Patricia Heaton returns to the type of role that won her two Emmy Awards during the nine-year run of "Everybody Loves Raymond" -- a sassy suburban mom -- in the new ABC sitcom "The Middle." And TV reviewers are heaping loads of praise on her for this new twist on an old format.
Two years ago, Heaton and time-slot mate Kelsey Grammer ("Hank") teamed up as battling exes in "Back to You." That Fox workplace comedy failed to find favor with either critics or the public. Now with "The Middle," Heaton is back where she belongs -- in a domestic situation comedy.
And she could well find herself back on the red carpet. For her performance on "Everybody Loves Raymond," she was nominated for the lead actress in a comedy series Emmy seven years in a row (1999-2005). She won the award in 2000 and 2001. While she was snubbed by the Golden Globes for the entire run of the show, those Emmy-winning years for her marked the only two times Ray Romano landed a Globe bid.
Reviewing "The Middle," Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times said, "Ms. Heaton is less acerbic than she was on 'Everybody Loves Raymond,' but just as comical playing an overwhelmed Midwesterner who works at Orson’s only surviving car dealership. Frankie touches up her roots with a brown felt-tip pen and throws fast-food bags on the dining room table with the words, 'I cooked.' Though the troubled economy is only glancingly mentioned in the show, it colors the landscape, and that makes Frankie’s ill-founded optimism all the more amusing."
For Robert Bianco of USA Today, "ABC may be on to something with 'The Middle,' a perfectly timed, down-to-earth comedy that calls to mind 'Roseanne' and 'Home Improvement' (with a little of Fox's 'Malcolm in the Middle' thrown in)." And David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun enthused, "This family will make you smile a lot, especially Frankie's stressed-out, manic attempts to keep this house of nutsiness almost functioning. Heaton is an outstanding comic performer who really deserved all those Emmys in the 'Raymond' days."
Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald admitted, "Until watching 'The Middle,' I would have said it was time the sitcom concept of the madcap mom trying to balance kiddies and career got a decent burial, complete with a stake through the heart. But Heaton and producers Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline (who both worked on a long string of successful sitcoms including 'Murphy Brown' and 'How I Met Your Mother') give the idea new life."
However, Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe cautioned, "Heaton doesn’t merely reprise the eye-rolling and suppressed rage of Debra Barone from 'Everybody Loves Raymond'; her Frankie is more madcap, less angry, and clearly in love with her family. But Heaton would benefit by taking her acting down a notch or two. In the pilot, she’s using the big gestures and loud delivery usually reserved for shows performed before live audiences."
Photo: Patricia Heaton. Credit: ABC