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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