Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Stuck in The Middle of a Modern Family With You"

OK, let's talk a little TV. OK, let’s talk a lot of TV. I’m no fancy critic. I just have some stuff that I like to watch. And, I just have some questions and issues sometimes with the stuff I’m “compelled” to watch and with the stuff that critics, public relations types and those who make the nominations for things like the Emmys try to shove down my throat.

Plus, I’m getting old. I’m in the demographic that nobody gives a rat’s ass about anymore. (One of these days I’ll do a post about what a waste it is to put good stuff on at 10 p.m. or later when guys like me have a hard time forcing ourselves to stay awake later than 10:15—and how guys like me are just too cheap and technologically ignorant to get a DVR).


Yeah, but. But it’s been bugging me that in this year of 2010, there are 2 “family” sitcoms on ABC on Wednesday night. We really like one and can kind of be amused by the other. One is nominated for all kinds of Emmys and one isn’t. Guess which one we happen to like? Yep, the one that’s never mentioned.

I was off work Wednesday night and got to watch them (which doesn’t happen that often anymore). And it totally reinforced my point of view. But let’s start with just a bit of history, OK?

So, I’m thinking first of a couple of shows from the 70’s & 80’s which were African-American themed. One was “Good Times”. The other was “The Cosby Show”. Both were popular. Both were stilted. But which was more “real”, the one about a struggling family in Chicago or the one about the affluent family in New York City? Good question.

How good would “Good Times” have been if Jimmy Walker hadn’t constantly shouted “Dyno-mite!”? How good would “The Cosby Show” have been if Cosby had played the John Amos role and Phylicia Rashad had been a domestic named Florida? Do we identify more with an OB/GYN and a lawyer vs. blue collar folks?

And then let’s look a little further down the pike at “Home Improvement” vs. “Roseanne”. Forget for a second that Roseanne Barr was just basically obnoxious, because so is Tim Allen. Which of these is the prototypical family? Tim “the Toolman” Taylor or Dan Connor? Blue collar vs white collar?

I guess that’s my point. Historically, family sitcoms have featured decidedly “white collar” families. One of the earliest exceptions being Archie Bunker. OK, go back as far as the “Honeymooners” too.

At long last, here’s my point. I’m really disappointed and actually kind of pissed off that “The Middle” hasn’t received the accolades, nominations and attention that “Modern Family” has received. (Hell, Al Bundy was a blue collar schlep).

How many people can actually identify with a blended family with a rich, retired patriarch married to a Hispanic “trophy wife”, with a tight-assed daughter and son-in-law and their indulged kids along with a gay son with a partner and adopted daughter. Quite frankly, the only characters I find myself liking are the gay son and his partner, who I would like to see having their own show and to hell with the rest of their family.

Is it because we want to be like these folks? Narcissistic, self-absorbed, living what could be best described as a life with no economic or social worries? I don’t want to be like those people. I don’t want to watch people like that or have anything to do with them. Their “situations” aren’t amusing to me in the slightest (with the exception of Fisbo the clown squealing his way out of a kids party because of a bug).

But “The Middle”. Been there. Done that. Got both the scars and the t-shirt. Let’s hear it for the Midwest, that great hunk of land with real people and small cities and towns. And even people who aren’t from the midwest can laugh at it—because here it’s the “reality” of the situation which is funny. Where occasionally I might grunt at “Modern Family” in token amusement, Mike and Frankie Heck (Neil Flynn and Patricia Heaton) make me actually laugh out loud which is something that I do rarely, if ever, at something on TV shows or at the movies.

The premise of the show can be summed up in this quote from Mike Heck (Flynn was the guy who played “Janitor” on “Scrubs”). At the end of a trying day, he and Frankie are lying on their bed with an overhead camera shot. Mike says:

“I don’t think we’re lazy parents at all. I think we’re good parents who got stuck with crappy kids.”

This is Heaton as far removed from Ray Romano and Doris Roberts as she can get and she’s the central figure. A harried, working wife and mother living a “lower middle class” life in Indiana in “The Middle” of everything the nation. And it’s funny because so very, very many of us have indeed lived that life and raised those kids (or a facsimile of them).

The writing is incredible, capturing kids and parents. The pacing is outstanding—always moving. And the acting is fantastic. Flynn can say more by changing facial expressions in reaction to dialogue than most actors with a full script. He’s deadpan to Heaton’s frantic, hyper efforts at super-Momdom which tend to come up just a bit short of the kind of “live happily everafter” that is the norm today, especially on “Modern Family”.

(Brooke Shields was incredible as a "charismatic neighbor")

I guess we’re just weird, out of the mainstream people who don’t know good TV shows when we see them as to have so missed the mark by preferring “The Middle” over “Bundy Gets Class”. But, give me real people any day over the fantasy we’re supposed to think is cool. Bear in mind though, that I still think Sheriff Andy Taylor is a pretty cool guy too.

1 comment:

  1. yea i also hate those super happy modern family endings