When you start a TV show with children in it, you're taking a chance. Sure, they're cute now, but will it last? I could give some examples, but let's be kind.
Wednesday night on ABC is lousy with sitcoms featuring kids. Two of them--The Goldbergs
--are still fairly new, but two of them have been on long enough that the kids are no longer kids.
I'm referring to The Middle
and Modern Family
, both recently returned for their seventh season. The shows are still pretty good, but can't help have lost their sense of novelty. And people notice. Modern Family
for the first time ever is returning without having just won the Emmy for Best Comedy. Perhaps that'll spur it on--it was getting a bit complacent. The Middle
is more under the radar--it doesn't get nominated for Emmys--so it has to keep going on its own.
Anyway, both shows are stuffed with kids. Modern Family
at present has six regulars who are, or started out as, youngsters. The Middle
has always been about a family with three children. There's no question the cuteness factor among some cast members has gone down, but will the new experiences the kids are having make up for it?
Both shows, in fact, started this season with a second child, a daughter, going to college. It's fascinating that the shows were essentially mirror images. In The Middle
, bubbly Sue Heck (maybe the best character on the show) tries to make a big deal of the day she leaves for college but ends up sorely disappointed. On Modern Family
, Alex Dunphy, the smart one, leaves for college early, disappointing her parent who wanted to make a big deal of it. Then when they get to their respective dorms, Sue, all excitement, has to deal with a cynical, hardened roommate, while Alex, fairly cynical herself, has to deal with a too-bubbly roommate. Sounds like crossover potential.
Questions of cuteness aside, this points to the another problem with kids. When they grow up, the show changes, and not necessarily in a good way. These shows started as tales of a group of people living in close proximity, who, though they could drive each other crazy, clearly loved one another. Having these characters live far apart changes the dynamic. Sure, you want change on a show, but not so much that you lose what you once loved about it.
The Dunphys in Modern Family
were, in a way, the odd man out of the three families featured. One had a patriarch marry a much younger divorcee from Colombia, one was a gay couple with their adopted Vietnamese child, and in the middle of this was the un-modern Dunphys, who wouldn't have been out of place in a 60s sitcom. And yet, due to sharp writing and fine performances--especially from the parents played by Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell--I think their family was the best thing in the show, and the one that anchored everything else. Modern Family
has enough characters that they can stand moving Alex away from the nucleus, but it's not necessarily a change that bodes well.
may have a harder time of it. This is a show that's always been about how the parents deal with their odd kids Axl, Sue and Brick. With Axl and now Sue out of the house, leaving only Brick--even if he's the oddest--it just isn't the same thing. The Middle
has been on for seven seasons, going about its business, not much talked about. It has its audience, but the ratings have never been that high (they're in the middle, actually). I wonder if it isn't about time to wrap it up. I suppose the cast is still game, but with the kids leaving home, is it time for ABC to show it the door?