ABC’s The Middle may have only scored a single Emmy nom this year — losing out to Game of Thrones for Outstanding Makeup for A Single-Camera Series (Non-Prosthetic) — but executive producer Eileen Heisler says she and her coworkers handle the lack of recognition in major categories with the same optimistic “Midwestiness” exhibited by the show’s Heck family.“We get excited when we make all those lists of ‘Who should’ve been nominated.’ Those are our Emmys here at The Middle,” Heisler explains.
Just don’t expect the show to try to change its Emmy fortunes by tackling tons of Very Special Story Arcs in Season 4. Instead, says Heisler, there will be a continued focus on slice-of-life scenarios like driver’s license exams, faulty appliances and the scariest bunny since Glenn Close hit the kitchen in Fatal Attraction.
TVLINE | Burning question: Can we expect more dishwasher drama for the Hecks in Season 4?
[Laughs] Getting their new dishwasher [in Season 3] has solved that particular problem, but we’re having some trouble with the washer and dryer. And also we have a very messed-up wall from last year, when we ripped all the wallpaper off. Let’s just say it’s not going to be fixed immediately.
TVLINE | So you’re referring to the Season 3 finale, when Frankie realized she’d run out of time to finish redecorating the living-room before Mike’s brother’s wedding, and restored the old wallpaper using glue and staples?
Yes, and now they keep thinking they’re gonna fix it, but end up putting it off. No furniture or household problem gets fixed in a fast manner on The Middle. Things just get wrecked, then they kind of stay there, then they move to another room, and float out.
TVLINE | What’s on tap for the Season 4 premiere?
We have a big hour-long episode we’re really excited about: A summer spent with the Hecks. Mike and Frankie feel like their kids click away their lives in front of screens, that they have no idea of what actual summer is — or not as they remember it. So they try to achieve that — an adventure that includes a county fair, a drive-in movie. Everybody will recognize themselves in this story. Also, Sue explores her dark side a little bit in the episode, which is fun.
TVLINE | Will Axl and his pals’ business, Boss Co., be explored during this summer-vacation episode?
He didn’t do a lot of working this summer, but Boss Co. will be back in the fall with some leaf-raking. This is Axl’s senior year. So part of their focus is to get him off to college.
TVLINE | Any chance of a road trip to go visit possible schools?
We haven’t broken it yet, but it’s a story we have discussed. I hope we take that road trip.
TVLINE | Are Mike and Frankie ready for him to leave the nest?
That’s definitely their goal, but I’m sure when it happens it’ll be very bittersweet. Of course, the Hecks planned for college in the way the Hecks do things, and so it’s not certain they can afford it, and it’s not a sure thing his grades will get him in. But they’ll sure try.
TVLINE | I’ve read that Sue will be on a quest to get her driver’s license.
Sue has a bumpy road to getting there. She’s still a little bit stung from last season when she accidentally drove the Passat around the block. We explore the different ways Frankie and Mike might be the different parents in the car, trying to teach Sue how to drive. And Sue is very overprepared. We haven’t gotten yet to the episode where she actually tries to get the license, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t succeed on her first trip to the DMV. I didn’t! [Laughs] Sue requires many, many checklists before she gets out of the driveway. She’s a stressful person to teach how to drive, let’s put it that way.
TVLINE | What’s the latest with Brick?
Brick develops a new tic. I can’t tell you what it is, but the tic morphs a bit, and that leads to the arrival of a psycho bunny. It’s suggested that a pet might help Brick with his detachment issues. So they explore pet ownership with a bunny that turns out not to be as great as anticipated.
TVLINE | Yikes! That sounds like a Donnie Darko situation!
[Laughs] No, no, no. A real bunny from a pet store that turns out to be psycho.
TVLINE | What other guest stars should we expect in Season 4?
Norm MacDonald will be back [as Mike's brother]. Dave Foley is joing us. We’ll be revisiting our wonderful parents Jerry Van Dyke and Marsha Mason. And Brooke Shields will be back. She hasn’t been here as Rita Glossner since the first season. Frankie has another run-in with her in Episode 4, which will be fun.
TVLINE | I have to say, I do love the realism of the Hecks’ house. It doesn’t follow that TV template where everything looks like a magazine spread.
I know! Our set gets a lot of attention because it’s very messy. And it’s very important to us that the Hecks’ stuff not be new, that our set is almost a character, that they don’t have those clean countertops. If there’s a perfect bowl of fruit, our set dressers are very used to me saying, “Why is there a bowl of fruit that doesn’t have mail or a toy sticking out of it? That’s not right!”
TVLINE | I loved that line in the Season 3 finale, where Frankie was lamenting that she’d never have Goldie Hawn’s vintage cream bowl of fruit on her kitchen table — the one that she’d seen in a magazine spread.
That was a sad realization for Frankie. My partner wrote that line, and I love it, too. We’re all like that. You’re looking at a magazine, and you realize, “Even if I get it, it’s not going to look right in context with my stuff.” Frankie’s always trying, she has this desire for everything to be better, but it always falls short. She’s too busy.
The Middle returns Wednesday, Sept. 26, 8/7c (ABC, one hour).Follow @MichaelSlezakTV