Charlie McDermott, Patricia Heaton
On this final night of the official broadcast season, let's focus on the good times, shall we? Two of TV's finest comedies, ABC's underappreciated The Middle and the much-honored Modern Family, go out with a flourish, and perhaps a sniffle or two, as the Heck and Dunphy/Pritchett clans experience life-changing and/or affirming ceremonies likely to strike home for many viewers.
The Middle (8/7c) is the more uproariously funny of the two this week, as the aggravation between mother and adolescent son reaches epic proportions when Axl's high-school graduation looms. "I'm done getting in the middle of my kids' lives," Frankie (the great Patricia Heaton) declares, but you know she doesn't mean it. Not when she crosses the line to embarrass Axl at a party, showing up in her PJs and ready to boogie. "You're the worst mother ever!" he shrieks. "Tell me something I don't know," she barks back. Weird little Brick is also graduating, from elementary to middle school, and faces the wrath of Vice Principal Dunlap (a very funny Marion Ross) when it's discovered he has whiffed on one more assignment left undone to the last minute: preparing a visual history of his class as their historian (a position that's news to everyone). "I will turn you inside out and wear you like a hat!" snarls Ms. Dunlap, threatening to use her connections in middle school to make his life a "living hell." With "extra gym." And Poor Sue faces her own rite of passage as she gears up for her sixth driving exam to get her license. No one is chanting "Pass that test!!" more loudly than the kids on the bus. There's a euphoric finish to this show's best-yet season, and a wonderful Shel Silverstein shout-out likely to leave you feeling awfully happy about your time spent with The Middle.
Modern Family (9/8c) gathers its members for a more somber occasion, the not-unexpected passing of Phil's mom, leaving Grandpa Frank (Fred Willard) at the mercy and in the crosshairs of his Florida retirement community's predatory widow population. While Phil and Claire debate whether and how to fulfill his mom's last wish for her husband, the kids (especially brainy Alex) puzzle over the meaning of gifts she left behind. The guest cast teems with veteran scene stealers: Millicent Martin as a neighbor who triggers unexpected memories in Jay, Anita Gillette as another retiree inadvertently brought into the family circle, Caroline Aaron as an exasperated judge presiding over a long-pending case involving Gloria's past (with Mitchell as her overeager defense council), and Mary Jo Catlett and Ruth Williamson as mahjong partners who take a shine to Cam. Co-creator Steven Levitan co-wrote (with Jeffrey Richman) and directed this episode, which ends with an emotional bang and a rare sense of unity among this family.
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More finales: Callie Khouri wrote and directed the first-season finale of ABC's enjoyably sudsy Nashville (10/9c), in which the CMA Awards festivities take a back seat to personal intrigue, as Juliette reels over her junkie mother's death and Rayna and Deacon can't even enjoy performing with Brad Paisley because of issues involving her daughter Maddie's paternity. (Seriously, you two, get over it.) Best news is that the U.S. Attorney's office is snooping into the affairs of Rayna's dull-as-driftwood ex Teddy. Please let him be MIA next season. ... The "Replicator," who sounds like he ought to be a villain on Arrow, returns to menace the BAU team in the two-hour finale of CBS' Criminal Minds (9/8c), with Mark Hamill among the guest cast. ... Six Feet Under's Lauren Ambrose and Pablo Schreiber are among the guest stars as NBC's Law & Order: SVU rings out its 14th season (9/8c) with Benson & Co. facing pure evil in the form of a devious serial killer-rapist known as the Beast. ... The danger on NBC's Chicago Fire (10/9c), which moves to Tuesdays next season, involves the squad answering a call at the Cook County jail, where bad things are known to go down.
THE WEDNESDAY GUIDE: Fox once again gets a jump on its summer TV lineup with the two-hour premiere of MasterChef (8/7c), as Gordon Ramsay is joined by Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot to winnow down the field of home-cook hopefuls who will need awfully thick skins to survive their scrutiny. ... USA Network's Psych (10/9c) delves into the world of plastic surgery — naturally titling the episode "Nip and Suck It" — as Shawn and Gus suspect a doctor (Lori Loughlin) of murder. Only problem: She's a former flame of Shawn's dad (Corbin Bernsen), so that won't be pretty.
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