Forget about athletes, movie stars and politicians. Parents are the real heroes - but we think Frankie Heck, must be some kind of superhero. A loving wife and mother of three, she's middle class in the middle of the country and is rapidly approaching middle age.
Frankie and her husband, Mike, have lived in Orson, Indiana, their whole lives. A man of few words (every one a zinger), Mike is a manager at the town quarry and Frankie is the third-best used car salesman (out of the three) at the local dealership. She may not be a high-powered career woman, but when it comes to her family, she'll go to just about any length. And with kids like these, she had better. There's Axl, her semi-nudist teenage son conceived while under the influence of Guns N' Roses; Sue, the awkward teenage daughter who fails at everything... but with the utmost of gusto; and their seven-year-old son Brick, whose best friend is his backpack.
Sometimes it seems like everyone is trying to get to the top, or struggling not to hit bottom, but we think Frankie and her family will find a lot of love, and a lot of laughs, somewhere in The Middle.
Axl returns home from his summer trip to Europe, sporting a man-bun and embracing a new, chill outlook on life. Meanwhile, Frankie tries to come up with an item for a time capsule being buried under the Orson cow that will make the town remember the Hecks when it's opened in 100 years.
After Frankie gives neighbor Nancy Donahue an old scarf that is just sitting around gathering dust, Nancy returns the favor by baking her a delicious apple pie. Believing she's stumbled upon a way to get free and tasty meals, Frankie makes it her mission to find miscellaneous items around the house to give to her in exchange for some culinary delights. Meanwhile, Sue and Lexie prepare to move back into their college apartment but find that it's been sublet to a man who refuses to leave; and Axl's new job as the school bus driver gives him a chance to see how Brick's high school sophomore year is treating him, and he discovers that Mike has refused to speak to Brick's class on Career Exploration Day.
Frankie is stoked when Axl invites her and Mike to meet and have dinner with girlfriend Lexie's rich parents, Tammy and Bennett. But Frankie is worried that their less then luxurious lifestyle may put a damper on their meeting. Meanwhile, Brick is excited to be a part of the Sophomore Slammer fundraiser, in which fellow classmates fake arrest each other and friends come to pay money – which will go to charity – to bail them out. But Brick soon discovers that no matter how hard he tries, he just can't get arrested.
As Halloween approaches, Frankie discovers that a woman had died in the bathtub of the Heck house close to 50 years ago, and Frankie and Brick become convinced that she was murdered and, much to Mike's chagrin, attempt to track down and find the murderer. Meanwhile, Axl and Lexie become frustrated over losing their alone time when Sue insists on hanging out with them wherever they go.
While Axl tries to invent a new beverage that mixes wine with beer and Brick decides to join the school orchestra in an attempt to play the field and find himself a new girlfriend, Mike asks Sue to take the reins in putting together a romantic evening for him and Frankie to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary – which both of them totally forgot. Frustrated with being the family member whose role is to do everything they ask of her without complaint, Sue puts her foot down and declares she will no longer be that person, which causes the rest of the Hecks to rethink and rebel against what their supposed familial roles have been.
Frankie is tasked with being at her mom Pat's beck and call when she has to stay for a few days at the Heck house after coming down with an ailment. Meanwhile, just when it looks like Sean is about to ask Sue out on a date, Sue nervously blurts out that maybe they should both try to set each other up on a date with one of their friends; and Axl and Brick ponder what it is exactly that Mike does at the quarry,.
The Hecks take a hectic road trip for Thanksgiving to Frankie's sister's house but soon find themselves running into barriers that could make them late to the feast; and with Axl now working with Sue and Brick at Spudsy's, they have been informed by their manager that, due to budget issues, one of them needs to quit, and they must decide amongst themselves which one will take the hit.
Axl heads to Chicago to visit Hutch for the weekend but discovers that his friend, who has his own apartment and a job, is now acting more like a responsible adult than the free-spirited college student he once knew. Meanwhile, Sue's excitement over having the apartment to herself over the weekend turns to horror when she is unable to sleep after watching "Silence of the Lambs"; and Brick enlists Frankie and Mike's aid to help convince Lilah, a new student who doesn't know anyone at school yet, that she and Brick would make a cute coupe.
The Middle celebrates its milestone 200th episode! When Orson is named as one of the top 200 most livable cities in Indiana, Frankie is reminded that she has to come up with something to place in the time capsule that will be buried in the base of the newly rededicated Orson Cow. Meanwhile, when Bill Norwood informs Mike that he and Paula are separating, Mike is gobsmacked and starts to appreciate Frankie more; in order to win back Cindy, Brick must complete three acts of bravery for her; and Axl volunteers Sue to be his personal assistant to impress prospective employers
It's Christmastime, and Frankie and Sue are devastated after Axl informs them that he's not going to church this year because he's beginning to question his faith. Meanwhile, Mike goes to war with the Glossner kids after they keep defacing his new, giant inflatable snowman; and Brick goes all out in an attempt to wrap his first present for a planned Christmas Yankee Swap.
As New Year's Eve approaches, Sue admits to Frankie that she likes Sean Donahue and that she kissed him at the Christmas party. But she's still trying to figure out if her kiss with Sean was a fluke or if it actually meant that he likes her. Meanwhile, Mike forces Axl and Brick to take a drive with him and Mike's dad, Big Mike, and they are shocked to discover what is planned when they reach their final destination.
Now that Axl has a real job, he begins to bond more with Mike and spends a lot of time with him – leaving Frankie frozen out of their interactions; and just as Sue is about to break up with Aidan, Brad pleads with her to wait a beat until after he has a chance to win the affection of Aiden's handsome friend, Luke.
Frankie decides that she needs to find something new that she's passionate about – life's third act - and Reverend TimTom offers the perfect solution. Meanwhile, tired of hearing Sue and Brick argue because of the giant hole between their bedroom walls, Mike orders them to fix it; and after Axl refuses to let rich girlfriend Lexie pay for some extravagant outings, Lexie finds a way to fool him into thinking he's becoming lucky when money and other high priced items suddenly make their way into his hands.
Mike's wayward brother, Rusty, comes to town and presents Sue with an extravagant gift, which Mike thinks is stolen goods. Meanwhile, with Sue now older and living the college life, Mike feels like he's not as close to her as he used to be and tries to figure out a way to reconnect; Axl blows the money from his first paycheck on a big screen TV and blames his spending spree on years of learning from Frankie's lack of financial wisdom; and Brick is stumped, but delighted to discover mysterious, unmarked gifts being left at the front door of the house.
Things don't go as smoothly as planned for the Hecks when Frankie helps Sue celebrate her 21st birthday by taking her to a bar close to the college, Mike begrudgingly accompanies Brick to a "Planet Nowhere" convention, and Axl and Hutch head to Ohio in the Winnebago to attend and make a toast at ex-college roomie Kenny's wedding.
While Frankie feels the need to have a good cry after having a bad week, Mike shares the good news that, after 25 years as manager at the local quarry, he is being offered the job of regional manager but feels uncomfortable saying goodbye to his co-workers. Meanwhile, Brick suspects that he's being treated unfairly by his health teacher because of how horribly Axl treated her back when he was a student.
After Dr. Fulton calls Frankie and Mike into his office to inform them that Brick and Cindy have been making out all over school, Frankie tasks Mike into having a talk with his son to discuss dating etiquette. Meanwhile, Sue attempts to work up the gumption to give Sean the snow globe and confess how much she likes him; and after discovering a box full of unfinished thank you notes for gifts received over the years, Frankie orders Axl to finish and mail them all out.