After 9 Seasons Life Goes on in Teary Series Finale of ‘The Middle’

The Middle” says goodbye after 9 seasons of feel-good drama and laughs. A last of its breed, the show ends with a teary finale taking place in an America where the kids still manage to find a job good enough to move out of the house, the neighbors all wait to send you off in the drive way, and the girl next door does prove to be the one. But it could end no other way, because “The Middle” has always been defined by its homebody feel.

Appropriately titled “Heck of a Ride,” the finale opens with the Heck family facing its biggest change ever. Axl (Charlie McDermott) has been offered a job out of state and has decided he’s going to take it. This sets off waves of emotion in his mother, Frankie (Patricia Heaton), who cannot process that Axl is leaving the nest. His dad Mike (Neil Flynn) takes it more lightly and starts helping Axl prepare for the big move. Axl’s siblings Sue (Eden Sher) and Brick (Atticus Shaffer) deal with the change in their own, quirky ways. Sue would like Axl to acknowledge leaving his sister is affecting him while Brick seems content with finally having more space for himself and his books. When Axl learns his new employer will provide him with a company car once he moves, the family decides to road trip and drop him off. The Hecks prepare to say goodbye to one of their own, although they realize deep family ties never break.

“Heck of a Ride” keeps the tradition of teary television farewells intact while bringing to a close a decade of the Hecks. Like many of its predecessors, “The Middle” has endured because it allowed viewers to have the sense of watching this family evolve for multiple seasons. The show was created by Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline, who had been writers on “Roseanne,” so they understood how to craft a show where every character becomes familiar and where the drama depends on life’s smaller details. We’ve seen Axl grow from a sarcastic high schooler to a graduate now preparing to enter professional life, Brick was a mere second grader in the first season and is now a high schooler, Sue is all grown up too. The final scenes of the finale are a flash forward where Axl is now a father of three sons giving him the kind of hell he used to throw around. We also see Sue getting married and Brick becoming a successful author.

Of course these days “The Middle” might play like some fantasy from a distant America that started fading away with the recession. Stubborn in its sense of hope and positivity, it believes Axl could still afford to move out of the house or even wish to have three children. Sue has few to no ambitions in life, when longtime next door neighbor Sean (Beau Wirick) professes his love for her in “Heck of a Ride,” she instantly kisses him and promises to wait for him when he returns in three months from a trip abroad. Through-out the show some of the harsher realities of the real world have made their way into the narrative, for example in season 4 Frankie was fired from the motor plant where she worked. But in general “The Middle” caters to the idea of a suburban America where everything turns out alright in the end, scored to wistful music.

But you cannot fault “The Middle” for doing its job. The finale has a truly nostalgic feel as Axl moves his things and Mike hands him a watch with the longitude and latitude of the family house inscribed on the back (“so you always remember where you come from”). Frankie is endearing, albeit a bit annoyingly, as she refuses to let Axl go and breaks down during the road trip, prompting Sue to get their blue snack bag (“she might need cookies”). Mushy hearts get just what they dream about when Sean chases down the Hecks on the road, to proclaim his love for Sue. Many eyes will refuse to stay dry during the closing montage of shots of the house, as Frankie explains that they never did fix the wallpaper or get a new washing machine. Shows like this have always touched our sense of life moving forward, shifting and changing, even amid the reveries of sitcom jokes and entertainingly corny life dramas.

For nine seasons “The Middle” was a warm half-hour of television giving the lower middle class a voice amid flashier shows. Now it ends with hugs and life lessons, just as it was always meant to be. Maybe the times have changed, but kindness never goes out of fashion. “The Middle” ran for a long time, but it never overstayed its welcome.

The Middle” series finale aired May 22 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC.