After a lengthy stint on one of television’s best-loved family sitcoms, Patricia Heaton has a pretty good sense of when a show is bringing the funny – and she says her current series “The Middle” has hit a fourth season comedy groove that reminds her of a similar point in her “Everybody Loves Raymond” days.
As the comedy returns this week, Heaton teases the Hecks’ latest misadventures and admits that the emerging comedy skills of her young co-stars both delight her and offer her less screen time.
You're coming right back into the midst of the season – what's around the corner for the Hecks?
This episode coming up is really, really funny. I just loved it when I read it, and there's a couple things going on: Axl's biggest nightmare is that he and Sue end up in the same class together in high school, and they're put on a project together.
One of the great things on our show is when any of the kids are teamed with the others, because they all have their quirks –and especially with Axl who is just too cool for school. When he and Sue get put together, it's just great stuff. These kids are just such great actors that it's really funny.
And then Dave Foley is back as Brick's therapist at school, and he's trying to teach Brick social skills, how to be normal and how to make friends and make eye contact and talk with people. It's really horrible and awkward and hilarious. And finally, something that I think most parents have gone through is Frankie and Mike are dealing with an insurance company after a tree branch crashes through their front windshield, and the insurance company, as usual, does not want to pay for the damage. And we just had some great scenes of driving around in the winter in Indiana without a windshield.
What’s been your favorite element about this particular season of “The Middle” thus far?
I really am enjoying how in our fourth season we're going a lot deeper with the kids – and I'm not saying that just because the more they shoot the kids the more time I have off! The kids are really great actors, and sometimes it takes a while to figure out how much – you start with the parents on a show like this, and then you ease into the kids. And all the actors are getting to know their characters too. But they've just grown so much, and their world is so funny. And it's so well‑observed by the writers. I just think that Charlie [McDermott] and Eden [Sher] and Atticus [Shaffer] are just a delight to watch. So I'm really enjoying that this season.
How does this compare to "Raymond"?
This has a very similar trajectory to ‘Raymond. We're in the fourth season of ‘The Middle.’ I remember thinking that the fourth season of ‘Raymond’ really, really hit its stride, and I feel like the same thing is happening with ‘The Middle.’
What kind of input do you have for Frankie and her storylines at this point in the show? Do you have a lot of say?
No – I just sit back and relax! The writers are very good at what they do, and they're way on top of it. Anything that comes up on the show – I'm usually going through something, and lo and behold, it's in the script within weeks. Sometimes it just comes from conversations that you will have with the writers or producers, and sometimes snippets of ideas or storylines come from those conversations. In fact, I think that's what was great about ‘Raymond,’ too, is that most story ideas when the writers are breaking them, they talk a lot about what they're experiencing in their lives. And those become the scripts, and those are the ones that everybody relates to.