Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cougar Town: Titles Are Hard

     Perhaps the worst named sitcom currently on television, ABC's Cougar Town is also one of the funniest.  The rotten concept the series began with was ditched early on in the first season, and the show morphed into something really great.  Debate raged last spring whether a name change may help the series pick up viewers, but a new one was never agreed upon.  As a nod to fans, this year's season premiere had "(Still)" above the title.  And since then, there has been a new tag every week making fun of the monkier.  This week's was "Titles Are Hard", which, to Bill Lawrence's credit, they are.  Still, I can't help but wishing they had made a change.  My favorite was the sligthly risque Family Jules, which is way more accurate as to what the show is about.

     That's because the show, whose central character is Jules Cobb (Courteney Cox), is now about her group, as they have become a family.  Yes, the other characters often all revolve around her, and her house is the hang out place.  She gave up on being a cougar a long time ago, and is now in a steady relationship with a more age appropriate man, Grayson (Josh Hopkins).  She's not the only one who was rapidly evolved.  Ellie (Christa Miller) and Laurie (Busy Philipps), who started out as bitter enemies still have their tiffs, but they have pretty much accepted each other, and even sometimes spend time together without common denominator Jules.  Jules's ex-husband, Bobby (Brian Van Holt), who was originally kind of a joke, is now beloved and accepted by all of the others.  Andy (Ian Gomez), while still not the one wearing the pants in his marriage, is valued by his wife, and can make decisions without her.  Even Jules's son, Travis (Dan Byrd), who at first seemed separate from the adults as they came together, finds frequent reasons to be home from college, hanging out with his parents' pals.

     If it all sounds honky dory, that's because it is.  Yet, it still delivers laugh out loud moments every week.  Whether it be a funny new song that Grayson makes up, a new drinking game, turning Travis's bedroom into a Jam Room, or everyone hanging out in Jules's renovated dream bathroom, simple, silly things make the comedy must-see.

     Last night, Jules's father, Chick, came for a visit.  He was played by Ken Jenkins, who was Dr. Kelso on ScrubsScrubs was, of course, created by the same man who does Cougar Town, Bill Lawrence, as his wife, Christmas Miller, has appeared in both shows.  Quick Bill Lawrence trivia: Not only does Travis currently attend college at the set used for the medical school in last season's failed continuation of Scrubs, but the original Scrubs hospital can still be seen every week in Cartoon Network's hilarious Childrens Hospital.  Bill Lawrence things just don't die.  Including Ken Jenkins, who was fresh as ever, and actually, thankfully, though I liked the character, wasn't very Kelso-y.

     The episode focused on Chick's refusal to show Jules much affection since her mother died.  Sure, it was perfectly predictable that the root cause would be because Jules reminded Chick too much of his departed wife.  But their reconcilliation after a big confrontation still jerked a few tears.  It made me wish Jenkins was on the show more regularly, and given Lawrence's penchant for constantly adding and bringing back recurring characters, coupled with his adoration of Jenkins, it could happen.

     The episode also was goofy just because of the Halloween element.  Ellie dressed up as Laurie, and Laurie dressed up as Ellie, leading to some choice one-liners.  Travis later showed up as Andy, which confirms once more that somewhere down the line, as Travis gets slightly older, the cougar concept may be revisited somewhat by a Travis-Laurie pairing, and while it would be weird at first, they do have great chemistry.  Even though she is his mom's friend, much older than him, so maybe not.  Chick was a bear, and no one knew he was at the bar for awhile (except observant or intelligent viewers).  Andy was Burt Reynolds, but as Grayson put it, looked like Dom DeLuise dressed as Burt Reynolds.  Jules thought Grayson was going to be a prince, so she dressed as a princess.  Grayson was actually the singer Prince, again, I saw it coming from a mile away, but still couldn't stop laughing.  Oddly enough, despite all of those great costumes, my favorite was Bobby's Windy Guy, mostly because Ellie and Andy had to have a serious conversation with a guy whose hair was gelled back and had pieces of trash stuck to him.

     If you're not watching Cougar Town, please give it another chance.  It's on right after Modern Family, and I know plenty of you watch that.  Check out Cougar Town Wednesdays at 9:30 on ABC.  In Lexington, ABC is found on channel 10 (antenna), 386 (satellite), or 908 (high definition cable).

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Glee - "The Rocky Horror Glee Show"

     If you're like me, you love FOX's Glee, adore the movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and were frequently uncomfortable when the two combined.  My first thought on hearing that Glee was staging such a production was, "You can't do that with high school kids!" This controversy was acknowledged repeatedly by characters, but still Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) pushed on with his plans to bring the risque, campy pop culture icon onto a drama stage.

     The people trying to stop him did not go far enough. Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) was worse than incompetent, telling Will he could go through with his plans, but any responsibility that came of it would fall on Will and his club. That isn't the slightest bit realistic. Sure, a teacher who went through with it would be fired, at the very least. But the principal would take a lot of the blame as well.  You can't stage a musical at a high school without the office's approval.

     Only Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) saw what was really going on, and she still enabled it. Sure, she actually debated logically, and created a very sane, reasonable news piece against it. But while wanting it to forward for her own personal gains (so she could win the local Emmy for her news bit), she participated in the show.  What she told Will about getting involved in the show for personal reasons, not to benefit the kids, applies to her as well.

     Body issues are a big worry on many high schoolers' minds. Usually this is thought of as a female problem, but Glee went in the other direction.  Finn (Cory Monteith), a popular football player, was extremely self-conscious about parading around in his underwear. Though, I admit, he made a wonderful Brad. New guy Sam (Chord Overstreet) was even more toned than Finn, with finely developed abs, but he worried about a bit of flab spilling over his Creature costume (if you can call a small piece of gold fabric a costume), and later commented that a slightly pinch of skin was due to eating Doritos.  This is a serious issue, as many teenagers have easting disorders.  I'd like to see Glee pursue this plot with Sam, instead of dismissing it so trivially.

     I was uncomfortable with many of the performances and costumes, because although Glee does address sexuality, it should be done sparingly in a school setting. A teacher by profession, that may lend to my prudeness on the subject. I was, though, disappointed at how several of the songs were cut short, as I do love the music from Rocky Horror.

     My complaints aside, there was a lot to compliment as well. I wasn't overly impressed with the soundtrack I bought last week. However, when staged, Glee really rocked the songs it chose, and it chose the best songs from the show. In particular, I was very impressed with Mercedes (Amber Riley) belting out "Sweet Transvestite", though she changed "transexual" to "sensational", which was kind of an obvious tone-down ploy. The show left many potentially offense parts intact, but changed a word in a signature song? Still, kudos to her.

