Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Awkward Years Don't Always End

I'm an overtly sympathetic audience member. I don't know if that's really a thing, but it's what I'm going with. It doesn't matter the medium, if the story is good enough I can get invested to the point of tears, hysterical laughter, or, the worst of the symptoms, crippling humiliation. It's true, for as long as I can remember I've been running out of rooms or curling up into the fetal position whenever a character is facing a moment that could be potentially embarrassing, even if the character is blissfully unaware. And, since my job here is to cover TV, I'd like to introduce you to the television heroine most likely to get me to clear the couch (not change the channel, mind you, I wouldn't want to miss anything). Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Sue Heck.

Sue is the middle child on ABC's Wednesday night lead in, The Middle. Played by Eden Sher, Sue is in junior high which is basically synonymous with humiliation already, add in the fact that she's hopelessly awkward, practically talentless and inexplicably bold and you've got a situation every episode that has me fleeing, grinding my teeth, and squeaking out "Sue, no!"

Sue is desperate for a place to fit in, like any other JR high school student, but the catch here is that she holds no discrimination; if the school choir needs her, she'll be a roadie. If the cheerleaders are holding tryouts, she'll be first on the sign up list. If her flamboyant ex-boyfriend needs her to join him in the school's square dancing contest, she doesn't hesitate. Lunchtime talent show? No problem, she'll grab her equally hopeless best friend and they'll do a dance with matching umbrellas. And when she makes the Cross Country team, because of a no cut policy, Sue wears her team sweatshirt everyday, regardless of weather or stench, because she finally belongs to something. And it is torture to me. She has no idea how embarrassing her antics are, all I can think about is if that was me, I'd be mortified.

Which is why Sue Heck is kind of my hero.

It can't be easy being Sue, even in her own family she's often overlooked; her older brother Axl is a jock and her younger brother Brick is the weird genius - hell even their names are more interesting than hers, but it doesn't phase her. Sue Heck is determined to find her place in the world and on the way fall in love. She constantly puts herself out there, shakes off rejection and does it again. Sure, these moments make me want to jump out the window, but her spirit is too strong to waiver. She knows that one day, it'll all be worth it, which is a lesson I've forgotten a long time ago. Rather than living day to day, she sees the big picture already, even if it is so fuzzy she thinks it's about being popular some day or having a boyfriend. What she's really doing is setting the precedent of the kind of person she'll be in adulthood; fearless and open to possibilities.

How can I be so sure? We saw the first bit of evidence of this in tonight's episode. She met a boy on Halloween where she had her first kiss, then went on a journey searching for the boy who's name she didn't even know. And then, just as she was starting to think she had made the whole thing up in her head, he appears. Neither of them say anything, of course, until Sue decides to show up to the Valentine's Day dance in her Halloween costume. At this point I'm in my kitchen, not daring to watch this giant pink crayon walk into her school dance, waiting for the humiliation to pass. But she doesn't go in. Sue Heck, chickens out. I was equal parts relieved and disappointed; this wasn't the Sue I knew, she doesn't think things through the way I do. She's an optimist.

Worry not, my friends, it doesn't end there. That's not the Heck Family's style. You'll just have to watch for yourself and see if my hero gets her man or if she'll have to endure more soul-crushing (for me) discomfort next week.

(Spoiler alert: I'm fairly confident she'll still mortify me next week, regardless of this episode's outcome, but I guess it's something I'll have to live with, if I want to keep cheering her on)

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