Most of the television-viewing population has heard of Modern Family. It’s hard to turn through a magazine without seeing one of its stars, Sofia Vergara, grace an advertisement with her huge smile, flawless curves and bold confidence. The show itself has won multiple awards and this year is no exception to that — Vergara and fellow co-star Eric Stonestreet were nominated for best supporting actor and actress at the Golden Globes.
Still, though Modern Family might have given family sitcoms the push they needed, the series has been hit-or-miss lately. There will be a great episode, such as the one where Claire and Phil accidentally find themselves in a nudist gathering at natural springs. Then there will also be a dud episode where nothing too funny seems to happen.
For those looking for fresher and funnier shows about unusual family dynamics on television, one only needs to look as far as the two shows that bookend Modern Family on ABC — The Middle and Suburgatory.
The Middle focuses on the Heck family, as they go on through daily life, struggling to make ends meet. Unlike most family sitcoms, The Middle takes place in Middle America and centers on a middle-class family of five, struggling financially in a poor economy.
Unlike Modern Family, where characters live in comfortable households and have ideal jobs, The Middle deals with everyday life, job loss and making ends meet. It’s kind of nice to watch a show where the kids do not just receive everything they want but rather have to be patient and wait for gifts. Society has gotten to the point where it’s almost expected that kids will get cell phones (most likely smartphones) at the age of 10, but The Middle shows a family that works for what it needs and fights for what it desires.
Compare it to Girls, where even though the characters are depicted as broke, they still manage to live a relatively comfortable lifestyle in perhaps the most expensive city in the world, New York City. When it comes to The Middle, the writers keep the character’s finances in mind when creating storylines.
True to the Hecks’ lower-middle-class roots, their house is falling apart and they barely have enough money to fix their ancient appliances. In one episode, Brick, who is an avid reader, desires an iPad so he can download books. Rather than just getting him the iPad, the parents must get creative, eventually purchasing a discounted iPad that survived a fire on eBay.
What also makes makes The Middle so watchable, in addition to its humble roots, is its quirkiness. The kids are weird and have one-of-a-kind personalities. Brick, for example, is a socially awkward elementary student who enjoys reading more than playing. He repeats things people say in a deep whisper under his breath. He is strange, no doubt, but there is a certain charm to him — that within a crazy family of five, he can still find peace through the simple joys in life.
Brick’s sister Sue has an equally unique and compelling storyline. Sue is new to high school and is eager to try everything — every club, every position and every job. Even though she tries out for everything, however, she gets no positions and that is what makes her such a breath of fresh air on television. Her character is realistic. She’s not drop-dead gorgeous or incredibly intellectual. She’s optimistic and tries not to let anything get her down. I cannot help but root for this socially inept and braces-baring, but eager and happy, teenage girl.
Another show to keep an eye out for, right after Modern Family is Suburgatory. The premise is that a red-haired, sarcastic daughter, Tessa, and her dad, the rugged George Altman, move from New York to the suburbs, a la Lindsay Lohan in Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen.
Thrown into a situation far from their comfort zone, the two urbanites must adjust to life in a crazy, suburban town where everyone is outrageously superficial.
Suburgatory is not like most shows where a ridiculous situation arises. In a show such as Gossip Girl, writers imagine a world where young high schoolers go to fancy clubs, drink champagne and wear posh couture. In Suburgatory however, the writers are fully aware of the craziness of their premise and only write in those siutations to intentionally poke fun at suburban life.
Moreover, the idea that Tessa and her dad truly and openly do not belong to this Stepford Wife-like town is relatively refreshing. And beyond all the flamboyant pink clothes and platinum blonde hair, at the end of each episode there are relatable life lessons about family, friendship and happiness.
Though the characters and scenarios are definitely hyperbolic, The Middle and Suburgatory are fantastic shows to watch during the week because they are a great vacation from real life. You can spend 24 minutes in a freaky, perfect, plastic-seeming suburban town that makes fun of itself as much as the audience makes fun of it. Or you can hang out with Sue in The Middle and see some characters who show that it’s OK to struggle and fail sometimes, as long as you keep trying.
Mollie Berg is a freshman majoring in communication. Her column “Mollie Tunes In” runs Mondays.