ABC’s Wednesday Premieres were part of, arguably, the biggest night of the television fall season. Let’s break them down one by one.
At first I was hesitant to watch the premiere, since I dropped this show out of my line-up early last year, but then I realized I really didn’t miss a thing. Frankie, Mike, Axl, Sue and Brick are the same characters as when I left them, the same they’ve always been. The middle class family in the middle of America dealing with the problems that come with both situations.
The first twist of the episode appears when Frankie (Patricia Heaton) reveals she actually feels no sadness at the impending departure of her only daughter. With Sue (Eden Sher) about to embark on her first year of college (a college conveniently shared with her brother, Axl, in an incredibly “sitcommy” move), Frankie doesn’t understand why she’s so fine with it all. This, at least, begins to comment on family dynamics, asking the viewer to decide on the acceptability Frankie’s lack of emotion.
On the comedic side, the biggest laugh of the episode should have come from Sue roasting her own hair off with a curling iron, but that was already a clip seen ‘round the world on vine a year ago, only real. Plus, we already saw Sue do it over and over again on the trailers for the season opener (and I really, really hate when series’ give up their best material like that). Overall, in this episode every family member had one joke they kept hitting over and over and over again.
When the emotional turn finally comes it’s heartfelt enough, but if you haven’t lived with these characters for the past six seasons it was too little too late. I’m officially out for the season, but if it lasts, I’ll check back in next September.
Adam’s balls dropped! This is weird. Sean Giambrone has been our everyman as long as this show started, playing the young nerdy brother struggling to get a grip on the world around him while still holding onto the nuances that make him the individual he is. This season he’s already grown visibly taller and older, and is given an arc in this episode that reflects the change. While definitively the B story this week, Adam clings to his desire to keep his long distance relationship alive with (first hindrance, then) help from Murray and Pops.
The A story has a lot more depth, where best friend to Erica and girlfriend to Big Tasty, Lainey (new full time addition to the cast, AJ Michalka) must move in to the Goldberg home after the absence of her father, Shawn Hunter style for all my ‘Boy Meets World’ alums out there. Her subsequent role as the dividing factor, flip flopping from the side of the Smother to raging against authority in the third act “kick ass Risky Business party” drives the episode forward, infusing all 22 minutes with fresh life. Plus, that girl’s got some style!
When the big finish does come, it’s with both laughs and heartfelt smiles; Beverley (the bleep dropping Wendi McLendon-Covey) shows up at the party and saves the day, thoroughly embarrassing herself in a ‘Risky Business’ dance she commits to completely, then shares a moment with Erica (the phenomenally talented Hayley Orrantia) that hits home far better than ‘The Middle’ did 30 minutes prior.
Sarah Hyland (oldest daughter Haley on the show) has been stretching her acting wings on the last couple of seasons of ‘Modern Family’. Her arc with long running guest star and ‘Workaholics’ alum, Adam DeVine, hasn’t always delivered the biggest laughs, but it has kept the interest level increasing as the series moves forward. We all know none of the three main couples will ever split, so Haley and Andy’s “will they or won’t they?” gave last season of ‘Modern Family’ dramatic stakes and a new serialized nature to the show. And even though one of the things I’ve always loved about the former best sitcom on television has been the refusal to submit to the serialization that so many other series’ rely on (‘New Girl’, ‘Big Bang Theory’, ‘Last Man on Earth’), seven seasons in there has to be a reason to keep on watching, and that’s this young would-be couple.
Now, Adam DeVine in a fat suit is a big play for the showrunners to go with, a surprise turn to be sure, and one that definitely got a laugh at its reveal, but has a real possibility to grow stale fast. But as Peggy Olsen showed the world, a good actor can use the fat suit to add dimension to the character they play. His mannerisms and nuances all reflected his newfound distress as he delivered punch line after punch line.
The structure of the episode was actually not all that different from the show’s usual format, with the three families telling their three separate story arcs over the first two acts, then converging into a main setpiece for the conclusion. The difference this time was that each act would jump forward a month over the summer, a convenient trick to both start where we left off last season, and also place the premiere in line with the current calendar month. Not only do we fast forward on Andy’s weight gain, but we also move right through Alex and Sanjay’s relationship all the way to their pre-planned breakup (that couple can be brilliantly funny, but in very small doses). The time hops worked as devices, but weren’t actually as fresh a structure as they presented.
When the inevitable conglomeration does come, there’s some crossover in the storylines (although still not much). Ed O’Niell delivers the funniest line of the episode, “Everybody has their mid-life crisis…yours is just a little gayer.” This is, of course, the show’s way of snapping Mitch out of his hippie painter arc (that didn’t work as a lawyer or as a bit) to end that character’s summer journey. But each of the other arcs were solved (or not solved) within their own dynamics, lacking the dovetailing ‘Modern Family’ usually does so well.
With ‘New Girl’ delayed until mid season, this is definitely the best sitcom on television (the verdict is still out on ‘The Muppets’), so I’m watching each episode religiously. The fact that Haley and Andy seemingly have a lot more arc to play out just links it all together.
‘Black-ish’ is another show I took a leave of absence from last season, not because I didn’t think it was funny, but simply because it just got lost in the shuffle. Hulu only has the last five episodes at any one time, you see. And I’m a busy man fighting a losing battle to keep up in this Golden Age of Television. I’m probably back in this season, as the social commentary on the series seems to be an important aspect of American television.
The second season premiere is set in motion when youngest son, Jack (Miles Brown) sings a Kanye West song for his school talent show, complete with the lines “I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger” and also the accompanying rhyming line. Of course, this causes problems. They hit you over the head really quick with “the word” (it’s bleeped every time), and then talk about it for the first 15 minutes to where you’re almost numb to it. But it still hangs over the episode (and the audience) as a glaring, ominous storm, leaving you wishing there was never any of the crap in this country that led to all this in the first place.
The “who can say it 101” scene was easily the funniest moment of the episode: “Bill Clinton probably shouldn’t say it, but I wouldn’t be mad if he did.” Not that they’re making light of the different stigmas for using offensive language, but they are commenting on certain demographics and their refusal to side against my main man, Billy Jefferson Clinton.
Jack’s pending expulsion for hate speech leads Dre (series frontman Anthony Anderson) to question his own feelings on the controversial word. At first he’s completely of the mindset that anybody black (or black-ish) should have a right to the word. It’s only through being ambushed by his other son while in the shower (don’t ask) that he starts to doubt his feverish encouragement of his son’s use of the word. The conclusion to the conflict is a bit “too easy”, as dad bursts into the school board hearing and makes a speech, and then everything goes back to normal. But expecting anything more in a 22-minute sitcom is foolish. When it’s all said and done, this was an important episode of television, with the moral of the story being that you must decide for yourself what’s acceptable and what you choose to accept.