In "The Middle," an engaging ABC comedy premiering Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., Frankie (Patricia Heaton) considers it cooking when she tosses a frozen pancake in the microwave. When the pancake hasn't defrosted, she tells Brick (Atticus Shaffer), the unusual youngest child, "Lick it; it will last longer."
Glancing in the mirror on the way out, she notices her gray roots, grabs a brown marker and starts coloring. Within moments, Frankie becomes the poster woman for multitasking moms everywhere: She's resourceful, resilient and, best of all, funny.
As her kids' whine stretches "Mom" into a five-syllable word, she turns to her husband, Mike (Neil Flynn), and says, "We did teach them the word 'Dad,' didn't we?"
Her latest job - "which I'm too smart for," she says - is selling used cars, and her boss relishes being mean. Making it worse, she's lousy at a lousy job.
But at least she has the perks of motherhood to bolster her.
Brick cites Mom as his example of a hero for his book report and needs her at school. Naturally, she shows up wearing tights and a cape as part of her homemade superhero costume. That Brick's report is due the next week is funny and credible, as is this entire show named for the middle of the country.
The show is set in fictional Orson, Ind., home of Little Betty Snack Cakes and the world's largest polyurethane cow.
A proud native of Ohio, Heaton loves focusing on a part of the country often ignored. She looks far younger than her 51 years and laughs about it, offering to share the numbers of her plastic surgeons.
Heaton comes off like the mom of four sons (10, 12, 14 and 16) that she is; actually she comes off saner. "I read the script, and the writers are moms, best friends, Midwestern gals, capable gals," Heaton says. "They take everything in stride. They feel straight out of the Midwest. I still feel that's where my roots are. The show had a very different feel, not a bumbling husband. It's nice to have."
Indeed, Mike and Frankie are very much partners; he's responsible, manages a quarry, loves his wife and children, and is honest with them. The eldest, Axl (Charlie McDermott), a teenager, sleeps, eats and is sarcastic. The middle child, Sue (Eden Sher), is terminally optimistic, despite failing at whatever she tries.
Sue asks her parents if they're disappointed that she never makes the cut. Dad responds, "Sure, I'm disappointed. It's like the 12th thing you've tried out for. I love not having to go to the events."
Sue's cringe-worthy and very funny stint as crew for the high school's show choir, and her parents' reaction, are reason enough to watch the pilot.
And Brick? He obliviously strokes his teacher's breast, whispers words to himself and is endearingly odd. His best friend is a backpack, but unlike Dora's, it's not animated.
Frankie tries her best - with her kids, her husband, even her job. She considers it cooking when she picks up the takeout. And while trying to sell a car to a woman, she admits that she always feels like crying. But if the pilot is true to the series, it won't be for massive depression, just in trying to juggle life in a very funny, realistic way.
"This is a real celebration, a real homage to the sweetness of people," says Heaton, who is best known to viewers as Ray's wife, Debra Barone, on "Everybody Loves Raymond." "There's not been anything on like it in a long time. I love the tongue-in-cheekiness of 'Desperate Housewives,' but I want half an hour to laugh out loud, especially in this economy."