     A close second favorite was "Touch A Touch A Touch A Touch Me", done by Will and Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays). I have been thinking that she better fits with Carl (John Stamos, who rocked "Whatever Happened to Saturday Night?" in his own right). Her scandalous song and dance with Will was hot, and opened the door for the Glee Club Director and her again. It was definitely taken to another level by the voyeuristic exploits of Santana (Naya Rivera) and Brittany (Heather Morris), mirroring the spying antics of Columbia and Magenta in the movie.

     Santana also did a fair job on "Science Fiction Double Feauture", though I miss the less polished voice from the movie. I'm not sure it should have sounded so good. Although barely featured in any songs, I also have to mention that Kurt (Chris Colfer) made a divine Riff Raff. He had the motions and facial expressions down perfectly, and looked the part.

     Lastly, it was a thrill to see two of the original Rocky Horror movie cast members do a scene. Barry Bostwick (Spin City), who played Brad, and Meat Loaf, who was Eddie, were two cable news executives who asked Sue to do her expose. It was a nice little homage to the movie this episode was based on, and always a pleasure to see those two again. I just wish there had been more Rocky actors involved.

     Even though Glee took last week off, this was just a special Halloween episode, and the show will also take a break next week.  Then I assume it will be back all through November sweeps; a Christmas episode is also in the works.  Glee airs on FOX Tuesdays at 8pm.

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Article first published as TV Review: Glee "The Rocky Horror Glee Show" on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Better With You is better than most

     When I watched the pilot of ABC's Better With You nearly five weeks ago, I thought it was amusing, but perhaps lacking in that special something that makes it worth tuning in week after week. I didn't watch a second episode until yesterday. But when I did, I had to watch a third. And a fourth. And a fifth. I joyously devoured the entire run so far of what I consider the best new sitcom this year, though admittedly the competition isn't steep.

     Better With You has a team of experienced actors at its center. The parents are Joel (Kurt Fuller, Psych, Supernatural) and Vicky (Debra Jo Rupp, That '70s Show), a couple that has been together a few decades, are definitely set in the way they do things, even if it's not always the best way. For example, in one episode, the other characters were trying to figure out ways to resolve their problems, while Joel and Vicky just passive-agressively hid each others' stuff. Both actors are tops, and play much the same character they have before, but do it wonderfully. They conceit is wonderful, and Vicky has more of an edge that Rupp played on That '70s Show. Their chemistry is believable, though far from romantic, but I believe that's what they're going for.

     Their eldest daughter, Maddie (Jennifer Finnigan, Close to Home, The Bold and the Beautiful) has been with her beau, Ben (Josh Cooke, Big Day, Four Kings) for almost one decade, and live happily together, but have no plans to get married. They consider that a "valid life choice", though Joel and Vicky disagree. Recent plot has centered on Joel not considering Ben part of the family, and Maddie's frustration with that. Even in 2010, choosing not to get married seems a little weird, but as more people are doing it, it's nice to see it respresented so well on television. That doesn't mean I'm not rooting on them to tie the knot down the road (series finale?). However, if they do, will that invalidate the relationship they are portraying? Possibly. Interestingly, Finnigan and Cooke starred opposite each other in the short lived sitcom Committed back in 2005. I remember enjoying it, and it's gratifying to see them reunited.

     Younger daughter Mia is played by the talent Joanna Garcia, who starred in the ill-fated Privileged, and more recently did a four episode stint on Gossip Girl. She became engaged to Casey (Jake Lacy, the one unknown in the cast) in the pilot, and also admitted that she was pregnant with his child. We're only a month into the series, but Mia and Casey have only been together for two months. They seem to be adapting to living together quite well, and are lacking many of the problems a couple in their situation would face. The characters are so charming I forget that when I'm watching, but hopefully a little more depth will better round them out.

     The six starring players have plenty of failed shows this decade between them, although a lot of those failures weren't bad. Hopefully the mix of them together will prove to be the right formula to keep them on the air. They're off to a good start. ABC recently ordered a full season of the series, so they're not going away anytime soon. The comedy is good, but there is also sweet affection between them. The grown up sisters are still close, and while a tight-knit family is far from rare on television, another good one is always welcome. Plus I can't think of a show quite like it on the air, in terms of the way it delivers.

     My only complaint is the theme song and transitions featuring those strips of pictures.  People don't really use those a whole lot, and it's not something I see the characters doing much of.  It seems forced and kitchy, and does not really fit in with the rest of the show.  In my opinion, ditch it.

     If you haven't seen it already, I recommend checking out Better With You. It airs Wednesday nights at 8:30 p.m. (ET) on ABC.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional tv news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Article first published as TV Review: Better With You is Better Than Most on Blogcritics.

Monday, October 25, 2010

TV Review: Running Wilde

     FOX's new sitcom Running Wilde hasn't gotten that much attention.  Despite following another new sitcom, Raising Hope which is a hit, and was the first show on network television picked up for a full season this year, not details on whether Running Wilde's run will be extended have merged.  Five episodes have aired, and I still haven't decided if I like it or not, though the show had plenty going for it, and I was initially excited.

     Starring Keri Russell (Felicity) and Will Arnett (Arrested Development) as Emmy and Steve, child sweethearts who were driven apart by the very different lives they lead.  Emmy was a maid's daughter for Steve's family.  Steve allowed his father to buy him off to give up Emmy.  Now adults, Steve wishes to have Emmy back, and Emmy is in a Peruvian rain forest trying to save a tribe from Steve's father's oil company.  When Steve invites Emmy to see him get a humanitarian award (which he is giving himself), she comes with her daughter, Puddle (Stefania Owen), in tow, though only so she can try to talk him into finally standing up to his father to help her cause.  By the way, there has been no mention yet as to who Puddle's father is, so it's certainly possible that she's Steve's, but Steve is clueless enough to never ask.  Or perhaps the backstory timeline for Steve and Emmy's relationship doesn't come close to Puddle's inception.  Either way, it'd be nice to have a little clarity there.

     By the end of the pilot, Puddle has convinced her mother to stay and live in Steve's treehouse so that Puddle can go to school and lead a normal life.  Emmy doesn't need much convincing, because even though she keeps shutting down Steve's romantic overtures, she is clearly very fond of him.  Plus, he's become her latest project, as she tries to mold him into what she considers a decent human being.  Oddly, Puddle narrates the series and almost seems billed as the star, but doesn't have a lot to do past causing her mother to move in the pilot.  This is definitely Arnett and Russell's show.

