Something is wrong at the annual block party: Turnout is lighter than usual; hot dogs have no buns and there are no cups for the drinks. Worse yet, one family’s house was foreclosed and they were forced to move out in the middle of the night, missing the party they had always attended.

“Are you serious?” Frankie Heck asks a neighbour in the fictional town of Orson, Ind., “because I only thought they were just visiting family.”

“They are now,” replies the neighbour.

On a recent overcast day at the Warner Bros. ranch, the real-estate crisis has crept its way from big coastal cities and into The Middle, the ABC series that kicks off the network’s Wednesday comedy block that includes the Emmy-winning Modern Family.

 

The Middle portrays a modern family, too. And while hilarity also ensues, The Hecks don’t live in Los Angeles-area mansions. This family is in a financial mess.

Last week’s season premiere of The Middle marked the show’s second largest overall audience to date, despite stiff competition from FOX’s new The X Factor and CBS’s reliable Survivor.

More than 9 million viewers tuned in to see the misadventures of car-saleswoman mom Frankie (Patricia Heaton), quarry manager dad Mike (Neil Flynn) and their three children: angry young Axl (Charlie McDermott), book-obsessed Brick (Atticus Shaffer) and the bumbling, stumbling middle child, Sue, portrayed by 19-year-old Eden Sher.

“I’ve always said to Eden that she’s the first one on the show that’s going to win an Emmy,” Heaton said earlier this summer at another awards show. “I think she’s so brave. You know, she gets out there. She lets them mess her up and look goofy and has to fall flat on her face, week in and week out — wearing those braces and straight hair.”

Sue Heck has so many embarrassing moments, they’re certain to haunt her well into the retirement home. And yet she remains a cockeyed optimist. And even with a stellar ensemble cast, Sher can’t help but steal virtually every scene.

“I do get slightly embarrassed, with, specifically, Patty’s praise,” Sher said recently about Heaton’s comments, after shooting a scene. “I don’t know why. Maybe just because I respect her so much.”

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