Atticus Shaffer, 11, plays a strange second grader called Brick in the ABC sitcom “The Center.”Crmodify...Jordin Althaus/ABC

BURBANK, Calif.

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THE collection of the ABC sitcom “The Middle” had a last-day-of-school vibe one Friday afternoon in March as the cast and also crew functioned on the seachild finale. A perky Betty White, guest starring as a crotchety librarian, got a touch up from a makeup artist. Crew members scurried approximately adjusting lights and unraveling a rat’s nest of electric cords. And 11-year-old Atticus Shaffer did somepoint reminiscent of the quirky character he plays on the show: he sat amid the chaos and cheerfully talked to himself.

As it turned out, he had been practicing his lines for a confrontation scene via Ms. White. He had actually no concept who she was simply a few days prior to, however many thanks to the Internet Movie Database he had actually read over her résumé and chose to execute an extra-good task. “Apparently she’s a TV legend,” he said matter-of-factly.

Ms. White laughed. “How come you don’t settle his hair and also his lipstick?” she shelp, pointing to Atticus. “I’m simply the old wide. He’s the star of the present.”

“The Center,” a wry, single-camera comedy starring Patricia Heaton that is often described as a cross in between “Roseanne” and also “Malcolm in the Center,” has averaged about seven million viewers eexceptionally Wednesday and also was long earlier renewed for a 2nd seachild. And Atticus is among the best reasons why. His character, a strange second grader called Brick, has currently earned a spot in television’s Hevery one of Fame — at leastern in the distant wing devoted to oddball youngsters.


Brick carries ketchup packets in his pockets (they “soothe” him), has been recognized to break right into a Scottish accent and also considers his backfill a really close frifinish. He has actually a fondness for baby chickens. Perhaps his weirdest tick requires habitually repeating the last word of his sentences in a creepy whisper.

TV has constantly had actually a soft spot for geeks and also oddballs, and doubters zeroed in on the actor and function when “The Middle” made its deyet in September. “Atticus Shaffer is the breakout,” Joanne Ostrow of The Denver Article composed last August. “The kidcarry out is hilarious.” But the gushing has grvery own so loud — “Just Love That Little Brick on ‘The Middle,’ ” check out a Miami Herald headline in March — that the show’s authors show up to have actually started structure episodes even more squadepend around that character. To assist hype its seaboy finale on May 19, “The Middle” landed Ms. White. Guess that all of her scenes are with?


“People just favor Brick because he follows the beat of his own drummer,” Atticus sassist. “He’s various, and also he’s quirky, and world seem to think that’s adorable. Trust me because I understand. It’s my life.”

Brick, best down to the whisper, is based on the kid of Eileen Heisler, that developed “The Middle” via DeAnn Heline. (The 2 women, whose credits include “Murphy Brown” and “How I Met Your Mvarious other,” have actually been creating partners given that meeting in college.) “The funniest things come from reality,” Ms. Heisler said.


To pitch the principle of “The Middle” to ABC, the 2 womales held up a snapshot of Ms. Heisler’s child Justin. “It simply perfectly expressed all the angst in the character of Brick,” Ms. Heline sassist.

Atticus, whose other credits include “My Name Is Earl” and the movie “Hancock” (sharing a bus soptimal scene with Will Smith), is the initially to admit he’s a little kooky in genuine life — certainly not your average 11-year-old, even one in show business. Named after the lawyer in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” he lives about an hour north of Burbank, in rural Acton, on a spreview that contains a little herd of cats and also dogs. Home schooled, he’s a military-background buff, and has dressed up for Halloween — complete via kilt — as Sgt. Charles Stuart MacKenzie, an obscure Scottish hero from World War I.

He’s a Lego nut yet via a twist, utilizing the figures and structures he makes to film stop-movement war movies through a camcorder. He was a Cub Scout yet decided the more rigorous Boy Scouts weren’t for him.

“Truth be told, I found it a tiny too high adundertaking for my taste,” he said over a lunch of pizza and also garlic breview on the collection.

Physical task is hard for Atticus — viewers of “The Middle” will certainly notification the cam hardly ever adheres to him as soon as he walks, and when it does he has actually a limp because of a hereditary disorder recognized as brittle bone illness, although his case is less major than a lot of.


But the protoform is Urkel, the squeaky-voiced nerd that popped on “Family Matters” in 1989. That character, played by Jaleel White, was never intended to last past a couple of episodes. But viewers responded so favorably that the present carried him earlier, and he shortly came to be a pop society idol.

Mr. White, that has added screencreating to his résumé and is readying a new Internet series titled “Fake It Til You Make It,” shelp kooky youngsters get noticed because they regularly have actually the ideal jokes. “The story hregarding flow via the lead actors,” he shelp. “They are the set-up world, and also the punch line regularly falls to others. Think about ‘Seinfeld’ and also the means Jerry Seinfeld and also Kramer communicate.”

(Speaking of lead actors, Mr. White had actually something to say around Ms. Heaton, that headlines “The Middle” as Frankie Heck, the tired mother of three. “A lot of adult actors are too insecure to let the youngsters shine, so hooray for her,” he said. “Normally, someamong her stature — a well-respected veteran — has the power to go to the producers and also say, ‘Hey, write that kid’s component down.’ ”)

Brian Robbins, a producer of children’s entertainment that obtained his begin in Hollylumber playing peculiar kids on mirrors favor “Head of the Class,” sassist the more bizarre the habits, the more these characters seem to work. “Kids really enjoy watching the quirky, starray things they do, and adults uncover them endearing,” he shelp.

An executive producer of “Sonny With a Chance,” Mr. Robbins pointed to the odd however clever Zora (Allisyn Ashley Arm) on that Disney Channel show. “Zora, prefer a lot of these freaky characters, has end up being a kind of mascot,” he said.


Of course tright here is a disconnect: It is even more most likely that Zora and also Brick would be ostracized and also mocked than loved in actual life. Theories abound to explain why the oppowebsite is true on TV. Maybe it’s bereason television provides a distance that clears the awkward feeling world have actually about real-life weirdos. Maybe because viewers know the personalities aren’t actual, they don’t suffer that cringing, embarrassed-for-them feeling.

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Or possibly there are just the majority of geeks watching TV who identify.

“All I know,” Atticus said, “is that I feel very blessed to be on TV. It’s a tough project, but genuine life is harder. Truth be told, playgrounds deserve to be battle areas.”