     Last week's episode clearly was the second episode, even though it was aired fifth, dealing with Emmy and Puddle first settling in.  Perhaps it was held back because it wasn't that funny, and other episodes aired early inspired more laughter.  I don't know, but I wasn't impressed.  I have chuckled at moments in the series, but not so much this past week.

     Of course, three people do not make a show.  Steve has two people working for him that are part of the starring cast: Migo (Mel Rodriguez), who is Steve's friend, even though he skims some of the fortune, and Lunt (Robert Michael Morris), the old queen that tutored him.  Both are good for a few punch lines, but have yet to have any real plot or depth.  Both were recast after the pilot, and Lunt's character originally had a different name and was a woman.  Fairing slightly better is Steve's neighbor / rival / best friend / foil, Fa'ad (Peter Serafinowicz).  Though Fa'ad was an enemy in the pilot and this past week's episode, other installments have showed him more as a friend.  Sure, a superficial friend, but Steve is just as shallow.  The two connect because of similar upbrings and attitudes, and I prefer it when Fa'ad is not just trying to one up Steve.

    Interestingly enough, Will Arnett's Arrest Development co-star David Cross plays recurring character Andy (also a recast from the Running Wilde original pilot), Emmy's fiance.  Arnett is also playing a supporting role on David Cross's new show, which is currently airing on IFC, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, as Cross's boss.  The two are wonderful together, and thankfully that has been used on Running Wilde somewhat, though not a lot.

     The jury is still out on whether this show will last, or whether it deserves to.  If you'd like to watch, good luck.  Running Wilde  has been running Tuesday nights at 9:30 on FOX, however, this week Raising Hope is doing a one hour special episode, so Wilde does not appear on the schedule.  It will be showing a rerun at 12:30 Saturday night (Sunday morning), and FOX's web site lists it's timeslot at Saturday at midnight, which is not a good sign.  It is unknown if it will return to Tuesdays, or burn off the remaining episodes on Saturdays, or just disappear all together.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional tv news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

The Good Guys is doing pretty good

Not in the ratings, sadly.  But creatively, summer's funnest show, FOX's The Good Guys, has gotten even better this fall.  Following the buddy cop formula, Bradley Whitford plays Dan Stark and Colin Hanks is Jack Bailey.  I've said it before, but I think Whitford, a fabulous actor, as proven by his long stint on The West Wing, is just plain having fun in this show.  That makes it enjoyable for the audience, when you see a guy clearly loving what he is doing.  Stark is obnoxious, backwards, sports a 70's 'stache, and goes on about the good old days.  Bailey is straight-laced, mostly by the book, though Stark has been rubbing off on him.  Hanks plays it wonderfully, too, finally a role that really suits him.

     The plot the last few weeks has gone a little further into character development.  Two weeks ago, we finally met Stark's old partner, Frank Savage (Gary Cole, Entourage, Office Space), who has long been retired, and given up his antics.  He lives a quiet life with wife, Cynthia (Rachael Harris, The Hangover, My Boys, Notes From the Underbelly), who does not approve of Dan coming back and upsetting their balance.  Also in that episode was Ethan Suplee (My Name is Earl, Chasing Amy) as Andy, the now-grown little boy that Stark and Savage saved back in the day, and a TV movie was made about it.  As the plot unfolded, one could see that Savage and Bailey are two quiet different partners for Stark.  Bailey tries to reign him in, while Savage lets the crazy fly.  They both clearly care about Dan though, with Bailey's affection grown into unwavering loyalty in just the short time they've worked together.  Do you blame him though?  Dan is nothing if not loyal, and while he can be a screwup, he is sincere and honest.  Obviously, while Stark and Savage have fun, with Bailey's influence, Stark can be a better cop than ever.

     This past week the guest talent kept coming, with Ed Begley Jr. (Gary Unmarried, Veronica Mars) as Jack's crooked but charming Uncle Nate, and Method Man (The Wire, How High) as an arson-happy villain.  Nate brought some needed background and depth to Jack, as usually the past we hear about it Dan's.  Dan also managed to drag his favorite snitch, Julius (RonReaco Lee, Worst Week, The Shield) into the fray, though Julius wasn't too happy about it.  It's always a pleasure to see Julius, and hopefully the series will keep him coming back.

     The show isn't all great guest casting, though the past two weeks have been among the best in the series.  It's about the characters that star every week.  There are two women in the opening credits, too, and though they don't often get much plot, they are wonderful actors.  Diana Maria Riva (Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip, The West Wing) plays the boss, Lt. Ruiz, while Jenny Wade (Reaper) is Jack's ex-girlfriend, whom he is still smitten with, A.D.A. Liz Traynor.  The two girls were featured a few weeks ago, as they attempted to bring down a Senator (Wade's former Reaper co-star Ray Wise) on their own.  It was nice to see the two out of an office, and while Bailey and Stark and definitely the heart of the show, hopefully the women will get more to play with, as they can certainly handle it.

     I highly recommend you check out The Good Guys, as they can really use a ratings boost.  The show is way better than many other shows with higher numbers, and one of the most laugh-out-loud cop dramas ever made.  It's not high quality television, but it's loads of fun.  The Good Guys airs Friday nights at 9pm on FOX.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional tv news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Office takes time for Michael

     I realize that Michael Scott (Steve Carell) has always been a major focus of NBC's The Office, but he's always been more than bit clueless, especially about himself. With Carell's days with the show dwindling, the series promised that they would stretch Michael in new and interesting ways, fully taking advantage of the actor's talents before he is gone for good. Last week's episode, "Sex Ed", though the title applied more to the other plot going on, was one of Michael's best episodes of the series.

     Michael gets a cold sore, and thinking that he has the same kind of herpes you get as a sexually transmitted disease, he revisits all of his ex-girlfriends to warn them. It was very satisfying to see or hear again all of the women Michael has been involved with over the years, there are quite a few of them, including one that hasn't been seen in many years. I think my favorite was Jan (Melora Hardin), who lost a lot of the crazy after being apart from Michael for an extended period of time. She has previously been represented as a sane person, but during her relationship, she and Michael fed off each other in such a bad way, dragging them both down in ways far from healthy. But Jan now seems much more stable and well-adjusted in her new job, raising her child as a single mother, and without Michael around.

