By Alison Tobin
If you haven’t seen “The Middle” you are missing out. It is a family sitcom that strays from the norms and focuses on a middle-class family who is not so glamorous. “The Middle” was created to represent what it is like being a mom of a middle-class family in the midwest. Patricia Heaton, who plays the mother Frankie Heck on the show, grew up in Ohio. The writers and creators Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline have been friends and colleagues since they were in college and grew up in the midwest as well. While the show has a group of characters that are all lovable and relatable, the most important one on the show is Sue Heck who is a role model in multiple ways.
Although the show takes place in Indiana, in a broader sense, it resonates with all families of the American middle-class who live hectic lives, but get through it. The family consists of the mother Frankie, the father Mike Heck, and their three children: Axl, Sue, and Brick. The parents go through the normal struggles of these types of families including trying to make a living while raising their kids, keeping them on track in school, and being there for them when they need them. They always struggle with their home appliances but don’t have the extra money to replace them. Axel is the typical stubborn older brother who picks on his siblings and barely makes it through school, Sue is an awkward, quirky teenager who has a lot of admirable qualities, and Brick is the youngest brother who is smart but struggles with social issues and ticks like whispering words to himself after he has said them. In an article titled “Moving on Down” by Emily Nussbaum, when speaking about Axl and Sue, Nussbaum says, “‘The Middle’ features two of the most realistic teen-age kids on television, both played by stellar physical comedians.” Although all of the characters are interesting, Sue Sue Heck (who can forget the “Sue Sue” birth certificate mistake) is the real star of the show.
At first glance, you may cringe at Sue and almost everything she does. But if you are a regular watcher of “The Middle,” you recognize why Sue is so great. We all know that teenage years in high school are not a walk in the park unless that walk includes surprise roadblocks at every turn along the way. Coming from a girl who was somewhat similar to Sue in my teenage years (maybe a more diluted version of her), I understand a lot of the journeys she goes through in the show and I wish that I could have had her attitude throughout them. Sue is such a role model because of her resilience, her optimism, the fact that she is always herself, and her genuine kindness.
Sue Heck is the most resilient person I have ever seen. In high school Sue tries out for just about every team you can think of and finally finds a home with the cross country team. This is because all you have to do to make the team is run 5 laps. But there is one problem for Sue: she is on crutches. Sue Heck’s epic journey around the track includes a thunderstorm, dirt flying at her, and a broken crutch but she crawls (literally crawls) to the finish line (see it here). There was no way that Sue was going to let crutches stop her from making the team. Sue is big on school spirit. She creates the group known as the wrestlerettes. The wrestlerettes are a group of misfit girls and they are not your typical cheerleading squad but Sue does not lose faith in them. In a performance in front of the school for a cheer-off, the wrestlerettes perform an uncomfortably bad routine. The audience laughs at their performance at first but that doesn’t stop Sue and the team from continuing on. By the end of their performance, the audience is cheering like crazy (see the scene that I am talking about here). There is not one moment in that performance where Sue even thought of giving up. The wrestlerettes ended up winning this cheer-off. One more example of Sue never giving up is when she is in the “Hands on a Hardbody” contest at Elhert Motors trying to win a car. It comes down to Sue and one other woman, and whoever is touching the car last wins. When the woman tells Sue to give up she has quite the response. Defiant, severely sunburnt Sue gives her a piece of her mind she is struggling to hang on to the car. In her powerful response she says, “I never ever give up. I have not made a hundred things but I still try out.” Sue ends up winning but it turns out she doesn’t actually win the car but wins a trip to Disney World (and of course she is more excited about that than the car). If everyone had Sue’s resilience, they would get pretty far in life.
Even though Sue takes a lot of Ls in life, she always maintains a purely positive attitude about every situation. In a City Interview with Patricia Heaton (actress who plays Frankie Heck), Heaton says, “Our daughter Sue Heck, played by Eden Shers, always trying out for things and always failing but always picking herself up again and getting out there and trying again. She’s sort of got that can-do American spirit.” In Sue’s high school yearbook one of her classmates wrote “You were always running down the halls so happy. I swear I never saw you in a bad mood.” Her attitude is always positive and happy. In one episode, her friend Brad asks her to be his partner for Square Dancing with the Stars. In rehearsals Sue struggles to get the whole dancing thing down. When Brad freezes on the dance floor, Sue takes control of the situation and does an impromptu “square” dance by herself with a smile on her face the whole time to get them through it. In the end they won 8th place ribbons (out of 8 partners) but nonetheless Sue squeals with excitement over them. Coming in last place is normally something that people would be upset over but not Sue Heck of course. It is admirable that she is still happy that they competed in this event, had fun (I’m not sure if Brad enjoyed it but Sue certainly did), and got ribbons as opposed to sulking over their loss. It is a great quality to have.
Sue Heck is always her unique self and it always true to herself. At this time in her life it is easy to stray away from your true self and try to blend in with the crowd. However, Sue doesn’t do that. She is always herself with her wacky tacky and unique fashion sense and her will to always keep trying. She does not let the pressures of her classmates take over and dictate who she is. The best example of this is her appearance. Appearance is very important in a teenage girl’s life. Generally girls want to dress a certain way and always have the coolest clothes that are in style to fit in with the rest of their friends and classmates. High school is a time when a lot of bullying and judging can happen. That doesn’t bother Sue one bit, though. If you know anything about Sue’s personality this shouldn’t surprise you. You can always catch her in bright, mismatched clothing with things like rainbows, mushrooms, strawberries, or butterflies printed on them. She really expresses herself through her clothing.
My last point of why Sue is so amazing is her genuine kindness. On the surface you see an awkward girl with a lack of coordination, braces, weird clothes, and a permanent smile but on the inside is a kind soul. She would never do anything to hurt a fly and she doesn’t lie to anyone. In one episode Axl has a baby doll for a school project and it keeps Sue and Brick up all night because of its crying. Sue and Brick decide to throw things at Sue’s wall that touches Axl’s room to keep the baby crying to wake Axl up. However, they create a huge hole in Sue’s wall. Sue and Brick try to cover it up with posters but eventually Sue can’t hold this secret in any longer and confesses to her father. Another incident of Sue’s kindness can be seen when she is in college. She accidentally breaks up Axl and Devin so she apologizes with an a cappella performance by her and her fellow a cappella club members (See it here). She went out of her way to reach out to Devin so that she could own up to her mistake of butting into their relationship and she did it in the best way she could think of, through song. Sue is one of the sweetest people and feels extreme guilt when she feels she has done something wrong.
Sue Heck embodies the perfect role model. The world would be a better place if there were more Sue Hecks in it. Not only is she a great character for teenage girls to look up to as they are going through Sue’s struggles, but also adults and everyone in between and beyond as well. She should motivate you to live your life more positively and to accept not every failure is the end of the world.