Despite how nice she was, a lot of the bad that happened with Axl that season was rooted in dating her and things turned around for him once they split up and he got together with Lexie.
    • Aiden in Season 9 for Sue and while April at least seemed important in some way, he's without a doubt useless!
  • Rule of Three: Whenever a character thinks about previous examples - Sue's past Halloween costumes, Brick's suffering though Frankie's errands etc - they generally think about three examples.
  • Running Gag:
    • Frankie always forgets the blue snack bag.
    • The family using the oven and forgetting that there's a quilt stored in there.
    • "I made dinner!" whenever someone brings home fast food.
    • The announcer on the P.A. system at the car dealership constantly paging Frankie about weird home situations.
    • Brick occasionally repeating the last word or phrase he says under his breath.
    Brick: My egg hatched! There's a chicken in the house! [Stage Whisper] Chhhhhhicken in the houuuuuuse...
    • When Betty White made a cameo in the season finale as an authoritative librarian, she was seen to share this habit.
      • Or she was making fun of his tic, she was playing a character just mean enough to do that.
    • Did Sue mention that she was on her school's cross-country team throughout the second season?
    • Various things ending up in kitchen appliances that you wouldn't expect or want to be there (i.e., a quilt in the oven).
    • Mike's father and brother rarely informing him about major events in their lives, such as a health problem or getting engaged, because he didn't ask, and their general tendency towards almost no verbal communication when they're together.
    • Every since Axl went off to college, his inflatable palm tree has become this, making a Once per Episode appearance.
  • Saw "Hot Tub Time Machine" Twenty Seven Times: As Frankie reveals in "The Carpool," Axl's knowledge of what a black hole is comes from doing just that, Celebrity Paradox be damned.
  • Sequel Hook: Even before the end of the finale reveals Axl and Lexie as end game (Happily Married with at least three sons!), there's enough wonder about the two's relationship leading up to that to suggest many more stories to be told about them before that!
  • Settle for Sibling: In one Halloween episode, Frankie and Brick investigate the circumstances behind the death of their homes' prior occupant. Not believing the story as published in the paper, the circumstances are further muddied when they find out the woman's widower married her sister. It turns out, the cause of death was accurate. The sister and widower grew close while mourning, leading to a long, happy relationship.
  • Sexy Priest: Rev. TimTom, youth pastor at the Hecks' church.
  • Shaming the Mob: Inverted in "The Award." Mike is honored by his employer for 20 years on the job, which actually makes him depressed since he realizes he's spent all that time in the same place, not moving. At the party celebrating this, he reminds his coworkers of their colleagues that he's recently had to lay off, who won't be getting to celebrate this anytime soon, and how basically any of them could lose their job at any moment. The crowd goes from exuberant to subdued.
  • Shipper on Deck: Frankie clearly liked Lexie from the moment she first met her and has been nothing but nice to her since then, so she clearly shows approval when Axl later tells Frankie that he and Lexie are seeing each other.
  • Ship Tease: The first encounter Axl and Lexie have in Season 7's "Crushed" is certainly this. The Season 7 finale teases Axl meeting "the love of his life" and many suspecting that it was referring to Lexie. It becomes even heavier with each encounter after that too in Season 8. There are those who even considered the idea of her being with Axl when she was first introduced and became friends with Sue. And the two hadn't even shared an interaction yet at that point!
  • Shout-Out:
    • In "The Map":
      Frankie: How is it that we've missed all these milestones in our children and family's lives, but we haven't missed a single episode of Celebrity Rehab?
    • In "Year of the Hecks", two of the four girls who try out for the "wrestlerette" cheerleading group that Sue organizes decide to go home and watch Phineas and Ferb instead.
    • Brick might very well be open to reading anything, but most of the time when he has a book open, it's a Percy Jackson book.
    • In the first Mother's Day episode, when the kids are in Frankie's room, you can see briefly that they're watching Kick Buttowski.
    • In "Last Whiff of Summer," Sue asks her father what his favorite Glee character is during her attempt to create a scrapbook of the summer and get closer to him.
    • One episode Mike asks if the kids are done watching Wizards of Waverly Place on the TV yet
    • "The Safe" name-drops a surprisingly wide number of popular reality shows having to do with the finding of old things, including but not limited to American Pickers and Antiques Roadshow. Rick Harrison even cameos as a pawn-shop owner.
    • Frankie references Castle (which coincidentally airs on the same network) twice when explaining her suspicions about the kids' story about the window in "Wheel of Pain.":
    Frankie: There are no coincidences. Only clues.
    Mike: "Castle"?
    Frankie: It's a really good show, Mike. You should watch.
    • In "From Orson, With Love" Frankie creates Facebook accounts for Jill Monroe & Sabrina Duncan, Julie McCoy, and Chrissy Snow.
      • All of which were also on ... surprise! ABC!
    • "Halloween VI: Tick Tick Death" is done as a spoof of The Twilight Zone (1959), with Brick as Rod Serling (although he claims he's really Rod Serling from Night Gallery).
