TV Review: ABC’s Wednesday Night Comedy Block

bill bodkin looks at ABC’s Wednesday night sitcoms …

ABC’s new Wednesday night comedy lineup looks to be one of the strongest sitcom blocks the station has produced since its “TGIF” (Thank Goodness It’s Funny) promotion in the early ’90s.

Remember that original lineup?

Perfect Strangers, Full House, Family Matters, Step By Step — massively popular sitcoms, that while we might look at today with a sarcastic roll of the eyes, back then were the “dream team” of sitcom lineups.

One incarnation of ABC's TGIF line-up: Family Matters, Full House, Boy Meets World and Dinosaurs

Flash forward 20 years, and ABC seems to have recaptured the ratings magic with this new quarter of sitcoms. Last week’s rating proved that this lineup is a dominant Wednesday night force. Their lead-off show, The Middle, starring Patricia Heaton, was third with 8.6 million viewers. This was behind The X-Factor and Survivor — not bad considering one show is a heavily promoted new American Idol-esque show and the other has been a TV institution for a decade-plus. In the 8:30 slot, the premiering sitcom Suburgatory scored 9.8 million viewers, nearly three times the audience as NBC’s premiering sitcom Free Agents. Not surprisingly, Modern Family was in beast mode, scoring 13.45 million viewers, scoring the highest ratings of the night. While it narrowly edged out CBS’ Criminal Minds for the time slot victory, it trounced NBC’s Harry’s Law and the CW’s America’s Next Top Model. And finally, ABC’s comeback kid, Happy Endings, went unopposed in the 9:30 time slot, scoring 7.25 million viewers.

While audiences seem to be in love with this line-up, Pop-Break wants to take a critical look at this foursome to see if they’re all worth checking out …

The Middle
Starring: Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond), Neil Flynn (Scrubs), Chris Kattan (Saturday Night Live)
Plot: The daily mishaps of a married woman and her semi-dysfunctional family and their attempts to survive life in general in the city of Orson, Indiana.
Our Thoughts: The title of the show perfectly sums up how I feel about it. To quote comedian Patton Oswalt, “From the creators of ‘meh’ and the writers of ‘neh’ comes ‘buuuh.'” The Middle just doesn’t do it for me. It’s so “middle” of the road. It’s not outlandishly funny nor is it put-yourself through a window unfunny. It’s a safe sitcom that will get a few chuckles out of you on the occasion, but it’s nothing to write home about. It’s the type of program you can have on in the background while you work on something. When I first saw the show last season, I thought it was destined for cancellation, but for some reason people tune in every week.
Should You Tune In: It’ in no way must-see, but you could do a lot worse.

Suburgatory
Starring: Jeremy Sisto (Law & Order), Jane Levy (Shameless), Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Alan Tudyk (Firefly)
Plot: A teenage girl from the city moves with her dad to the suburbs.
Our Thoughts: Initially I thought that Suburgatory could be something really unique — a kind of random, Scrubs-esque sitcom chock full of witty voiceovers, left-of-center skewering of suburban life and just random, out- there humor. Well, the trailers done did me wrong. Suburgatoryat times is agonizingly bad. Jeremy Sisto, who was great on Law & Order, seems really out of place in a sitcom. He looks like he’s on the verge of laughing every second, and he doesn’t have the right balance of gruff city guy and really optimistic dad — he’s either one or the other. Jane Levy also doesn’t work as our main character. The role seems designed as this sassy, smart, sarcastic Emma Stone in Easy A-type character. However, the role would work a lot better if Emma Stone was actually in the show. So since Stone is a major Hollywood actress, ABC got the next sassy redhead they could find and plopped her into the role. I think Levy is a good actress, but this just isn’t the role for her. The only highlight here, to no surprise, is Alan Tudyk as Sisto’s friend, an eternally tan, air-headed yuppie. He’s brilliant in the role.
Should You Tune In: The show could turn it around, but I won’t be there to find out.

Modern Family
Starring: Ed O’Neill, Julie Bowen, Sofia Vergara, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet
Plot: A satirical look at three different families and the trials they face in each of their own uniquely comedic ways.
Our Thoughts: Modern Family is, in my opinion, the best sitcom on television today. The writing is smart, but it’s not too in it’s own head like 30 Rock. It’s emotional, heartfelt, but yet it doesn’t mind going for the simple, physical comedy or sight gag. There was a number of complaints at the end of last season that the show was loosing steam, but I didn’t see it. And so far into Season 3, the show hasn’t let up. From the hour premiere special on a dude ranch, featuring an awesome cameo by O Brother, Where Art Thou‘s Tim Blake Nelson, to last week’s segment about Phil (Ty Burrell) learning how walk the tight rope, this season has been on fire. While the Manny (Rico Rodriguez) character is starting to become a little tired with his precociousness, the creators have seemed to ramp up Phil’s sublime idiocy, Bowen’s anal retentiveness and the dynamic between Mitchell (Ferguson) and Cam (Stonestreet).
Should You Tune In: Best sitcom on TV. It’s a must-watch.

Happy Endings
Starring: Eliza Coupe (Scrubs), Elisha Cuthbert (24), Damon Wayans Jr. (New Girl), Zachary Knighton (The Hitcher), Adam Pally (A Solitary Man), Casey Wilson (Saturday Night Live)
Plot: An altar-bound couple break up on their wedding day, forcing their friends to choose which side to take after the split.
Our Thoughts: Last spring, three sitcoms about couples and their friends debuted — Perfect Couples, Traffic Lights and Happy Endings. And all three were canceled. Or so we thought. ABC, after pulling the plug on Happy Endings, brought the show back after re-running it all summer long on ABC and ABC Family. (And for those wondering, the reason why Damon Wayans Jr. was only on one episode of New Girl is because he believed Happy Endings was canceled and signed on with New Girl. Once Happy Endings got greenlit for a second season, he came back.) I didn’t check out the first season. I was more of a Traffic Lights fan, but after tuning into the second season premiere, I’m hooked. The show is random and off-the-wall, very reminiscent of the early days of How I Met Your Mother, minus the plot gimmick and Neil Patrick Harris. What makes Happy Endings work, is that all the characters are pretty much insane in their own right. Even Elisha Cuthbert, who’s been “the hot girl” in everything she’s done outside of 24, is pretty hilarious. The characters/storylines that make Happy Endings so good is the bromance between straight, married Brad (Wayans) and his openly gay best friend Max (Pally), as well as the hilariously afraid of becoming a spinster, single girl Penny (Wilson).
Should You Tune In: If sitcoms were like fantasy football, Happy Endings has sleeper written all over it.

Bill Bodkin is the Owner, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He is beyond excited that Pop-Break will be seven years old in 2016 as this site has come a long, long way from the day he launched in it in his bachelor pad at the Jersey Shore. He currently works as a project manager in the telecom world, and is a freelance writer for NJ.com. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

1 COMMENT

  1. I really miss all those old shows like Family Matters. Those shows were completely awesome and they showed a lot of value in them. The new shows that come out leave as quickly as they come. I have heard some good things about a couple of them like Happy Endings. My co-worker from DISH is hooked to that show. I don’t know why but she is. I haven’t really seen it but I think I will try it out now that I have DISH’s TV Everywhere Technology. I just love having the ability to get live TV everywhere I go on my phone. It’s like a TV in my pocket. I can’t wait to see what this show has to offer. Thanks for the review brought back memories from the good days!