Which Character Just Came Out on 'The Middle'?

The cast and producers of the veteran ABC comedy talk with THR about the big reveal.
Michael Ansell/ABC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Wednesday's episode of ABC's The Middle.]

ABC's The Middle added another member to TV's LGBT group of characters during Wednesday's episode.

When looking at the men who have passed through Sue Heck's (Eden Sher) life on The Middle, there’s really only one — excluding family members and clergymen — who always has been there for her when she needed him: Brad (Brock Ciarlelli).

Brad was first introduced as Sue’s boyfriend, and while their romantic relationship ended when she realized that they had irreconcilable differences (that’s right: He was a smoker), their friendship grew stronger as the series continued. Left undiscussed, however, was Brad’s natural tendency toward flamboyance, which, when combined with a number of other affectations and offhanded remarks, led viewers to make certain presumptions about the character’s sexuality.

This week, those presumptions were at long last confirmed, and The Hollywood Reporter speaks with Ciarlelli, Sher and executive producers DeAnn Heline and Eileen Heisler about the long road to Brad’s big announcement, how it was handled and what it means for the show and its characters.

DeAnn Heline: We’ve always just tried to do what we felt was right for the character. At the beginning, he was young enough that we felt like he might not even have necessarily known he was gay, or it might be something he wasn’t sure about. But we reached a point where we felt like Brad would certainly know he was gay and that he’d be ready to share it with the people that are close to him, and it felt like we’d be doing a disservice to him if we kept going without doing that.

Brock Ciarlelli: There’s obviously the jokes that play out in Brad’s first couple of episodes, where it’s like, “How does Sue not see this?” But then they took the important part of the character, the friendship between Brad and Sue, and ran with it. They defined Brad as a character via his passions, his interests, his sense of humor and the kind of friend he is, things that are so much more important than the word “gay” could ever get across, that I didn’t personally need or feel like it was necessary for him to come out.

Eden Sher: At the very beginning of this season, when Eileen told me, “There’s going to be an episode where Brad finally comes out,” I was, like, “Thank God!” (Laughs.)

Eileen Heisler: When we told Brock that Brad was going to have a coming-out scene, I think he was, like, “Oh, wow, really?” But I think he was also curious as to how it was going to happen. And then when we told him, he said, “Oh, that’s perfect.”

Ciarlelli: What’s so cool with Brad and Sue is that you see these two friends. They’ve been friends since middle school growing up, going through these milestones together, and now one of those milestones is that Brad is coming out. I just think that’s a really cool thing to see unfold.

Heisler: We never really thought, “This should be the big ‘Brad comes out’ episode, with everyone saying, ‘Oh, no, are you kidding? He’s gay?! Who knew?’ ” In some ways, we felt like it was bolder to do it simple.

Heline: A big "Brad’s coming out" episode might’ve gotten more publicity and promo and that sort of thing, but it kind of felt cheap to us to do it that way.

Sher: I was so relieved when Eileen said it was going to be very, very subtle. It was just going to be, “Hey, guess what? I like guys, actually.” “Hey, great! Me, too!” It wasn’t made into a big deal. He says he’s got something to tell me, and I say, “I know.” It’s sweet without being saccharine.

Ciarlelli: I think Sue’s reaction speaks volumes as to the kind of character that she is. It’s clear from my standpoint how loyal Brad is to that friendship and that they’re there for each other no matter what, so having Sue’s reaction being just one of subtle understanding … I don’t know, it just brought a smile to my face when I read the script.

Sher: I was glad they didn’t take the road of Sue going up to Mike and Frankie and saying, “Did you know?” and [Sue] being surprised by it.

Heline: We felt like it was smarter to have her know. It’d probably stretch the bounds of reality at this point for them to be such good friends and for her to not have an inkling of that.

Ciarlelli: What I think is so cool is that, even though Sue might’ve figured, whenever that might’ve been, she was being that good friend and letting Brad tell her in his own time. I think that’s tremendously important, and I think that’s the message that comes across in the scene: Even though she might know, it’s when Brad is ready to tell her that matters.

Heisler: I thought it was true to both of their characters. There was sweetness in the relief that Brad had shared and had just been accepted for who he was. It was powerful. There was power in its simplicity.

Sher: Even though Brad’s come out to Sue, he’s really still going to be the exact same character. If there’s any sort of shift, maybe there’ll be a line about, like, “Oh, I’ve had a crush on him forever,” something a little more explicit. Or maybe a storyline about how he dates a guy, and Sue doesn’t like him. That’d be pretty funny!

Ciarlelli: It might be fun to have a spotlight on Brad dating someone, but he has so many different interests that maybe he’s more focused on AmeriCorps. Either way wouldn’t really surprise me, but he has the world at his fingertips, to say the least, and whatever the writers choose, I know it’ll be done in a way that audiences will love.

Heisler: We’ll just have to see how things evolve. But Brad’s still Sue’s very good friend, and he’s certainly not going anywhere anytime soon.

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