Back in my youth, we would put down our abacuses and plows and gather around the campfire to watch NBC's proud Thursday-night comedy block, a dizzying array of three-camera sitcoms that would culminate with Seinfeld. Now the world is a different and better place. Our headlines regularly use the word "google," our phones are full of furious birds, and television comedy is often dominated by ABC's Wednesday-night comedy block: The Middle, Suburgatory, Modern Family, and Happy Endings form a solid two-hour span of some of the most beautifully filmed and (more importantly funny) comedies TV has to offer.
While each of these shows are standalone funny, running them alongside each other can heighten their overall effect, creating a symphony of laughter in your living room. This also makes it painfully obvious when one series has a bad episode and breaks the momentum. To better chart the block's highs and lows, we are going to impose a rating system, a 1-10 scale similar to that of the Olympic games. In this scale, "10" is PERFECT, it makes you laugh so hard you forget your name and milk comes out your nose (and you weren't even drinking milk) and the CIA recruits all the writers to formulate the ultimate weapon: uncontrollable laughter. "1" is like, Work It. On this scale, a 5 is a solid respectable pass, and anything over 5 indicates above-average quality, which nears perfection as we break through 8 and 9. We'll assign a score for each show, rank them to see who shone the brightest, and get our block average to weigh alongside the rest of the season. So put on your referee vest and judging cap and get out your red pens, because it's time for the inaugural installment of...
... FOR THE WINSDAY!
Note: Since all of ABC's comedies were in reruns last night, we're considering this week sort of a pre-season scrimmage.
THE MIDDLE: "Hecking Order" (repeat): The most endearing part of this episode was Patricia Heaton taping the sides of the washing machine before she turned it on, without the show ever acknowledging it. I liked the subtle notes of cheerful poverty mixed in with the big roomy themes (who is head of the household in the kids' eyes: mom or dad, and why?), and the more specific storyline was charming (Sue's fight to get from swim class to algebra, with her antagonistic brother Axl secretly helping her). However, a lot of the Malcom in the Middle-esque family dinners were disrupted by my constant inner monologue going, "Why is Patricia Heaton wearing a wig? What does she have under it, a pantyhose foot tied in a knot at the top? Does she just think every non-celebrity mom has miserable hair?" The episode also lost points for not getting a single jazzy bray of laughter from me. Chuckles yes, squeals no. SCORE: 5.4
SUBURGATORY: "Halloween" (Repeat): If you're going to air a repeat, make it the Halloween episode, I always say. My crush on this show was only heightened by the opening shot of a pair of horrified middle-aged twins in jumpsuits staring at Tessa and her dad setting up a guillotine in their front yard for All Hallow's Eve. A little supernatural thrill was eked out of the Misty plotline (Tessa channeled a girl who had died in her room! Or at least wore some of her old hair accessories), and Dallas and George got together to watch scary movies and continue their charming banter. Suburgatory always teases those two as a would-be couple, but the sexual chemistry between Jeremy Sisto and Jane Levy is almost disturbing. Maybe it's just me, but they always seem to be moments away from making out. Also, there were several hard laughs, including one girl dressing up for Halloween as a sexy mushroom. ("Thanks Shitake!") SCORE: 6.4
MODERN FAMILY: "Hit and Run" (Repeat): This show is always a joyful romp, but way to throw in a David Cross cameo AND an appearance by Samm Levine! I was kind of disappointed by how sparingly these two were used, but at least their characters earned some hard laughs, and the physical comedy of the episode quickly transported me away from looking for things to complain about. Watching Ty Burrell give his boy an accidental black eye was just slightly more funny than watching Jesse Tyler Ferguson wrestle a shady hipster from a fence to a lawn when all the men in the family went to recover $900 that Haley had been scammed out of while trying to buy fake IDs. As usual, the show wasted little time on parsing morality and a lot more time on the more humanistic quirks of the older generation (including a hilarious refrain by Sofia Vergara that she has ALL THE ANSWERS). The show lost points for ending the episode with Gloria using her cleavage as a way to sell closets to Samm Levine. SCORE: 6.7
HAPPY ENDINGS: "Mein Coming Out" (Repeat) Sometimes this show looks way too pretty to be a comedy. It doesn't help that Damon Wayans Jr. is hot as the fire and Eliza Coupe, Elisha Cuthbert, and Casey Wilson are drop-dead gorgeous. This episode, Max had the chance to sport each of these fine ladies as his beard while his parents were in town, ultimately deciding he would come off better by simply coming out to his parents instead of claiming to be in a relationship with any of the hot messes the girls devolved into by the end of the episode. Casey Wilson shone in a storyline that involved meeting the perfect guy who's last name was Hitler, and while Hitler humor can be tricky, the show really went for the edge and even got in some solid sight gags (Mr. & Mrs. Hitler written in cursive with little hearts made my day). One of the better "coming out" episodes I've seen on TV, "Mein Coming Out" won major points for approaching that issue with candor and normalcy. The episode lost points for ending with every character smiling in tableau—charming eye candy, sure, but it went on maybe half-a-beat too long. SCORE: 6.8
1. Happy Endings with 6.8 FOR THE WIN!!!
2. Modern Family with 6.7
3. Suburgatory with 6.4
4. The Middle with 5.4
THIS WEEK'S BLOCK AVERAGE: 6.3!!! Well done, Wednesday, that's like a B+ in a hard class.
... How would you rank the shows of this week's ABC Wednesday-night comedy block?
... Which episodes should have gotten a higher score? Which ones should have gotten a lower score?
... What lines stood out as FTW and which lines were EPIC FAILS?