'Middle' Mom's Greatest Challenge? Raising an Oddball

There are five main characters on The Middle. My favorite is the one who looks like you could fit him in your pocket. That's Brick -- the youngest, quirkiest, and wisest of Frankie's (Patricia Heaton) three kids. Atticus Shaffer, the 11-year-old actor who plays Brick, is already an adept comedian, nailing his well-written lines every time. And Brick is a doll, an endearing cross between Malcolm in the Middle's Malcolm (Frankie Muniz) and Roseanne's D.J. (Michael Fishman).

He's also a well-meaning handful, the kid who's constantly failing to mention book reports and school projects to his mom until the night before they're due. When he arrived at the corn maze last week, I saw the coming fiasco a mile away. I, too, have briefly lost a child in a corn maze. It's partly funny, and mostly terrifying. That's how I imagine Frankie feels in general about raising Brick -- he's a funny kid, and terrifying.

The show is a comedy, but as any mom will tell you, it's a teeny bit painful to shepherd a kid like this into adulthood. He'd rather read a book or hang with his parents than talk to other pipsqueaks, and consequently has no friends. On tonight's episode, he protests when his perpetually unclothed big brother Axl (Charlie McDermott) calls him a dork. "Hey, I'm not a dork!" he says defiantly, but the "no friends" thing works against him here. Watching Frankie, in a flashback a few episodes back, trying in vain to micromanage his play dates was a clever way to make the point: It's hard on mom, too. And while Brick's tendency to repeat himself, quietly, under his breath, is one of the character's funniest qualities, that's only because it's so downright weird.

In reviews, TV critics almost always warm to Brick, for the above reasons. But some are distracted by the fact that he walks with a limp -- which the show's other characters never acknowledge. A quick Google search turns up the reason: Shaffer suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. Truth is, the limp inadvertently enhances the sweetness of his character -- it's one more reason you want to hug him. But it will be interesting to see whether the show's writers will choose to incorporate his slight disability into the story.

If Shaffer prefers not to, then obviously they need to respect his wishes. But if they do provide an explanation, it could only make this lovable kid even more endearing.

Plus: Watch our exclusive interview with Patricia Heaton!

Do you worry about your kids being dorks? Chime in below!

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