Drama, comedy, reality: This is one of those nights where TV is firing on all cylinders.
Let's start with the heavy lifting. One of TV's most encouraging survival stories returns with the fifth-season premiere of TNT's uncommonly gritty police drama Southland (10/9c), a network reject (from NBC's darkest period) that thrives on cable, with a sharper focus and a determined avoidance of procedural cliché.
Each episode is like a graphic tour of duty on the streets of Los Angeles, and in the opener, it's not always immediately clear if the patrol cops and detectives in the line of fire are witnessing a real crime or make believe or some other sort of scam. (One vignette involving a brawl between naked men in a sauna looks like an outtake from Spartacus.) "Treat it like a circus," seasoned training office John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) advises his latest ride-along, an Afghan War vet with too much attitude. The media circus threatens to consume Cooper's former partner Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie), newly decorated and enjoying the attention a bit too much. Grounding these characters in the mundane distractions of unblemished real life, Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King) is adjusting to single motherhood with...
While ABC's The Middle may not be the most popular, acclaimed or honored family comedy on TV, it is almost certainly the most relevant (and often the funniest). Especially in an election year when so much attention was focused on the financially strapped middle class, the travails of the down-but-not-out Hecks of Indiana resonate like no TV family since the Conners of Roseanne.
Frankie Heck is not going to let the pinch steal Christmas.
The Middle's stretched-thin, harried mother (played by Patricia Heaton) has a scant $20 to spend on gifts for her three kids this year. Ever the problem solver, she cracks to her unflappable quarry-manager husband Mike (Neil Flynn): "I'll fake my own death!" This way, she says, when she appears very much alive on Christmas morning, her children will be so happy they won't care that there aren't any presents.
There may be sitcoms that are flashier, edgier or more ironic than The Middle, but you'd be hard-pressed to find any that are funnier. Since premiering in 2009, ABC's hit comedy about the Hecks, a working-class Midwestern family of misfits, has proven that it doesn't take a right- or left-coast sensibility to produce laughter — thanks in no small part to the performances of Charlie McDermott (Axl), 21, Eden Sher (Sue), 20, and Atticus Shaffer (Brick), 13. TV Guide Magazine played hooky with the trio for an afternoon of mini-golf at Castle Park in Sherman Oaks to find out if they're equally entertaining off duty.
Leave it to oddball Brick Heck (Atticus Shaffer) to stumble across the reason for the season: "Mom, you never told me church was based on a book." The Middle (ABC, 8/7c) leads off a night of holiday-themed sitcom episodes with an instant classic in which Brick's incessant questions about the Good Book lead sister Sue to enlist pied-piper roving Reverend ...