Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tonight's TV Talk: 'The Middle', 'Suburgatory', 'Modern Family', 'Happy Endings', and 'Revenge'...

TV Talk for Wednesday, January 18th 2012

The Middle (ABC, 8pm) - S3, Ep14: "Hecking It Up" - I guess it's fitting that this episode felt a little behind the times because the Heck family lives in that pocket of America that certainly feels the same way-- with their rounded televisions and bob haircuts... I'm not saying getting excited over a Super Bowl coming to town or having access to a new car is behind the times (though, if that's all the excitement you have, it's still a little sad), but the way in which they reacted to it was. Take Sue (Eden Sher), for example: her decision to tell her boyfriend (Moises Arias) she loved him came out of fear that she could die at any moment and she wanted her last words to be nice ones. But, um, shouldn't that have been a revelation she had last week-- after coming back from a relative's funeral?? And how come no one considered they would be found out about using their neighbor's brand new car by the mileage gauge going from, I don't know, eight to a whopping couple of hundred? That's the kind of thing simple people let slip past them. This just felt super thin on plot-- I get it, the family needed to learn a lesson about being grateful for what they do have and not coveting thy neighbors' whatever, and all that, so Frankie (Patricia Heaton) could smile over the fact that she was involved with the Super Bowl, even if she was just directing traffic or managing the bathroom line. But I need more than that these days. Even the stuff with what each family member did when they took their neighbor's car for a joyride was predictable and leaving me wondering how that could possibly be it. Plus, Frankie referenced people doing meth so much that I was convinced at the end of the episode, we'd learn the reason the neighbors were so nice and forgiving was actually because they were high. That would have been a tag to make the random jokes make more sense and really drive home the lesson of not coveting thy neighbors' whatever. Without it-- or any closure past them standing in the driveway-- the entire episode left me wondering how that could possibly be it. More and more I'm beginning to think this really should be moved to Tuesday nights; its sensibility is too simple when compared with the rest of the line-up. I guess it's a good thing it starts the night, rather than breaking the rhythm mid-way through.

Suburgatory (ABC, 8:30pm) - S1, Ep12: "The Casino Trip" - This episode was perfect. With an opening scene starting on a supporting character-- the whipped Fred (Chris Parnell)-- we were shown right off the bat that this would not be an ordinary episode. We would be treated to much more than just the usual passing lines of insight into other characters. For the first time in his history of sketch and cartoon characters, Parnell was able to dive into a character and showcase some very real, very human, and very funny sides. But more than that, by panning the camera in the opening scene from Fred to Tessa (Jane Levy), we were treated to two journeys that, although diverging on paths, ultimately had the same lesson to learn at the end. Both were keeping something from the one person they loved the most. And both were going to need a little help from a Royce family member to get through it. Reading into it too much? I don't think so. The smartest, tightest written scripts bread that type of analysis because you know the same amount of thought went in. The fact that Tessa was so pointed with George (Jeremy Sisto) about nothing ever happening in Chatswin; "that's why people live here" was perfect, too. After all, it called directly back to the pilot and why he moved her there in the first place. But with the crazy (and always refreshing) Lisa (Allie Grant) egging Tessa on, the suburbs may be more detrimental to George's psyche than any big city ever could be. I mean, come on: a "love box" is far worse than a box of condoms! Especially if there are no condoms inside. Lisa just needs more to do because everything is gold, and who doesn't want more TV gold??

Modern Family (ABC, 9pm) - S3, Ep13: "Little Bo Bleep" - There is something so fitting about the fact that everyone was talking about Lily (Aubrey Anderson Emmons) cursing in this episode, and no one said a damn word about Stella (Bridgitte) flinging herself into the pool when all of the characters claimed she couldn't swim. Clearly the dog could swim. Clearly Bridgitte should win the First Annual Golden Collar Award for Best Performance by a Dog in a TV Series. Clearly Aubrey wasn't saying the real F-word on set, nor did she even say it on-screen (it was bleeped). People. Be. Crazy. Having both storylines woven together is yet another example of really smart storytelling, in my mind. It was as if the show itself was responding to the ridiculousness of the controversy surrounding its episode. The same with Cameron (Eric Stonestreet)'s-- and later the entire church's-- giggle fit when Lily said what she said. It's not the word that's the problem; it's not even the kid saying it; it's the way we respond to it. For the first time in a long time, every character, every story point, every nitty, gritty detail felt on point and ahead of the curve tonight. It's as if the writers saw my mid-season report card and was up to the challenge of proving they could do better. It's a show that always should make As, and this episode alone would get that for Claire (Julie Bowen)'s inability to control her hands. Even if they did clearly steal Happy Endings' auto-tune bit (and auto-tuner)!

