The Morning Round-Up: ‘The Middle,’ ‘Suburgatory,’ ‘Modern Family’ & ‘Happy Endings’

Senior Television Writer
02.09.12 42 Comments


It’s morning round-up time, with quick reviews of all four of ABC’s Wednesday night comedies, going in chronological order – “The Middle,” then “Suburgatory,” “Modern Family” and “Happy Endings” – coming up just as soon as as I explain the reverse Andre the Giant to you…

“The Middle” is one of those shows that I tend to let sit on the DVR for a while, so by the time I’ve seen an episode, it’s long past time for any interesting discussion here. But they’ve been having a very strong, consistent season – with the exception of the unfortunate Passat commercial disguised as an episode of the show – and “Valentine’s Day III” nicely illustrated why. Though Brick seemed like the breakout character in the show’s early days (and remains funny), Eden Sher has been absolutely killing it as Sue Heck this year, and Sue’s confusion and disgust over French kissing was just marvelous. I also appreciate how the show manages to have sweet moments without undercutting the comedy, like Brick’s paper pointing out all the ways that his parents really show their love being immediately appropriated by Axel for his own class.

That was one of the stronger “Suburgatory” episodes of the season, I thought, as the show had a lot of fun with Scott Strauss overdoing the Zambia thing (and Tessa playing into it when convenient: “Kiss me, Scott. Kiss me like I’m Africa.”), with George making Lisa and Malik uncomfortable (“Can I call my mom to come get me?”), Jocelyn finally having her way with George (“I’m going to slide down your chute and climb up your ladder!”) and, especially, Dallas putting her shoes on to scuff her soon-to-be-ex’s floors by doing an awesome dance to Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger.” But perhaps the most impressive part of the episode was how, despite George spending the whole episode trying to shut down Tessa’s relationship, there was only one brief moment (George being annoyed Tessa has a date on game night) where it even vaguely came across as the alt-narrative where George and Tessa are a couple and he was just jealous. No, George just came across as a concerned, confused, clumsy dad not sure what to do about his little girl becoming a woman before he or she may be ready, and without the distracting accidental subtext out of the way, everything was much funnier.

My expectations for “Modern Family” have gotten pretty low at this point. The show’s a bigger hit than ever, and so I can’t blame the writers for leaning on the same character beats over and over (Cam overreacts to a perceived slight, Claire flips out that no one’s as upset about something as she is), since their audience at large seems perfectly happy getting exactly what they expect each week. That said, these guys are talented enough that there are always some clever jokes sprinkled into the various predictable situations. So even though the Greg Kinnear plot felt like an expansion of that “SNL” sketch about the family who kisses too much, I got a kick out of Jay’s matter-of-fact reaction to Cam and Gloria sharing the house (“It’s noisier than usual around here”) or Phil’s constant attempts to revise his comments (“Only I can take her to bed and make her laugh”). Plus, Betty Luke! Let’s just hope they can leave well enough alone with that gag, as opposed to pulling a Fizbo and putting Nolan Gould in a dress once a season to diminishing returns.

“Happy Endings” also did the Valentine’s Day thing like “The Middle,” and wound up with a pretty hit-or-miss episode. Now that the writers have turned Alex from a liability into one of the show’s funniest characters, I’d like to see them figure out a way to do the same with Dave, since stories that have him solo tend not to work. And his story was tied to a Penny plot where I think they pushed her too far over to the selfish/neurotic/judgmental side of the ledger. And yet despite neither of those stories adding much (other than “You asked my aunt how she felt after her ‘full hysterecto'”), Brad’s trip to the dentist was a delight, from his musical number-style entrance to Damon Wayans doing a lot of amusing slapstick once Brad got too high from all the goof juice. (I can’t decide between him putting his hand in the chocolate or him – and the show – finally acknowledging the “Friends” comparisons and calling the gang Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, Monica and Fat Joey.) I was also glad to see James Wolk pop up as Grant, not just because I still have affection for all two episodes of “Lone Star,” but because the show has so rarely dealt with Max’s romantic life, and I think there’s a lot of very fertile territory there. It’s fun to see a Max who isn’t so aggressive and convinced of that his idiocy is actually secret genius, and I look forward to more of them as a couple.

What did everybody else think?

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