    • In "Hecks at a Movie", Sue and Logan both prefer fellow ABC star Jimmy Kimmel over NBC's Jimmy Fallon. On top of that, the movie theater had movie posters for Disney films The Jungle Book and Zootopia (ABC is owned by Disney).
  • Significant Reference Date: The episode Leap Year aired on Feb 29, 2012.
  • Sitting on the Roof: Axl and Sue on "Major Anxiety". Sue almost falls off.
  • The Snark Knight: Axl's trademark is making snarky comments and being cynical about every situation he's in with his family.
    • Cassidy Finch also qualifies, which is one of the reasons Axl is attracted to her and the ONLY thing they have in common with each other is their snark.
  • Spiritual Successor:
    • Many View it as one to Malcolm in the Middle (down to name similarities). Malcolm mother Jane Kaczmarek even guest starred in the fourth season as Frankie's teacher.
    • Arguably, The Middle is more the Roseanne to Malcolm in the Middle's Married... with Children. The former both shows are interested in finding comedy in the lives of an ordinary-ish blue collar family (with the wife being the central character both times), while the latter shows used the same premise as a backdrop to show the family's antics. Plus, Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline used to be writers on Roseanne.
  • Stage Whisper: Brick's Verbal Tic involves repeating the last thing he said in this manner. In thiiis mannner.
  • Stalking Is Funny if It Is Female After Male: While Axl may be a jerk about it, weird Ashley has been stalking him for years and it is always played for laughs. It reached its head in Steaming Pile of Guilt where after following him to college Rory not believing that they didn’t used to date because of the numerous pictures they have together almost led to them breaking up.
  • Status Quo Is God: Sue's relationships never last. By her count in "Dollar Days," she's had three boyfriends.
  • Stepford Smiler: The Donahue Family. Compared to the Heck family they're more affluent, put-together, less crazy, more skilled, and cheerful. It later turns out that Nancy and Ron argue a lot and that Ron goes on all the business trips that make up a lot of their income to be around less; also that their oldest son Sean tells Axl that he's tired of having to tailor his life to what his parents want, who reacted badly to his new facial hair and heartfelt veganism, with Nancy kicking him out of dinner.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Brick, who we learned in the third season episode "The Telling," has been rewarded by Frankie with candy cigarettes for years for informing on Axl and Sue.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: "The Trip" has Sue be left out of a field trip despite selling the required amount of fundraiser food because (as we find out at the end), Frankie forgot to actually mail the money to get her on the list. Sue, following her mother's coaching, forces her way onto the field trip anyway. It ends up being a miserable experience for her because the trip wasn't prepared for an extra person, leaving her without a bed in the hotel, unable to enter the state capital building, and a large amount of other unpleasant experiences.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial:
    • Inverted in "Dollar Days," when Frankie, after a fruitless day of job interviews, asks her kids for one word to describe her. They offer "lazy," "angry" and "tired," prompting Mike to defend her:
      Mike: The reason your mother is tired, lazy and irritable is because of you kids.
      Frankie: No one ... said ... irritable (walks offscreen).
    • Used several times by Sue in reference to Derrick Glossner in "Sleepless in Orson."
    • Subverted as Frankie drives Axl home in "Vacation Days." When she admits she misses him, she qualifies it by saying it's not like she's smelling his pillow or anything, which she told Mike earlier in the episode she had done a few times.
  • Switched at Birth: Mike and Frankie put off telling Brick the story of his birth, because they are embarrassed to admit that they impersonated another family at the hospital to get a nicer room, and ended up taking the wrong baby home as a result (since both were labeled "Baby Ferguson" in the nursery). Both families had the wrong baby for a month before things were straightened out.
  • Take That!:
    • A rare one in "The Award":
      Frankie: (at laptop, excited) Look, Mike, now there's an Orson Patch.
      Mike: Great, now it's even easier to read stuff I don't care about.
    • This one from the 2009 Christmas special:
      Frankie: ‘’ You’ll need to get (to the church) early. The only go to Christmas and Easter people will hog the seats''
  • The Talk: Deconstructed in "The Hose." It starts off as Type 1, when Brick tries to opt out of sex-ed class at school because it makes him uncomfortable, making Mike and Frankie realize they've never had "the talk" with him. Before they can, however, he asks his older brother, who gives it all to him in a two-hour session of what is clearly Type 2. Brick repeats it when he does finally have sex ed, which results in a parent meeting and ultimately Mike and Frankie talking to Axl.
  • Teen Pregnancy:
    • In "Valentine's Day III," Frankie expresses her amazement at Sue's mistaken belief that a French kiss was one given under a rainbow by reminding her that at least two girls in her high school class (she's a freshman) are pregnant.
    • In "The Clover," Axl and his friends recall that at last year's prom, a girl gave birth.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Frankie to her sister Janet in "The Name."
  • There Will Be Toilet Paper: A rare example with a female character. Among Sue's attempts to go bad in "Last Whiff of Summer" is shaving her legs with her father's razor, followed by a Smash Cut to her sitting next to him watching TV with little bits of red-dot special on her legs.
  • Those Two Guys: Axl's friends Sean and Darren, who seem to have about as much intelligence as he does, and that's not saying a lot.
