Finale Recaps and Season Reviews for MODERN FAMILY, COUGAR TOWN, and THE MIDDLE

     May 19, 2010

modern_family_cougar_town_the_middle_slice

The month of May brings many a season finale to our airwaves; over the next couple weeks, I will recap the finales a few of our favorite shows here at Collider, and use that as a jumping off point to discuss the direction of the season and the show as a whole.  After years of struggling with the live-action comedy genre, ABC mostly found success with their slate centered around  families of various shapes and sizes: the titular extended cadre of Modern Family, the close-knit group of friends of Cougar Town, and the middle-class Midwesterners of The Middle.  (Let’s just forget Hank ever existed, shall we?)

Hit the jump for a spoiler-filled dissection of each show’s finale, as well as the overall arc of the debut seasons of the three ABC comedies.

modern_family_cast_abc_tv_show

MODERN FAMILY, “Family Portrait”

With the acclaim and viewership Modern Famliy has been able to sustain throughout its buzzworthy first season, Emmy nominations in a variety of categories are a virtual lock.  Chances are that either Modern Family or Glee will depose 30 Rock for Best Comedy, and creators Steven Levitan & Christopher Lloyd have to be the odds-on favorites in the writing category for their efforts on the pilot.

rico_rodriguez_modern_family

The big unknown is the cast nominations: which actors will get the nod?  Will they give it to the broader characters (Ty Burrell’s Phil or Eric Stonestreet’s Cameron)?  The known entity (Ed O’Neill)?  An unlikely scene stealer (dare I hope for Rico Rodriguez as “young” Manny)?  Could the whole cast sweep?  I feel fairly confident about a nom for Julie Bowen on the female side.

If it’s not my favorite sitcom on the air, my favorite new sitcom of the season, or even my favorite new sitcom on ABC Wednesdays, it’s not far behind in any of those categories.  The series is consistently hilarious, and whatever awards it gets are well-deserved.  The creative team has earned the attention with a solid weekly combination of broad gags, wit, and heart.

The laughs are always there, but the best episodes (say, “Fizbo”) benefit from a clever plot.  In that sense, I don’t think the finale necessarily succeeded on all levels, what with the focus on the anal retentiveness of Claire.  But the scenes at the Lakers game were pretty great (Kobe Bryant!), as was the combination of Jay and Luke.  And as someone who has timidly attempted to herd a misguided pigeon out of a restaurant, the slow-motion “Ave Maria” scene was well-worth the rather labored set-up.

I could do without the heartwarming voiceover at the end, so I was happy that Luke felt the same way and chose the “Elvis stuff” over his grandfather’s monologue.  Ultimately, a solid end to a good season.

cougar_town_cast_abc_tv_show

COUGAR TOWN, “Finding Out”

Cougar Town is my favorite ABC Wednesday comedy and even rivals Community as my favorite new sitcom of the season, which is a little bit blasphemous.  I mean, it’s called Cougar Town!  How good can a show called Cougar Town be?  Well, not great at first.  I didn’t like the pilot much at all, but I followed Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence to the show, and I was willing to continue stay the course for at least a few more episodes.  As I (and the writers) got to know the characters better, the show became infinitely more enjoyable.   Brian Van Holt as Bobby was funny from day one — plenty to sustain the show through some growing pains. And by the time I became acquainted with Grayson’s inane songs, a bear dog named Travis, and the arcane rules of Penny Can (Penny caaaaaan!), I was hooked.

josh_hopkins_courtney_cox_cougar_townLet’s say the options for a male/female duo on any given show are:
a) just friends
b) committed relationship
c) will they/won’t they

I’m tend to prefer a) or b), as c) is often problematic (what will the random and unnecessary obstacle be this week?).  So I would have been happy with a) for Jules and Grayson, which is where I thought they were headed for most of the season.  But b) should be a viable option for the writers, assuming their relationship is more an unstated fact of life during season two.

The episode made good use of the Laurie/Travis combination, placing them as a Greek chorus of sorts in the background of the other characters’ plotlines.  Lawrence has expressed interest in pursuing a romantic relationship between the two when it’s no longer creepy;  Busy Phillips (30) and Dan Byrd (24) together is not creepy, but Laurie (early thirties) and Travis (18): kinda iffy.  Funny how TV works.  I’m on board for the shift if/when it happens.

The only minor drawback of the finale was that the characters were talking about Bobby more than they were talking with him, so it was kinda light on his patented hillbilly logic.  Instead, Van Holt had some nice slapstick material to play with (literally running away from emotional confrontation, acting with only his head on the beach), so all is well.

Like Jay’s closing voiceover on Modern Family, I could have done without the running-on-the-beach montage, but only because it theoretically came at the expense of another minute of laughs.  The scene itself suited the finale just fine.  The shelf life on Cougar Town may not be quite as long as that of Modern Family (in terms of viewership, not creatively), which is really too bad.  But I’m glad that we have at least one more season with this goofy group of characters.  Fingers crossed for a name change for season two*.

