The Middle co-creator promises the 'right ending for the show'

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It’s the end of the road for The Middle.

The Hecks, the most lovable blue-collar Midwestern family since the Conners, are preparing to say goodbye as the ABC sitcom enters its ninth and final season.

“It’s always hard to think about ending a show when everything is going so right,” co-creator DeAnn Heline says of her series, which is so underappreciated that she jokes they have a drinking game for every time a critic uses the word to describe them. “But it’s also been nine years and we wanted to feel like we were going out on our own terms, so the cast, [co-creator] Eileen [Heisler], and myself decided that we wanted to have a year where we could prepare for the ending, so that every single episode was special and would mean something.”

Although Heline does admit the “very moving and overwhelming” reaction to the August announcement about the series ending had her momentarily wondering if they had made the right decision. “I’m not going to lie, there’s a part of you that goes, ‘Well, maybe we should stick around,'” she recalls.

Charlie McDermott, who has spent a third of his life on the comedy, never second-guessed the choice, despite his ongoing concern that he’ll never be able to outgrow his memorable character. “There’s a very real possibility that I’ll just be Axl forever,” the 27-year-old shares. “I’ve just seen it happen to many people that are on successful long-running TV shows. They do a really great job and everyone likes them, then the show ends, and they’re still that person to everyone. That’s something I’ve been afraid of the entire way, and I still am. [The Middle] could be great for my career, it could be the thing that kind of ends it in a way. But either way, it’s been awesome.”

Michael Ansell/ABC

While Patricia Heaton believes it’s possible that she and the rest of the cast could periodically get back together with The Middle living on in the form of annual holiday specials, Heline can say with certainty that all of the Hecks will indeed live. “There will be no Game of Thrones horrible deaths,” the co-creator promises of the finale, adding that they’ve known for years how things will conclude. “I think it will be super funny, satisfying, and the right ending for the show.”

Meaning, don’t look for the underrated series (drink!) to deviate from its winning formula just because the long-running comedy is wrapping up. “It’s the Hecks, so very exciting story lines, like their doorknob doesn’t work, so we have to fix it,” teases Heline. Other than home maintenance, the final season includes a more cultured Axl returning from Europe with a new taste for fancy coffee, scarves, and man buns (McDermott even grew out his hair to ensure full man bun authenticity).

Post-graduation, the charmingly lazy oldest child will find himself back living at home and struggling to find a job in today’s market. “He’s trying to be a changed man,” says McDermott. “He either has to mature or he’s going to fall apart.” For his part, the actor’s dream ending for Axl is to be a professional tennis player (“I think it would be a fun and goofy thing”) — a much more realistic sport for the “tiny person” than his collegiate football career

Elsewhere in the Heck household, the writers have a big romantic arc lined up for Sue (Eden Sher), while Brick’s (Atticus Shaffer) love life also takes a turn when he breaks up with Cindy (Casey Burke) so he can be a free man heading into what he’s deemed his “big” sophomore year. “Everything is infused this year with a different kind of a vibe,” shares Heline. “It’s still going to be the same show, but maybe it just feels a little bit more special to us.”

The Middle airs Tuesdays on ABC at 8 p.m. ET.

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