     What Michael discovered, and what attentive audience members have always suspected, on some level, though it was sometimes not obvious, is that Michael builds things up in his mind to be bigger than they actually are. Sure, plenty of times, we've seen that in Michael. But often with the women, that part is left off screen. I was fully invested in Jan and Michael once upon a time, and I liked his relationship with several of the others. Michael, though, is the perspective we are most often treated to, and he was much more serious about these girls than they were about him. Especially in retrospect, remembering them. Michael just doesn't do this with women, but that was the case this week. And for the first time, Michael realized that was what he does.

     Which makes what Holly (Amy Ryan) said that much more heartbreaking. When I said Jan was my favorite, I wasn't counting Holly, as she is in a category all by herself. What she and Michael had was really real. They were perfect for each other, clicking so well. Unfortunately, after her forced transfer far away, she has been in a steady, long-term relationship for some time with another man. When she told Michael that he built them up, she was lying to spare his feelings. I was so gratified to see Michael realize this. Although, I'm not convinced that he's convinced. Michael is still deeply in love with Holly, and as he told the camera that it was different with her, he seemed to be trying to convince himself as much as the audience. I firmly believe that he is right, and for evidence, I point to the fact that Ryan is expected to appear in at least half a dozen more episode before Michael bows off the show at the end of the year.
     Clearly, The Office's writers, instead of going just for the laugh (which they very often do admirably), are going to take Michael through a journey of self-discovery, relishing the depths of a character who, at first glance, appears so surface. It's incredibly awesome to tune in and see it, and I say kudos to everyone involved.

     The Office continues tonight at 9pm on NBC.

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Article first published as TV Review: The Office Takes Time for Michael on Blogcritics.

Community grew into consistent funny

     I wasn't a fan of NBC's Community last year.  I think I watched two episodes, maybe a bit of a third, last fall, and found it much more stupid than amusing.  A friend told me that it improved by winter.  I gave it another chance, and the first episode I sampled at that time didn't impress me.  At her urging (she usually has really good taste in TV, especially comedies), I tried one more episode, and found it pretty funny.  And so, more because she was so excited about it, than because I wanted to, I pre-ordered the first season DVD and watched the whole season in a few days this fall.  I'm glad that I did.

     Community took a little time to find it's footing, but the reason that I wasn't much into it from my winter sampling was because it really builds on itself over time.  It's not exactly serial, although there are serial elements.  Most episodes are stand alone, though.  It's just that the characters go through a lot together, and somehow, the more you watch them, the more you grown fond of them, they way they have with each other.

     Last week in "Basic Rocket Sciene", most of the group is trapped in a KFC space simulator, except for Abed (Danny Pudi), who was so excited that he ran home to change into a space suit.  The episode parodied a number of astronaut movies as the study group tried to finish the simulator, while Abed and Dean Pelton (Reno 9-1-1's Jim Rash - why isn't he a main character yet?) guided them in.  And Pierce went crazy, an oppurtunity for Chevy Chase to act more weird and outlandish than he has in awhile.  He's a great comic actor, who has made some of the best and worth movies of all time, but I can see why he is enjoying himself in this show.  It was very funny.

     I'm still trying to figure out how Senor Change (Ken Jeong) fits into the show, though.  He was the mean teacher the first season, but then was fired, and has become a student.  Will he eventually integrate into the central study group, a friend to the other misfits?  He's not any more screwed up than the rest of them, after all.  Or will he morph into an even greater villain, intent on taking them down?  I can't decide which I'd rather see.

     The basic cast is led by Joel McHale (The Soup) as Jeff, but also includes Mad Men's Alison Brie as Annie, the aforementioned Chase, and occasionally, The Daily Show's John Oliver and the hilarious John Michael Higgins.  The lesser know actors, Donald Glover, Gillian Jacobs, and Yvette Nicole Brown have all also been around for awhile, and hold their own.  It's a true ensemble, and that's what works best.

     I have changed my mind on Community.  It's certainly not my favorite sitcom on television, but it's earned a season pass on my TiVo.  I hope it can do the same for you.  Community airs Thursday nights at 8pm on NBC.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional TV news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

TV Reviews: Brothers & Sisters

     I put off watching ABC's Brothers & Sisters when it first returned to the air this fall. I didn't do that because I don't like the show. On the contrary, I love it. But the events that unfolded at the end of last season, combined with known casting changes, made the thought of what the new episodes would be tough to stomach. I finally watched the first four hours, and it was as hard as I thought it would be.

     I was fully invested in Rebecca (Emily VanCamp) and Justin (Dave Annable) as a couple. They thought they were siblings for awhile, but ever since then, I didn't understand why their romantic plot had to be so rocky. They were perfect for each other, the attraction was obvious, and it took far too long for them to walk down the aisle. I was mad as hell that VanCamp decided to quit the show then, effectively forcing the writers to end something that had been so long in building. Rebecca's recent two-episode return helped with some closure, and certainly, her leaving for a job in New York to help her grow that way that Justin had makes sense. It was tied up as nicely as possible. However, I would feel much better about the whole thing if VanCamp remained in the cast, with a promise that she would return and they would end up together. I won't rule it out, especially if the show ends in the next season or two, but it is far from a sure thing.

     Similarly, I loved Kitty (Calista Flockhart) and Robert (Rob Lowe) as a couple. Between his heart attack, her cancer, and her emotional affair, I was livid with all of the troubles their marriage kept going through. Yes, I know to keep TV interesting, things have to happen. But for the McCallisters, it just seemed so much more than necessary. Lowe's decision to leave the series, coming after Flockhart's desire for a limited number of episodes this year, pushed them apart permanently. In this case, the writers chose death. Why, I do not know, as if Kitty would only appear every so often anyway, Robert could appear even less. He could leave the show, but still be her husband. I'm happy that Lowe has already signed on full-time for the upcoming season of Parks and Recreation, but he couldn't even come back and lie in the bed for the first episode, until Kitty pulled the plug? It left his death a much-less emotionally moving thing than it should have been. Not to mention, with both of their prior health problems, death felt like a huge cheat.

