Charlie McDermott gives us the scoop on Season 5 of THE MIDDLE

CHARLIE MCDERMOTTI can’t believe (but I’m so excited) that the 5th Season premiere of THE MIDDLE airs tonight on ABC (8/7c).  What some people might call the “little show that could” and what I have consistently called the best comedy on television has slowly grown to be a solid hit for ABC over the seasons, and it still feels like just yesterday that we met the Hecks of Orson, Indiana.  In tonight’s premiere, Axl is heading to college for the first time, and Frankie is handling it about as well as might be expected (while I can imagine Sue’s excitement is at an all time high)! With the show officially in syndication (it airs weekdays on ABC Family) and on the verge of airing their 100th episode, I spent some time talking with college-bound Axl (Charlie McDermott) about what’s coming up this season and why now, 5 seasons in, is as good a time as any to get yourself involved in the show (seriously, marathon this show).  Plus, I’d be remiss to let him off the phone without discussing a little Eagles football!

Talk a little bit about Season 5 – Axl’s graduated, he’s heading away from the family a bit.  What can you tell us about what we’ll see from the season premiere?
The Season Premiere starts, it’s “The DropOff” so it’s the family driving Axl to college and leaving him there.  It’s very emotional [laughs].  Frankie is trying to get over the fact that her son is leaving, pretending it doesn’t bother her, and then dealing with it when it does.  And then Axl is happy to finally be away from his family [laughs].  It’s a cool little start to the season.

CHARLIE MCDERMOTTBut he’s not too far away that he’ll be away from Orson for too long, right?
No, he’s only 40 minutes away, so he’s back, every episode, and he’s in the house in at least 1-2 scenes, in fact, at least 2 if not more.

You mentioned that it’s kind of emotional – what I love about THE MIDDLE is that sometimes before I even realize it, the show as caught up to me, and I’m crying suddenly.
[laughs] Yeah, definitely, that’s one of the things that’s fun about it – to be able blend both [the heart and the comed].  I have the same thing where I’ll think it’s all jokes, and I’ll see it, and I’ like, actually no, there’s some heart here.  It’s a nice fun little blend.

How does Axl being away affect Sue, and Brick, and the family? How does their dynamic change now that he’s out of the house?
Sue is incredibly happy that he’s gone [laughs].  Frankie’s a little sad, as is Mike, until he starts to show up a lot, and then they’re kind of annoyed with it. They finally got rid of him, but he’s still hanging around.  Not too much has changed, the dynamic is still pretty much the same, they’re just magnified when he’s around because now he’s back and Sue gets even more annoyed when he’s around, and so do his parents.

CHARLIE MCDERMOTT, EDEN SHER, PATRICIA HEATON, NEIL FLYNNThere are so many stories that can be explored with you away at college – will we learn about your roommate and get to know him?  What’s the college world like for Axl?  Is it what he expected?
No, it’s not what he expected.  He was kind of high school, and now he’s at the bottom of the chain, and he’s not as cool as he thought he was.  His roommate is a massive bummer; doesn’t talk.  Doesn’t like to talk, and just likes to play video games.  So Axl’s kind of stranded and experiencing a new life where things don’t come as easily for him anymore [laughs].

What about love interests – have we seen the last of the girlfriend?
Right now, he still has feelings for Cassidy but she has not made a return yet.  He’s definitely trying to get a girl or two at college, but it’s not working out.  So far, he’s striking out.  Constantly.

To be in the fifth season of the show, with the growth and new audiences that you’re attracting – what is it like with new people finding the show, when you’re almost up to your 100th episode?
It’s pretty cool – I like the fact that it’s been a slow build every year.  It feels like something that’s been a secret for a while, which is pretty cool.  It started syndication [last] Monday, and there are people who have never seen it at all, and they watched a marathon, and now they’re going back and watching the whole thing.  It’s cool to get hooked on something when there’s almost 100 episodes to watch [laughs].  I’m enjoying the slow crawl of it.  It’s a pretty awesome thing to be where we are now.

PATRICIA HEATON, EDEN SHER, CHARLIE MCDERMOTTThe show has done great things with guest stars – having people we recognize in surprising roles. Are there any new guest stars you can tease so far this season?
Yeah, Rachel Dratch has joined the show, who I’ve been a big fan for a long time.  You know, she worked on SNL for a while, and I have not had the pleasure to work with her yet.  She plays [Brick’s] teacher or principal, I think it’s principal?  I passed her on set once, and we kind of waved and smiled.  Neither of us said anything [laughs]. I’m a big fan of her, so it’s awesome to have her on the show, so I think it’s going to be pretty funny having her there.

PATRICIA HEATON, EDEN SHER, CHARLIE MCDERMOTT, ATTICUS SHAFFER, NEIL FLYNNWhy do you think now is a time when people should get involved in THE MIDDLE?
I really think our show has gotten stronger with age.  I think the episodes have gotten better, and everyone’s just gotten better, and the characters.  And it’s gotten tighter and it’s gotten funnier as it’s gone along.  I think it’s a good time to watch it now – I think the first 5 episodes of this season have been some of our strongest of the whole series.  Then also, you have 96 episodes that you can watch immediately after watching the premiere this season.  There’s a lot of time to fill [laughs]. You can make a couple weeks out of it if you want to!

What else besides THE MIDDLE have you been working on?
Right now, just this season of the show.  I have a feature film I did between season 3 and 4 (ImagiGARY), which Eden, Neil and Chris Kattan were all in – that’s going to finish Post Production in October, and then in the festival circuit this winter to the following winter.  I’ll hear back about which festivals it’s accepted to in December, so hopefully, it’s in a good amount of them, and I’ll be able to post online, and hopefully we can have it playing somewhere soon so people can see it!

I can’t let you go without asking your thoughts on Chip (Kelly) so far in Philly – is it a fluke that they started the season so well?
Oh I think it’s pretty great!  I was excited when he was hired.  I watched the first preseason game.  I don’t think it’s a fluke, I think it’s a plan.  I think they’re going to improve steadily as the season goes.  I think their offense is great, and their defense, well, they’re working on it, I think they’re going to figure it out.  I’m really pumped about it.