I have a sister-in-law who shall remain nameless who has unironically embraced a new life philosophy, which she has dubbed “WWSHD” – “What Would Sue Heck Do?” Several days into this endeavor she sat down at our kitchen table and declared, “It’s not easy being Sue Heck.” Kermit the Frog couldn’t have said it better.
For the uninformed out there (whomever you are) Sue Heck is the daughter on the ABC sitcom “The Middle,” known for her unflappable cheerfulness and optimism in the face of adversity — things like none of her classmates knowing her name despite having gone to school with her for 10 years, or getting sunburn during a hand-touching-car endurance competition because her mother bought sunscreen at a garage sale.
“The Middle” can be a downbeat show for such an over-the-top family sitcom — mom Frankie’s desperation in her attempts to create a happy familial atmosphere, played beautifully by Patricia Heaton, is ultimately pathetic and familiar at the same time, right up through when she invariably loses it and declares “This family sucks!” (Take that, June Cleaver!) Oldest son Axl (Charlie McDermott) is chronically unappreciative, youngest Brick (Atticus Shaffer) is hilariously tic-ridden and long-suffering dad Mike, a brilliant Neil Flynn, seems like he might at any minute take a page from a Bruce Springsteen song and go out for a ride and never come back.
But then there’s Sue Heck (and that is how it is best said — “Sue Heck,” in its entirety), played by Eden Sher for five riotously excruciating years as almost pathologically buoyant. Sue is the family’s, and the show’s, emotional center: She’s utterly determined to be noticed, but undeterred when she isn’t; grateful to her parents; loving to her brothers even when they don’t deserve it. Her successes are so few and far between that we share Frankie’s joy when she finally does pull one out, like when she makes the no-cut track team by rounding the track on crutches (in the rain) after being hit by a deer.
Without Sue Heck, the Hecks are kind of a sad family. With her, they’re lovable losers — not rich eccentrics like the “Modern Family” crew or cartoon caricatures like “The Goldbergs” (which someone should cancel, stat). Sue keeps you rooting for the Hecks, and that’s why “The Middle” works.
So I’m not surprised my sister-in-law is finding it hard to be Sue Heck, not because she’s not a cheerful and optimistic person, but because there is NO ONE as cheerful and optimistic as Sue Heck, and there never has been, and there probably never will be. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
And now, thanks to Hristo Dunev on YouTube, “The Life of Sue Heck”:
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