     Also, Tommy Walker (Balthazar Getty), who had appeared so infrequently, was dropped from the cast. I wish I could say that his gradual fading out made it easier, but it didn't. It's not the same to have the Walker family down a sibling. Sure, plenty of families have their black sheep, but the Walkers would want to keep theirs close, not let him leave.
     Can the show recover from such monumental shifts? I'm sure it can, if these past weeks are any indication. I found it physically painful to watch, especially the season premiere. My gut ached. However, the characters that remain still shine. I remember how furious I was that Sarah's (Rachel Griffiths) husband Joe (John Pyper-Ferguson) was gone after season one, but I'm glad that she is now in a long-term relationship with Luc (Gilles Marini, the only new full-time cast member). It will be an adjustment, and I can't remember a show that dropped such a heavy burden on the viewer all at once before. That may have been why a shortened season was ordered this year. But additional episodes have already been picked up, as the Walkers slowly go back to normal, so will the show.
     As I mentioned, Luc is now a main character. I wish they would do the same for David (Ken Olin). Obviously he is going to be in the picture for awhile to come with his position as Holly's (Patricia Wettig) condition. I hoped awfully hard all summer that Holly would return full-time, and I am gratified to see that it is so, though she's worse for the wear. I understand why Rebecca leaving might help her, but hopefully Justin will maintain what he is building with his now ex-mother-in-law, as it's such a moving story. I think that he will, based on the characters.
     The silver lining I see in all of this is perhaps Saul (Ron Rifkin) will finally get more screen time. As the uncle, he was always pushed into the background, and for four years hasn't had a great deal to do. He'd get expanded plot for a few weeks, and then fade into the background again. His dating life has been front and center lately, though I'm still just waiting for that to be it from him for awhile. I sincerely hope it is not, and his opening a restaurant with Scotty (Luke Macfarlane) may be a sign that the producers are also leaning in that direction.

     Brothers & Sisters airs Sunday nights on ABC at 10pm.
For frequent mini-reviews and occasional tv news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Article first published as TV Review: Brothers & Sisters on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I keep giving Mike & Molly chances, but...

     Five episodes.  Five half hours of my life I have devoted to watching CBS's new sitcom, Mike & Molly, and I'm left wondering, why?  There are two reasons I tuned in: Melissa McCarthy (Gilmore Girls) and Swoosie Kurtz (Pushing Daisies), both wonderful actresses in the right show, but even they aren't really enticing me.  Melissa's Molly is a harder character to like than even her stint on Samantha Who?, in which I, unfortunately, considered her a weak point.  I was hoping she'd get closer to Sookie in this role, who I really rooted for as she fell for Jackson, but sadly, no.  Swoosie plays a drunk, mean mother who isn't the least bit charming, and barely funny.

     That's the problem with the show.  It's barely funny.  It has gotten decent ratings so far.  It's from the genius who brought us the awesome series, The Big Bang Theory.  Unfortunately, said 'genius' also brought us Two and a Half Men, which despite great ratings, is a terrible show.  Mike & Molly falls somewhere between the two.

     I'm not offended by the fat people story, or the fat people jokes.  I think it's sweet when two people find each other, and Molly and Mike (Billy Gardell) seem pretty well matched.  The show keeps telling us that that's true.  Except, I don't sense a lot of chemistry there.  Again, I point to Sookie on Jackson on Gilmore Girls as a good example of chemistry, and this is not it.

     All of the supporting characters are one-note and pretty much useless.  Molly's sister, Victoria (Katy Mixon) would be nice comic relief, if anything she ever said was humorous.  Her sluttiness and drug use is much more sad than funny.  I can't figure out why Samuel (Nyambi Nyambi) is on the series at all.  Perhaps as a recurring guest star at the main characters' favorite dining establishment, he may have been ok.  But as a main character himself, being forced into plots he doesn't belong in, it falls more than flat.  Carl (Reno Wilson) is probably the most likeable.  His bromance with Mike is believable and nice.  Recent plot involved his jealousy over his best friend spending so much time with his new girlfriend, and that was probably the best part of the whole thing so far.

     The main problem is that here is a sitcom that isn't funny.  Sure, Mike and Molly have their share of trials as the inevitably grow closer.  The premise removes all romantic tension on whether they will get together.  But the things they do and say aren't charming, aren't laughter enducing, and oftentimes, it's obvious the writers are just trying too hard for a laugh.  A performer shouting "Look at me!  I'm doing something hilarious!" never is.

     I'd like to tell you to watch Mike & Molly, but I can't in good conscience do that.  I'd like to tell you that Mike & Molly has been canceled, but I can't do that either.  It looks destined to become one of those semi-long-running mediorce-at-best shows that is on the air for reasons I can't explain.  Or who knows?  Maybe eventually it will grow into itself.  Or retool in a way that improves the show a lot.  If you'd like to check it out and form your own opinions, Mike & Molly airs Monday nights at 9:30..

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Mad Men's "Tomorrowland" packs some surprises

     Wow. That is the first word that comes to mind when thinking of AMC's Mad Men season four finale, which aired Sunday night. The show is used to delivering some twists, but things went to an unexpected, and described by many as weird, place. That's not to say it wasn't good; the episode was excellent. Many fine performances were delivered, some personal plots were advanced, though not the big economic plot the last few episodes have concerned, which I'll get to. It was a fine hour, with plenty left unresolved until next summer.

     The biggest humdinger concerns series star Don Draper (Jon Hamm), who, after spending most of the season in an adult, healthy relationship with a fellow professional, Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono), suddenly got engaged to his secretary, Megan (Jessica ParĂ©). I like Megan, I really do. And it's not like there wasn't some set up. Don had slept with Megan when he had problems with Faye, and took Megan to watch his kids on a trip to California earlier that same episode, where he slept with her again. But was he pushed into the decision by his grief for Anna (Melinda Page Hamilton), his worry about his firm, and his anxiety over his true identity being found out by the government? Because Faye has been there for him, and she's a much more appropriate spouse.

     Megan is a lot more like Don's ex-wife Betty (January Jones) than Faye is. Megan is young and pretty. She's not crazy or immature like Betty is. Sort of the next step above Betty, really. Don is not the first partner to marry his secretary; Roger Sterling (John Slattery) wed Jane (Peyton List) not too long ago. And Don has always gone after plenty of women. I can't really point to one factor that led to the rash choosing of Megan, but I don't doubt they'll make a good couple. For awhile anyway. Don will surely cheat on her soon enough.

     Betty was less annoying than usual, towards the end of the episode, anyway. In the beginning, she fired long-time maid Carla (Deborah Lacey). But by the end of the episode, having finally moved out of the house she shared with Don, she stood waiting for him in their old kitchen, more serene that she's been lately. Obviously, her world is falling apart. She actually seems jealous that Glen (Marten Holden Weiner, son of show creator Matthew Weiner) is now infatuated with Betty's daughter, Sally (Kiernan Shipka), instead of her. Her far-too-quick marriage with Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) is not at all healthy. I thought she might make a play for Don again, though she didn't. Was it because she found out about his engagement? Was she disappointed? Or surprised? It's hard to tell with Betty.

