Often times an actor or actress gets associated with an iconic role, a role they basically continue to play over and over, no matter what show or movie they're in. Happily, this is not the case for Patricia Heaton in her new show "The Middle". Her new character, while still a wife and mother of three, is much different than Debra Barone, the character she played for 9 years in "Everybody Loves Raymond."
In Debra, Heaton developed a character identified by her sharp, sarcastic wit, razor-sharp tongue, explosive temper, sexy appearance and a love-hate relationship with her husband and his family. Debra's problems were dealing with her passive-aggressive mother-in-law and her over-the-top intrusiveness, or the little "moral superiority" battles with Raymond. Because of this limited source for trouble and tension, the problems they had, while funny,were not down-to-earth, day-to-day problems most average families worry about.
In Frankie, Heaton has created a character who is more of a mother than a wife, and is on the same level as her husband instead of above him. That makes a huge difference in the tone of the show, and it's quite refreshing. The problems this family faces are problems most families can identify with, from struggling with bills and worrying about work to having a kid who just can't seem to get it together and find his or her place in the world. Frankie doesn't have time to worry about who didn't put up a suitcase or to fake a boob job to prove some minor point; she has to work together with her whole family just to get by. They face each crisis together, and sometimes have to settle for a less than optimal solution. But at the end of the day, they love and support each other in sweet, often surprisingly tender ways.
While not laugh out loud funny, the show has a sweetness and reality to it I find enjoyable. It has the same feel as old classic sitcoms from the 70's and early 80's, an era many consider to be the Golden Age of sitcom television. I think the biggest draw for me, though, is that I LIKE this family; I'd like to live next door to them, and get to know them. And really, can you say anything better about a show than that, that it makes a family so real and so genuine that you'd be happy to have them as neighbors? I hope the show continues and only gets better.