Tuesday, October 06, 2015

They Grow Up So Fast

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 and Black-ish--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.

The Middle 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?


Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

That's why dogs are better.

Soon enough we'll have robot kids and that will solve the problem.

3:10 AM, October 06, 2015  
Blogger New England Guy said...

I don't know. You can always integrate the kids away at school into the story line- especially since kids are more connected than ever back to home no matter how many miles away(says the parent of a college freshman one month into his future). There can still be almost daily interactions via cell, text instagram etc... (though we are down to 3-4 x a week). I think The Middle has done a good job of integrating the college kids into the main storylines.

On Modern Family, they just keep adding kids- Lily and Joe and Haley is probably due to be parental in some fashion. My 3 Sons kept introducing more kids too, and Samantha had a couple on Bewitched (now if they had just been able to her with the same Darren)

Yes its not the same but its not the same in a different way from older shows with kids

10:31 AM, October 06, 2015  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

Even the Huxtables tried adding a new kid toward the end, and that really didn't work, as I recall.

We are big Middle fans, and have really enjoyed the parallel to our own lives (now with a son several years in college and a daughter one month into gone). Our texts are down to 3 or 4 a week, with son still coming home to do laundry once or twice a month, so the set up on show seems very realistic. With more action taking place on campus, the show may become a spin-off of itself.

One thing, the kid actors in the Middle were all quite a bit older than the age they were portraying right from the beginning. This means they don't change much, even Brick who clearly has a growth deficiency, like perhaps the most successful little kid actor, Gary Coleman. I hope he has a better future ahead of him.

The other aging family on TV that we watch is "Last Man Standing." But there they started with kids already toward the end of high school. I'm not sure of the actual age of the kids, but it makes for a different dynamic as the show does not center on parenting issues.

11:15 AM, October 06, 2015  
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