Morning round-up time, and we're going to hit ABC's Wednesday comedy line-up in order, with quick reviews of "The Middle," "Suburgatory," "Modern Family" and "Happy Endings" all coming up just as soon as I start an organic lesbian catering venture...
While the other ABC Wednesday comedies will mix things up in terms of style or tone or just who's interacting with who, "The Middle" wisely keeps it simple and tells stories we've seen a million times before on other family sitcoms but that still work if executed well. Frankie and Mike leaving the kids to their own devices was a familiar idea, but the specific details — Axl getting stuck with Sue's creepy friend, the dad at the bowling alley seeking advice from Mike, and, especially, Brick being repeatedly horrified by "Of Mice and Men" ("Someone at the ranch gave him a puppy!... Oh, he just killed it") — were funny, and I appreciated Frankie's acknowledgment at the end that there's no easy fix to the problem. It's just life, and life is messy and annoying sometimes.
A confession: While I'm historically a big Alan Tudyk fan, I have found him to date one of the more forgettable parts of "Suburgatory." The show has done a good job giving humanity to most of the other cartoonish citizens of Chatswin (Dallas and Dalia in particular), but Noah has pretty much stayed on that one leering horndog level. And if he were a funny cartoon, it might work, but I'm struggling to remember anything he's done or said this season that I've laughed at. I had hoped that giving him his own spotlight episode would start fixing the problem, but while "Fire with Fire" did add a few more shadings to his marriage, I spent most of those scenes waiting impatiently for the action to shift back to the kids, since Allie Grant (who's been terrific all year) was going to town on Lisa's temporary assimilation into Dalia's clique. I especially liked the brief "Freaky Friday" moment with Lisa dressed like Dalia, Kimantha dressed like Lisa, and everyone confused and unhappy. It nicely paralleled Jill's brief transformation into a Dallas-esque cougar on the adult end of things.
Quickly, on the guest stars: Wilmer Valderrama was fine (and playing very much to sleazy type) as Yanni, while The Situation's cameo just made me sad. First, what are the odds that anyone who's a "Jersey Shore" fan would tune into an ABC sitcom just to see him in a brief cameo? Stunt-casting almost never works anymore, and certainly not this kind of stunt. Second, why would you cast The Situation as a DJ? That's just confusing.
(Also, if you missed it, Fienberg did a good interview with Emily Kapnek the other day.)
There are weeks where "Modern Family" either has to ignore some family members or else feels like it's forcing a story to include them, but "Virgin Territory" did a good job finding something for everyone to do, and moving briskly from story to story so that none of them felt played out. Luke and Manny driving the car, for instance, was too thin to work as a full subplot, but as a couple of brief scenes? Funny. I was also glad that the Claire/Gloria story didn't go where we and Gloria assumed it was, and that the two finally found something they could bond over. (Even if, as has been previously established, Gloria's a crack shot and now has another thing she's better at than Claire.) And Phil and Haley's moment at the doll store (itself an amusing parody of the American Girl merchandising machine) felt appropriately sweet, and not forced, as some "Modern Family" moments do.
The only thing that really bothered me (other than Mitchell predictably outing "Ace" to Ernie Hudson and the other golf buddies) was realizing that I've now come to dread any scene involving Cam. Once upon a time, he was the best part of the show, but I feel like the writers have made him too whiny and sensitive and entitled, and all of his stories either involve him wildly overreacting to a perceived slight or, like tonight, him going to absurd lengths to prove himself right. Bleh.
Finally, "Happy Endings" had its usual barrage of jokes to make the episode enjoyable — Max as a hibernating bear never stopped being funny for me, for instance — but I felt like the Spring Smackdown story could have used another pass or two in the writing phase. They used a flashback to show us what a genuine version of the Smackdown looked like, but the whole process of this year's — from anticipation, to the faked fight by Brad and Jane, to Dave and Penny being miserable to the genuine fight to the genuine resolution — felt very rushed. (Alex pranking Penny in particular seemed dropped in from some other story.) Funny episode, but I feel it could have been stronger and tighter.
Also, if Team "Happy Endings" doesn't want the show to be compared to "Friends," they probably shouldn't drop in an "I love a Capade" joke, as the scene was practically word-for-word from a memorable Chandler Bing punchline.
What did everybody else think?