Patricia Heaton is back on familiar ground with ABC's "The Middle," a domestic sitcom that showcases her skills at making everyday stresses seem not only funny, but bearable.
ABC played it smart with its comedies this season, debuting the strong "Modern Family" and "Cougar Town" a week earlier to generate juice. "The Middle" isn't quite up to their level, but it delivers a few smiles and well-placed groans that work as a lead-in to the other comedies' edgier fare.
Frankie Heck (Heaton) lives in Orson, Indiana, which might as well be named Generic Midwest-ville, with her rather ineffectual husband Mike (Neil Flynn), aloof 15-year-old jock son Axl (Charlie McDermott), accident-prone 13-year-old daughter Sue and grade-schooler Brick (Atticus Shaffer), a quirky little fella who is whip smart but socially awkward enough to call his backpack his best friend.
Frankie lives a hurried life, nourishing her family on frozen pancakes and fast food dinners. She makes a valiant effort to keep track of everyone's schedule despite little help from her clueless husband and is desperately trying to hold onto her thankless job at the car dealership. Her work buddy Bob (Chris Kattan) offers moral support despite being a bit morally challenged himself.
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