  • Title Drop:
    • Many episodes starts with Frankie's narration saying some version of "Here in The Middle...."
    • Cassidy also works one into her valedictorian speech at graduation, quoting Mary Shelley, "There are no happy endings, so just give me a happy middle, and a very happy beginning."
    • The pilot episode featured "The Middle" by Jimmy Eat World.
    • The very last line spoken by a member of the family; Axl and Sue are arguing across Brick in the back seat of the car, prompting Brick to say, "See? This is why I didn't want to sit in the middle! (whispers) The middle."
  • Title-Only Opening
  • Toilet Paper Prank: In one Halloween Episode, Frankie leaves her elderly aunts to hand out candy while she and the family go out. The aunts forget to hand out candy, and when Frankie returns, the whole house is covered in toilet paper.
  • Tomboyish Name: Frankie
  • Totally Radical: Mr. Fulton, as if he wasn't creepy enough.
  • Transparent Closet: Brad Bottig, Sue's temporary boyfriend, whose talents include square dancing, embroidery, and making centerpieces out of everyday objects. It's blatantly obvious to Mike, Frankie, and the audience that he's camp gay, but Sue and Brad are both oblivious of that fact (they break up in the first season after Sue finds out that Brad is a smoker, a habit he eventually breaks).
  • True Love's Kiss: After kissing her for the first time, Axl comments to Lexie that she needs to brush her teeth, but then says he doesn't care and kisses her again.
  • Ultimate Job Security: Averted in "The Second Act." After three full seasons never having actually sold a car that we've seen, Frankie gets let go from the dealership. She decides to go to a technical college and learn another job skill.
  • Undisclosed Funds: In "The Hose," Sue freaks out when she sees her dad's paycheck and realizes how little the family lives on. We never actually find out how much it is.
  • Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Axl (while he's with April) acts like Lexie is interested in him in order to hide the fact that he is falling for her. After he stops, Lexie later on decides to romantically pursue Axl and he ends up Oblivious to Love.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Axl and Lexie had this to irritating levels. Well, at least until "The Par-tay" when Axl (having learned about Lexie's feelings for him two episodes prior), goes to her and reveals that he feels the same way.
  • The Unsmile:
    • Sue in "The Smile," where she tries to prove that smiling is contagious, and ends up creeping people out instead. It's so bad, in fact, she actually makes a baby cry.
    • When Mike gets Woofy Dog repaired in "Not Mother's Day", this is the result. Axl later rips it off, to Sue's delight.
  • Verbal Ticnote 
    • "It soothes me."
    • The fourth episode of season four has Brick starting to make little siren sounds out loud. Cue Frankie spraying Brick with water (like a bad cat).
    • Later in that season, "The Name" has Brick invert his older tic, when he finishes a sentence that he's whispered to his mother so his aunt won't overhear them with the word "bossy"—and then repeats it in a normal tone of voice.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: It's easier to count the number of times Axl has worn a shirt. He's even in his boxers on the cover of the first season DVD set.
    Axl: (walking around shirtless) Where's my favorite shirt?
    Frankie: I thought your chest was your favorite shirt.
    • And again in "From Orson With Love," when Axl is looking around for his shirts and can't find one.
  • Wedding Finale:
    • The third-season finale, "The Wedding," built around Mike's brother Rusty's wedding at the Hecks' house.
    • The final episode shows Sue and Sean's wedding.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: "A Heck of a Ride" ends showing how the Hecks future pans out. Axl marries Lexie and has three sons (who are all exactly like Axl was), Brick becomes a best-selling author, Sue marries Sean, and Frankie and Mike... stay exactly the same.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Axl and Brick?
    • Cool name makes a cool kid, right?
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Brick is afraid of bridges.
  • Yoko Oh No: Invoked by Axl in "Dollar Days," in which Sue starts giving Axl's band advice in her typical oddball style (such as changing their name to "DaSeanAx" to incorporate everyone's name). While Darren and Sean don't mind, Axl does, very much, and this leads to a fight between Darren and Axl which culminates in Sue stepping in and accidentally getting punched in the face by Darren. The two break up by the end of the episode.
  • You Can Always Tell a Liar:
    • For Brick it's when he says "I'mmmmmmmmmm lyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyingggggggg" to himself out loud.
    • Recently, Sue has demonstrated a tendency to end her lies with a nervous "...and so on, and so forth, and what have you!"
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Sue turned 16 in "Leap Day" appropriately set on February 29th, 2012 and a big deal is about how she's a leap baby. Then, in 2015, she turns 18, somehow.
    • One early episode has Sue and Brick complain about getting hand-me-downs from their older cousins, Randall and Mindy. Another early episode mentions the kids having a cousin named Roy. At this point in the show, Mike's only brother was unmarried and had no children and, while Frankie's sister has a daughter, she is younger than Brick. To be fair, Frankie once mentions that one of her great aunts has a son, as well as brothers, so they might have been talking about really distant cousins...but given that Frankie's the one taking care of her aunts, it's not likely they are getting any help from that side of the family.
  • Your Favorite: For Frankie, the way her Mom makes grilled cheese sandwiches with potato chips in the middle.