* Not that I can think of a better one. Cool-de-sac? Family Jules?  Yeah, Family Jules is worse.

the_middle_abc_tv_show_cast

THE MIDDLE, “Average Rules”

I don’t have much to say about The Middle, because I’ve only seen about half the episodes.  I find it rather charming when I’ve tuned in, though.  I am generally in favor of family-friendly comedies for those who enjoy them, depictions of true middle class families on television, and vehicles for Neil Flynn to say things.  Plus, the casting department should be recognized for assembling a solid group of child actors for the show; such is rare in execution.  I think I like the idea of an Emmy nominee pool that includes both Atticus Shaffer (Brick) and Rico Rodriguez somehow.

With internet meme Betty White guest starring as a librarian, I figured I would check out the finale.  It was very good, even if the Job-like character of Sue breaks my heart into a thousand tiny pieces.  I’m happy The Middle was renewed for a second season, where it will now lead off Wednesday nights with its fancy new 8:00 timeslot.  An apt place for a good all-ages show.

cougar_town_cast_abc_tv_show_red_ballon

With the acclaim and viewership Modern Famliy has been able to sustain throughout its buzzworthy first season, Emmy nominations in a variety of categories are a lock. Chances are that either Modern Family or Glee will depose 30 Rock for Best Comedy, and creators Steven Levitan & Christopher Lloyd have to be the odds-on favorites in the writing category for the pilot. The big unknown is the cast nominations; which actors will get the nod? Will they give it to the broader characters (Ty Burrell’s Phil or Eric Stonestreet’s Cameron)? The big star (Ed O’Neill)? An unlikely scene stealer (dare I hope for Rico Rodriguez as Manny)? Could the whole cast sweep? I feel fairly confident about a nom for Julie Bowen on the female side.

If it’s not my favorite sitcom on the air, my favorite new sitcom of the season, or even my favorite new sitcom on ABC Wednesdays, it’s not far behind in any of those categories. The series is consistently hilarious, so I’m happy with whatever awards it gets. The creative team has earned the attention with a solid weekly combination of broad gags, wit, and heart.

The laughs are always there, but the best episodes (say “Fizbo”) benefit from a clever plot. In that sense, I don’t think the finale necessarily succeeded on all levels, with the focus on the anal retentiveness of Claire. But the scenes at the stadium were pretty great (Kobe Bryant!), as was the combination of Jay and Luke. And as someone who has timidly attempted to herd a misguided pigeon out of a restaurant, the slow-motion “Ave Maria” scene was well-worth the rather labored set-up.

I could do without the heartwarming voiceover at the end, so I was happy that Luke felt the same way and chose the “Elvis stuff” over his grandfather’s monologue. Ultimately, a solid end to a good season.

Cougar Town is my favorite comedy of Wednesday night ABC comedy block and rivals Community as my favorite new comedy of the season, which is a little bit blasphemous. I mean, it’s called Cougar Town! How good can a show called Cougar Town be? Well, not great, at first. I didn’t like the pilot much at all, but I followed Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence to the show, and I was willing to continue stay the course for at least a few more episodes. As I (and the writers) got to know the characters better, the show became infinitely more enjoyable. Brian Van Holt as Bobby was funny from day one — plenty to sustain the show through some growing pains. And by the time I became acquainted to Grayson’s inane songs, a bear dog named Travis, and the arcane rules of Penny Can (Penny caaaaaan!), I was hooked.

Say the options for a male/female duo on any given show are:

a) just friends

b) committed relationship

c) will they/won’t they

I’m tend to prefer a) or b), as c) is often problematic (what will the random and unnecessary obstacle be this week?). So I would have been happy with a) for Jules and Grayson, which is where I thought they were headed after about episode seven. But b) should be a good choice assuming their relationship is more an unstated fact of life during season two.

The episode made good use of the Laurie/Travis combination, placing them as a Greek chorus of sorts in the background of the other characters’ plotlines. Lawrence has expressed interest in pursuing a romantic relationship between the two when it’s no longer creepy. Busy Phillips (30) and Dan Byrd (24) together is not creepy, but Laurie (early thirties) and Travis (18): kinda iffy. Funny how TV works, but I’m ready for the shift if/when it happens.

The only minor drawback of the finale was that the characters were talking about Bobby more than they were talking with him, so it was kinda light on his patented hillbilly logic. Instead, Van Holt had some nice slapstick material to play with (literally running away from emotional confrontation, acting with only his head on the beach), so all is well.

I was expecting they would finally nab the red balloon*, but if that becomes a series-long gag rather than just the season, all the better. Like Jay’s closing voiceover on Modern Family, I could have done without the running-on-the-beach montage, but only because it theoretically came at the expense of a minute of laughs. The scene itself suited the finale just fine.

I don’t think the shelf life on Cougar Town is quite as long as that of Modern Family, which is really too bad, but I’m glad that we have at least one more season with this goofy group of characters. Fingers crossed for a name change for season two**.

*Unless they did last episode. I was under the impression that it continued to elude their grasp at the end of the graduation episode, but I could be misremembering.

** Not that I can think of a better one. Cool-de-sac? Family Jules?

I don’t have much to say about The Middle, because I’ve only seen about half the episodes. I find it rather charming when I’ve tuned in, though. I am generally in favor of family-friendly comedies for those who enjoy them, depictions of true middle class families on television, and vehicles for Neil Flynn to say things. Plus, the casting department should be recognized for assembling a solid group of child actors for the show; such is rare in execution. I think I like the idea of an Emmy nominee pool that includes both Atticus Shaffer (Brick) and Rico Rodriguez somehow.

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