     Sally Draper has had a banner year. Despite not getting much plot in the season finale, her parents' divorce has allowed the girl to step into the spotlight. Between befriending a boy her mother doesn't approve of, to running away to the city to find her father, Sally has been in trouble quite a bit. But she still seems sweet and innocent, much more so than when she was throwing tantrums the season before. The young actress playing her has handled the much-increased role admirably. Surely Sally will only continue to grow as the series continues, after such a successful season.

     The other big bombshell dropped in the episode was the revelation that Joan (Christina Hendricks) had kept Roger's baby. Not only that, but per Roger's earlier suggestion, she lied to her husband, Greg (Sam Page), who is overseas, and told him that the baby is his. Surely, Roger will know the truth. After all, Joan will have had no opportunity to sleep with Greg since the incident. How far will Roger go to try to claim the child that is biologically his? Will he ruin Joan's marriage? Although he said he was ok with stepping back, he was also pushing for a renewed relationship with Joan, and Roger sometimes does stupid things. This plot is a fantastic set up for season five drama. Although it reminds me of the Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) / Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) baby, which is still an open story, in my opinion, even though the baby was born at the end of season one. But what did Henry Francis say this week? You don't get any fresh starts, life just continues.

     Peggy has had an interesting year. Thrust into a leadership position at the new firm, she now is essentially a boss to several employees. Her clashes with them have been enlightening, and her growing friendship with Don is a high point of the series, as long as they don't ever sleep together. However, Peggy's scene this week with Joan, whom she has never fully gotten along with, where they griped about how the men don't respect and value them, was pitch perfect. One of the best exchanges of dialogue in the series, the two characters have also avoided the cliche trap of sticking together just because they're in similar situations. They don't like each other a lot, and that won't change, but they finally respect and understand each other, and it was oh so satisfying.
     Season Four of Mad Men marked some major casting shakeups. Although we (thankfully) got Lane (Jared Harris) full-time, and Fred (Joel Murray) returned, original cast members Kinsey (Michael Gladis) and Sal (Bryan Batt) are gone. Sal screwed up a major account, and Kinsey probably wasn't that valuable to the company, obviously, or they wouldn't be left out. However, it's still sad to see them go, not to mention plenty of secretaries and other workers we routinely saw around the office. In the new agency, without the big, open space, the amount of extras are cut down, but so are the amount of familiar faces we see working among our main characters. This is further exacerbated by the firing of a number of new supporting characters as Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce struggled to stay afloat. I just hope that the abrupt departure of Cooper (Robert Morse) doesn't stick.
     All in all, an excellent ending to a wonderful season. I can't wait to see what Season Five holds.
Article first published as TV Review: Mad Men's "Tomorrowland" Packs Some Surprises on Blogcritics.

How I Met Your Mother welcomes Jennifer Morrison

     CBS's How I Met Your Mother did not have a banner year last season.  In fact, often times, it was kind of crummy.  And for awhile, this was one of my favorite shows on television.  The producers seemed to acknowledge mistakes were made, promising that this year a third act would begin, and they would try to take the quality back to what it once was.  We are five episodes into season six, and so far, they have delivered two awesome episodes ("Big Days" and "Subway Wars").  Sadly, that leave three not-so-good episodes, and keeps the doubt lingering in my mind that HIMYM has jumped the shark.

     I was pretty optimistic about last night's episode, as it marked the arrival of Jennifer Morrison (House) as Zoey, who will play a sizeable arc this year.  Her casting sparked much online debate as to whether she is or is not the mother referenced in the title, and as Morrison is a great, proven actress, it was pretty exciting stuff.  Unfortunately, last night's episode was less than overwhelming.  Morrison did ok, but it's not like she and Ted (Josh Radnor) had instant chemistry.  I didn't really feel much to report between the two.  I was actually a bit surprised to see her pop back up at the end of the episode, as her story played like so many other women on the show, feeling like it was over at the end of the half hour.  I'm not saying that she can't be great; perhaps Morrison will grow on me.  I'm not even blaming the actress, as the series stars several actors I still admire greatly.  The overall quality, however, still suffers.

     How I Met Your Mother is at it's best when it allows the cast to fully and freely interact amongst themselves.  Sure, sometimes a fun catchphrase or interlacing story between the five primary characters delivers an awesome episode.  But lately, the conceits the story evolve around sometime go well into the cheese, and it makes the whole thing not funny.  Develop Barney's (Neil Patrick Harris) pining for Robin (Cobie Smulders) a bit more, as they did in "Subway Wars".  Let Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel) be a great couple, without too many issues between them, as that is what works best for them.  And whatever you do, don't let Ted come across as a selfish jerk, because that almost never leads to an enjoyable entry, but it has happened more than a few times.

     One more note.  The shots of the kids at the beginning of the episodes lately seem very much like stock footage.  Sure, I know that the daughter (Lyndsy Fonseca) is now starring in the CW's Nikita, and so it would prove very complicated to bring her back too often.  Plus, the kids rarely speak anyway, so it's easy to loop new narration (provided by Bob Saget) over an already filmed moment.  Just make sure it's not too obvious that you use the same shot over and over.  And when the kids eventually do return in a series finale, as they must for the closure to be truly satisfying, they shouldn't look much older than we last saw them.  Dangerous ground being tread upon here.  Just please be cautious.

     How I Met Your Mother airs Monday nights at 8pm on CBS, and I'll keep watching, rooting for them to get the train back on track as they begin to wrap up their very long story.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

TV Review: The Good Wife

    CBS had a hit last year with The Good Wife. A smart new legal drama, the story centered around Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies in a Golden Globe winning turn), the wife of a disgraced state's attorney. She took a job with a law firm, and had to compete with another junior associate for one open slot. The first season dealt with her adjustment to the work force, and reluctance to do everything that it took to do well. We also saw her husband, Peter (Chris Noth), beat his charges and get out of jail, although the reality was that the he did cheat on her. However, the main focus of most of the episodes of the first season was the case of the week that Alicia worked on.

     I'm not a big fan of procedural shows. There are plenty of them on television, and while they can be entertaining, they don't seem to add a lot to our country's storytelling lore. And before you protest, yes, I believe there are plenty of excellent writers out there contributing to this new medium, rather than books, at this time. There are some really awesome stories being told on television, and that's what eventually drew my interest, as I was an avid reader all my life, but only an avid television watcher for the last five years or so. Happily, so far the second season of The Good Wife spends much less time in the courtroom and much more time on the characters.