Happy Endings (ABC, 9:30pm) - S2, Ep12: "Makin' Changes!" - Every time Jane (Eliza Coupe) would list something Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) had going wrong for him when they first met, I was itching for a flashback to actually see it. What can I say? The show has trained me well. But knowing where the storyline was going from reading the summary ABC sent out, I understood we weren't getting the premature flashback because we were about to get a healthy dose in present day. That's so much more wrong. Wronger? Whatever, if that's wrong, I don't want to be right! So I spent a few minutes jonesing bad-- jonesing like Dave (Zachary Knighton) without his Vs-- but got my fix sooner than expected. And I don't know which I enjoyed more-- the skull cap, the pink streaks, the skateboard, the food bribery-- or whose side I would take in yet another crazy Brad and Jane fight. I just wish it would have ended with them eating their a bubble bath. Not that I need validation for my own life choices or anything... This episode also gave me another one of my favorite things: more Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) and Max (Adam Pally) teaming up! When he gets frustrated with her, I smile so big. The people in his favorite hoarding shows may not make his life look "together" but sometimes Alex does. And the fact that both of them are so oblivious to it is even better. Not an okay oblivion? Ryan Hansen playing to type. Poor Penny (Casey Wilson). She can do so much better. And I'm not just saying that because I see myself in her. I even have that same Coach bag (though mine is lavender-- for spring). But poor Penny can't claim it's her year when she basically acted as a host of a make-over show without the cameras or paycheck and then watched all of her hard work march out and marry someone else. Although, on the bright side, if this is the year of switching jobs, she has a remarkable talent that could be very lucrative. I know a number of people-- guys and girls-- who want to change things about their significant others but fear the backlash when the person figures out what he or she is doing. If Happy Endings ever wants to do a spin-off...or a show within a show...

Revenge (ABC, 10pm) - S1, Ep13: "Commitment" - So we all saw the "Who's Charlotte's Daddy" story coming, right? But it doesn't matter. The mark of a good show is one that can tease a plot development well enough that it's not entirely shocking when you finally do see it but still keep you interested in seeing where it goes, rather than roll your eyes and say "What else ya got?" It's a tough line to tow, but Revenge has done it with a few things already, and we're only mid-way through season one. For example, I was hoping Emily (Emily VanCamp) and Nolan (Gabriel Mann) would decide to throw the real Emily (Margarita Levieva) under the bus (that bitch gotta go!), but Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) exposing her admittedly would have been such a more complex, fiery (no pun intended) way to go. Bottom line, as long as she's gone (for good), I'm a happy camper. I don't share Nolan's need to preach about methods and wrongdoings. It's just weird to see him as the conscience, but he really has become that-- for Emily and for this show in general. He's the way of the audience knowing where the line is. It should be Jack, but he's too wounded and more puppy dog than Sammy to really be effective at anything. Where would Amanda go? Really, Jack? You heard about her bad encounter with Victoria, and you know about her dad's history, so her getting out of dodge really should have been a 'when', not an 'if.' Jack, not his terribly accented brother, is the Townie I never expected the Hamptons to have. Also, Emily's feelings for Daniel (Josh Bowman) are growing more complicated on their own-- or so it might appear; she plays very close to the chest-- but a little part of her is still clearly hanging onto Jack (Nick Wechsler). It's been a while since we were reminded of that, but tonight from the way her face fell when she saw Jack and the real Emily on the boat to her curt responses when Daniel was clearly gearing up to propose-- well, I feel like Emily finally made it to the top of the staircase. And now it's about watching her lose her footing and spiral her way down. The fact that the violence getting out of hand was just pointed out to her? Well, violence and vengeance go hand in hand. Have since the days of Shakespeare. She just didn't have the perspective needed to see that the real power play was in the long-con-- taking down the regime from within ala Nicholas Brody. Again, even though the jolt she needed to realize that didn't come as a surprise to the audience, it was still powerful. There was a little spark back in her eye that we hadn't seen since she exposed Conrad (Henry Czerny)'s affair. I, for one, have missed that girl. She was the promise the show was sold on, after all.

Also, when Daniel answered "It's not possible" after Victoria said she didn't want him to think less of her? Unintentionally priceless.

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