7 p.m. Wednesday on WLS-Channel 7
'The Middle'Three and a half stars
7:30 p.m. Wednesday on WLS-Channel 7
Much is being made of the fact that sitcom pros Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, who starred together in the failed "Back to You," are now starring in back-to-back shows. Maybe the idea was to divide and conquer. But in this war, Heaton is the only winner.
In "Hank," Kelsey Grammer plays a kadillionaire who has been forced out of his own company, and not with a very nice parachute. He and his family downsize from a city penthouse to a modest home in Virginia, where it is hoped he will learn to be a better father.
The basic concept isn't bad. It's nice to see a captain of industry humbled, particularly now, but even that is unsatisfying in "Hank": The house they are slumming in is perfectly lovely. Wouldn't it be more fun to see Grammer glad-handing around a trailer park?
He can make me laugh just by delivering a line such as, "It's a fun little chardonnay, isn't it?" But ultimately, this is a "Frasier" retread, and an inferior one.
Heaton has better luck with "The Middle," which could refer to the middle of the country (it's set in Indiana) or to the middle-class family she's trying to ride herd on. It's like "Roseanne," with nicer people. Heaton plays Frankie, a frazzled, full-time working mom who finds herself stranded on a highway in a red unitard at the beginning of the first episode. Hey, it's happened to all of us.
Her husband is played by Neil Flynn (the Janitor from "Scrubs"), and the kids are phenomenal. Eden Sher ("Weeds") plays the dorky adolescent daughter with a mix of awkwardness and obliviousness that is totally endearing. Atticus Shaffer is the definitive weird little brother Brick, whose best friend is his backpack. Brian Doyle-Murray is her boss, and Chris Kattan is a co-worker. (He's big in India, you know.)
A caveat: "The Middle" got an extra half-star because I am the target audience, and it hit a near bulls-eye. Frankie's not the only one who's given her kids frozen pancakes for breakfast that are still frozen. "The Middle" isn't the kind of sitcom you laugh at; it's the kind you laugh with.