     Even when the show was delivering a similar story every week, a great cast played some really interesting, layered characters. These people have only deepened in season two. Alicia and Peter are living together, but it's far from a storybook happy ending. Peter is running for office again, but sleeps in the maid's quarters. Some fans of the show wonder why they even remain married at all. Alicia has choices; she could easily be dating her boss, Will Gardner (Josh Charles), whom she was close with in college. This past week gave us a little more insight into that situation.

     In last Monday's "Breaking Fast", Alicia's brother, Owen (Dallas Roberts, Rubicon, The L Word) came to town. Not at all shy about speaking his mind, he was the first member of Alicia's family that we've seen, other than her husband and children. He talked to her about their parents' screwed up marriage, and how their mother had just broke it off with husband #3. He speculated that perhaps Alicia just didn't want to be her mother, and that's why she refused to consider divorce as an option. Although Alicia denied the charge, learning that about her background, combined with what we'd already seen of Alicia's character, seemed to connect a few dots for me. It just made sense that she wouldn't want to end up like someone she had little respect for, as she clearly does her mother.
     Another great character is Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry). He was Alicia's competition in season one, and now works for the State's Attorney's office, often squaring off against his former bosses and co-workers. He is bent on revenge this season, although he likes to claim a moral clarity. Cary had a touching moment with Kalinda (Archie Panjabi, who won an Emmy for this role) recently, where she admitted that she missed having him around. Although Cary was originally suspicious and competitive against Alicia, they seemed to form quite the friendship over last year. To see the anger radiating off of him whenever they now encounter each other (which is often, as he remains a main character) is a bit heart breaking. It's fully realistic, but I yearn for the day where he can go back to his old firm. If he'd even want to, as their relationship continues to be poisoned the longer he is away.
     Alicia's bosses, Will and Diane (Christine Baranski), are also an interesting pair. So far Will's plot has mostly involved his feelings from Alicia, but his interactions with Diane are fascinating. There is some camaraderie between them, but it is often tossed out as they pursue their own interests. I'm not really sure how they ended up as partners. I know that's been covered in the show, but they are just so different, and they don't get along all that well. Things came to a head when Diane asked Will to vote with her against their new partner, Derrick Bond (Michael Ealy, Flash Forward), but Will was persuaded to side with Bond. It's hard to see how Bond will ultimately affect the leadership, but as he did bring Lou Dobbs (who guest starred as himself) along as a client, someone on the opposite end of the political spectrum as Diane, surely there will be change.
     Diane has been fascinating all on her own. Besides adopting Dobbs as her own client... well, I assume, although the last we saw on screen, she said she'd think about it. The fact that she'd even consider it says something about her. Also, she dated a ballistics expert last year who was an avid Sarah Palin fan. Diane is an avowed liberal, but she is sanely open to the other side when the person representing it is reasonable. I'm not saying Lou Dobbs is reasonable, but his discussion with her about representing him surely was. I just can't predict what Diane will do, and that, along with a long-time adoration for Baranski the actress, keeps me fully engaged with the character. 

     There are plenty of other people on The Good Wife I could talk about, but I'll end with just one more: Kalinda. The unflappable, possibly bisexual, always daring investigator has been thrown for a loop with the introduction of someone else who also does her job at the same firm. Bond brought along his own man, Blake Calamar (Scott Porter, Friday Night Lights, Caprica). I would have never suspected Kalinda could be shaken, but for some reason, Blake has that affect on her. She still does her job with excellence, but her anxiety in his presence is palpable. It's something I'm still trying to figure out, but is surely contributing to the renewed vigor the show has brought to season two.

     Bottom line, if you stayed away from this show last year because you were tired of legal dramas, it's time to jump on board. This series presents character studies as often as it does lawsuits, and there is plenty of meat on the bones. I myself did not watch it last year, but devoured the DVD in the past month. It's definitely worth watching. The Good Wife airs Monday nights at 10pm on CBS.

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Article first published as TV Review: The Good Wife on Blogcritics.

The Simpsons "MoneyBART"

     Last Sunday, FOX's The Simpsons faced controversy over their opening credits.  For a show that is still good, but is far part it's days of reigning supreme, the attention certainly can't hurt.  The anger arose over the end of the opening sequence, wherin was depicted a maximum security FOX studio, presumably in Asia, where slaves toiled over animating The Simpsons in squallid and dangerous conditions.  The scene then went lower into the factory, where kittens were tossed into a woodchipper to create filling for stuffed Bart (Nancy Cartwright) dolls, and a unicorn, chained to a wall, was used to punch holes in Simpsons DVDs.  It was dark and depressing, more so than most Simpsons openings.  But it was also pretty funny.  It was created by international graffiti artist 'Banksy', whose tag also appears in the Springfield portion of the song.

     And then what followed was a normal episode.  Lisa (Yeardley Smith), concerned that she wasn't being enough of an overachiever to earn her way into an Ivy league school, decided she needed more extracurriculars.  After a disasterous attempt at fencing with Maggie, she senses an opporunity when Flanders (Harry Shearer) quits as Bart's baseball team's manager.  At first she is horrible, since she knows nothing about baseball.  But then she learns how to apply mathematics and statistics, and ends up being an awesome manager.  However, Bart, no longer having fun, rebels, and gets thrown off the team immediately after scoring a game-winning home run.  Eventually the siblings make up.

     There was no edge to anything that followed, and so, a controversy was wasted.  The team reacted pretty passively about Bart and Lisa's struggle for power.  No one seemed to care one way or another about the game and what was going on besides the two main characters.  Their parents were barely involved.  There was no great subplot.  I was amused at the time, but as soon as I started to analyze it, realized that there wasn't really anything there to speak of.

     The Simpsons was once the most talked about animated show around.  Now, over a decade after South Park and Seth MacFarlane joined the arena, it seems tame by comparison.  I hate to say it, but it may be time to let Bart, Lisa, and the rest retire in peace.  The show continues Sunday nights at 8pm, including tonight, on FOX.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bones enjoying stride

     FOX's Bones, now in it's sixth season, has solidified its formula and now is luxuriating in its success. Is that a good thing? Bones has always been one of the best case-of-the-week crime shows, owing to an amazing cast of characters. Lately, owing to a long-growing formation of tight social bonds and relationship developments, the show is able to spend just as much time on the personal stories as the case, which I view as a boon. Yet, the cases stay interesting and fun, and actually add to the personal drama, rather than detract from it.

     For example, this week David Alan Grier guest starred as Bunson Jude the Science Dude, and his assistance to Dr. Brennan (Emily Deschanel) was as comical as it was helpful. Last week, Brennan and Booth (David Boreanaz) investigated a murder at the Jersey Shore. Brennan was fascinated by the culture, which she had been studying in the "documentary series" Jersey Shore. She got to explain creeping and GTL to Booth. Great plots, very entertaining, and showcasing the main characters as well as the murder.

