Thursday, October 1, 2009

The "Middle" of nowhere

Some time back, Everybody Loves Raymond was my favorite show. Not "favorite sitcom," or "favorite non-reality show" or "favorite network program." Favorite show. I enjoyed watching no other TV show as much as I enjoyed watching that one.

As a result, I've always tried to follow the efforts of its stars in the event that lightning struck twice. Hey, it happened to Bob Newhart, right?

I was happy to see one Raymond star, Patricia Heaton, return to TV a couple years ago with Back to You, a traditional sitcom I enjoyed immensely until they started tinkering with it. Even with the tinkering, I still liked it.

But Back to You never had a chance to find its audience during the writer's strike-shortened season in which it debuted and was not renewed. After that, if I wanted a Raymond fix it was either through Raymond reruns or new episodes of 'Til Death -- a consistently unfunny comedy featuring Raymond co-star Brad Garrett.

Word came that Heaton would be back on the air this season in a sitcom called The Middle. I looked forward to it with great anticipation and was encouraged when early feedback was good.

And then, last night, I watched the pilot episode.



Forget disappointment. Way beyond that. Way, way beyond that. The Middle has the distinction of being the least enjoyable television program I've seen in a long time. Disney-fied child-oriented sitcoms (kidcoms?) such as The Suite Life with Zack and Cody are funnier and display greater wit. 'Til Death is downright Shakespearean in comparison.

I'll say this for the show: The Middle is so condescending toward middle America that it's actually kind of impressive. Paraphrasing Heaton's voiceovers from last night's opener: "Yep, here's Indiana. We like goofy things like tractor pulls and big, fake cows. No one in their right mind would WANT to live here. I'm a terrible mother who hates her job and my children are all losers."

Wait, hang on -- and we're supposed to watch this?

I read a book a little while ago where the author went to great pains to describe how boring a certain period of his life was. The problem was, he succeeded, which made for a very boring book. Oops.

The writers behind The Middle don't like or respect their characters. And they take great pains to show us exactly why they're unlikeable. But, apparently, they expect us to tune in week after week to see just what losers they are.

Congratulations, writers: you've succeeded in getting your point across so well that I won't bother with these folks anymore. You've earned a "Middle" finger from me. (Ha ha, see what I did there? Maybe I could write for this show.)

Next up: Ray Romano in Men of a Certain Age. Here's hoping that one works, or we're going to start hearing about a "Raymond curse" to rival the old "Seinfeld curse."