From the first few frames of Disney Channel's new show Stuck in the Middle, I could tell it was going to be different. That's mainly because the show is shot in a single-camera format as opposed to the typical multi-cam sitcoms that the network usually has on. Additionally, the main character, Harley (Jenna Ortega), was speaking directly to the camera, breaking what those in television refer to as "the fourth wall." While these are distinctions perhaps only a TV nerd like me might notice while the show's general audience (kids and tweens) were none-the-wiser, adults watching the program might also notice that Stuck in the Middle is different than some other shows on Disney Channel — it's a cut above.
The show revolves around a two-parent family with seven kids. While you may be tempted to assume this is the result of some Brady Bunch-type situation, all of the children are the result of both parents (Cerina Vincent and Joe Nieves — who you may recognize as Carl the bartender on How I Met Your Mother), not that that really matters. With three kids younger and three older than her, 12-year-old Harley is literally in the middle.
As you can expect from a show that revolves around a family of nine that airs on Disney Channel, the show is definitely wacky at times. However, it can also be quite funny. Between the two episodes I watched, I — a 30-year-old male — found myself literally laughing out loud at least half a dozen times. I also appreciated how quickly the plot moved along when compared to shows like Girl Meets World that tend to harp on the same point over and over.
What's interesting is that, while Stuck in the Middle might feel like a different kind of show for Disney Channel, it could actually be a return to form in many ways. I can't help but draw comparisons to programs of Disney Channel past such as Lizzie McGuire, Even Stevens, and even Jonas which were also shot in single-camera and featured zany antics, dream sequences, and different storytelling elements (animated Lizzie, songs in Jonas, etc.). It's something that may have been missing from the channel for a while but feels right at home on their airwaves.
Likely because of nostalgia and bias, I have to say that Stuck in the Middle didn't rise to the level of Even Stevens or Lizzie McGuire for me, but, to be fair, it has only been two episodes. I'll also say that, with such a large cast, there's a lot of potential for each to shine in subsequent stories. Aside from Harley proving to be an interesting and relatable protagonist, I was especially impressed with performances by Kayla Maisonet as Georgie (one of Harley's older sisters) and Ariana Greenblatt who is hilarious as the youngest daughter, Daphne. And, while we're talking about Lizzie McGuire, I will note that the character of Ethan (Isaak Presley) reminded me a lot of Gordo... except that he's Harley's brother, so no shipping the two of them.
Overall, Stuck in the Middle is a lot of fun and a show I feel that kids and adults can both enjoy. While the pilot did a great job of setting up everything you need to know about the family, the second episode (the one set to air tonight) shows a typical day in the life to great effect. If I had to guess, I'd say Stuck is set to breakout.
Stuck in the Middle airs Friday nights at 9 p.m. on Disney Channel.