     But why wasn't Bones able to score any big casting gets? An attempt to get some of the Jersey Shore cast members to appear in the episode fell through, and did they even approach Bill Nye the Science Guy about guesting this week? Those types of things are, indeed, stunt casting. But for a long running, semi-popular, well-made show such as Bones, shouldn't they have been achievable gets? Maybe the people behind the show didn't want that, thinking it veered too much into cheese. Yet, they did the plots anyway, with imitations of the real thing, so why not go all out?

     That aside, the series has never been better. Temperance Brennan has lightened up so much that she's almost a normal person. This is due to not only her growing feelings for her partner, but also the real friendships she has forged in the workplace. Hodgins (T.J. Thyne) has gotten markedly happier since he found love, even when he wasn't with her. Angela (Michaela Conlin) has allowed herself to be tied down and start a family. And Sweets (John Francis Daley) and Cam (Tamara Taylor) have been fully accepted into the group that was already established before the arrived.

     And that's not all. Somewhere along the way, the Bones cast has expanded greatly, with a whole host of new characters considered part of the little Jeffersonian family. The rotating cast of interns has been an absolute joy. I miss those that are gone each week, and get excited to see who will come back next. Ms. Julian (Patricia Belcher) has been an important presence in half the season so far. Booth's new love interest, Hannah (Katheryn Winnick), is already making friends with and inviting Cam, Brennan, and Angela over to hang out. One big, happy group.

     That is what worries me; everyone is so happy, gets along so well. Don't get me wrong. Despite the love I had for the clashing between the characters early on, I am pleased to see the maturation. Now, though, the series gets to the point where it may be in danger of floundering. I have no complaints about the plot of sending everyone away at the end of last year, nor the solid premiere that brought them all back together. It punted the point of needing another shakeup down the field a bit. But only a bit. I predict that the next major twist will be when Brennan makes a play for Booth, and the inevitable breakup of Booth and Hannah. I'm not sure that's enough to fill a whole season, though.

     Don't get me wrong. I'm not pessimistic. I love Bones. I'm curious to see where the show will go from here. Just a word of caution to the people that make it: even though the current comfort is a delight, don't get too comfortable.

     Bones airs Thursday nights at 8pm on FOX.

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Article first published as TV Review: Bones Enjoying Stride on Blogcritics.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Modern Family is neat example of relationships

    ABC's Modern Family is unique in that it is a sitcom with a lot of heart, and that it gets the opportunity to show a lot of different family relationships. Families are not simple, and cannot be boiled down to the average twenty-two minute episode. When Modern Family began last year, it was the most realistic group of kin that had been on air in quite awhile, and as the interactions between various character reveal deeper and deeper the connections between them each week, I've grown quite fond of it. It is no wonder almost every single adult actor and actress was up for an Emmy this year.

     This week's episode, "Strangers on a Treadmill" was an excellent example of the series at it's best. Phil (Ty Burrell) was invited to speak at a big realtors' convention, and his wife, Claire (Julie Bowen) was worried that he would embarrass himself. While it was never explicitly addressed, I feel that Claire was more worried about being embarrassed to be with him, than worried about him. I do believe she loves him, but she sometimes underestimates him. Anyway, Phil was writing lots of jokes for the event, but Claire thought that none of them were funny. She didn't want to confront Phil herself, because she knew he is sensitive about that sort of thing, and didn't want him to be mad at her.

     In the meantime, Claire's brother, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) had his own problems with his partner. Cam (Eric Stonestreet, who actually won the Emmy) had been going to the gym of late, and he wore very tight bicycle shorts on these excursions. Mitch was proud of him for working out, but did not approve of the shorts, which left nothing of Cam's genitals to the imagination. Like Claire, he knew that telling Cam directly would lead to a marital fued, and so he'd been avoiding it. Hence the plan concocted by Mitchell and Claire where they would gently correct each others' significant others' issues.

     Of course, even though Modern Family stretches the sitcom boundaries in a lot of ways, it is from the sitcom mold, and so the plan went far less than perfect. Claire went through with her side of the deal, devastating Cam. Mitchell couldn't bring himself to say anything to Phil. When Claire called to chew him out, Cam overheard the discussion, and found out that he had been set up. This led to a fight between the two men. But their ensuing makeup and declaration of why they are together was so sweet and unexpectedly quick. It showed a loving, strong relationship. It exemplified the best qualities of the series.

     Phil never did find out about the deal, but Claire decided to act on her own to stop him. At the dinner, she stole his note cards. He was forced to get up on stage and wing it. Yet, even though Claire can't always see it, Phil is inherently funny. Not always intentionally so, but Burrell is such a gifted actor, he makes Phil endearing despite the buffoonery. And hilarious. So Phil killed, with everyone at the dinner enjoying him immensely. Claire got to see how other viewed her husband, and she fell in love with him all over again. Her pride in him, and her honesty when he confronted her about the theft, as well as his immediate forgiveness not only illustrated another very strong couple, but allowed an examination of the differences in two duos.

     While Cam and Mitchell and Claire and Phil all had strengthened bonds by the end, each couple's story was very different in how it played out. Two similar situations with two similar end results, but very different journeys to get there. It's a testament to the writers and actors that these four people are so well defined after barely over a season of development.

     There were also a couple of pretty funny subplots. Mitchell and Claire's father, Jay (Ed O'Neill) argued with his wife, Gloria (Sofia Vergara) over how well he knew his employees. They attended a party and he schemed to try to prove to her he was caring, even though he didn't recognize anyone. Gloria quickly realized they were at the wrong party, and Jay made a huge fool of himself.

     Claire and Phil's daughter Alex (Ariel Winter), who is brainy, but doesn't have a lot of friends, tried to be popular. She was assisted by her sister, Haley (Sarah Hyland), who usually has no use for her younger sibling, but saw the quest as a worthy goal. Haley was able to help her quite effectively, but by the end of the episode, the whole thing had fallen apart. No matter how hard you may try to change, you are who you are. A valid conclusion.

     The fact that all of the above was condensed into such a short amount of film should show you just how good the show is, and why it deserved to be watched. Catch Modern Family Wednesday nights at 9pm on ABC. And do yourself a favor and stick around for the lower rated, but also excellent, despite it's poor title, Cougar Town at 9:30.

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Article first published as TV Review: Modern Family is neat example of relationships on Blogcritics.