The Middle" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) tends to get overlooked. And that's the theme of tonight's episode.
It's hard to get noticed when a show shares a night with "Modern Family," the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning series that has been singled out for critical love since before it
debuted. If the show got any more praise, it would be "Mad Men."
So "The Middle" soldiers on in the shadow of "Modern Family," sometimes for good reason. Critics and viewers love "Modern Family" because it's a sitcom that doesn't feel like a sitcom. All great comedies make shows that came before them seem a tad old-fashioned. I remember that moment while first watching "Seinfeld" when "Cheers" began to resemble something from a time capsule.
"The Middle" breaks no new ground. At times, the scenes between Frankie Heck (Patricia Heaton) and her husband, Mike (Neil Flynn), are perfectly believable and
natural, but also a little like warmed-over "Everybody Loves Raymond." Still, you have to admire a show that goes out of its way to be unstylish and unhip, showcasing young characters who are far from "hot."
I'm particularly fond of young Sue Heck, played with gusto and sensitivity by Eden Sher. Awkward, beset with braces and energetically obtuse, Sue is the quintessential post-adolescent, a brazenly believable and humane character. That's daring and rare,
especially on a network where high school girls often look like the fully formed Tessa (Jane Levy) on "Suburgatory": eye-rolling one-liner machines who are 16 going on 29.
In tonight's "Middle," Sue is feeling particularly overlooked because her sad little club of wrestling cheerleaders did not get its picture in the yearbook. She consults the guidance counselor (guest star Whoopi Goldberg), who knows what it's like to be at the bottom of any pecking order. They remind us that in high school and in life, the hardest thing to endure is not being insulted or picked on, but being overlooked entirely. As Goldberg's character describes her high school years: "Nobody
noticed me. And I was the only black kid!"
In the years since "Desper ate Housewives" became a hit, ABC has worked overtime to come up with shows about beautiful, brittle and unbelievable women, characters who
resemble few people I've ever known or would care to meet. But I've known quite a few people like Sue Heck in my day. Maybe that's because we're all like Sue Heck at some point in our lives.
In its own self-consciously nerdy way, "The Middle" does a great job of championing the overlooked, the average and the invisible. And for that, it
deserves more attention than
---Contestants sing on two hours of "American Idol" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-PG).
---Alicia Silverstone guest stars on "Suburgatory" (8:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
---Phil's car purchase irks Claire on "Modern Family" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
---Mongolian herders are subjects of the 2003 film "The Story of the Weeping Camel" (9 p.m., Documentary Channel).
---Blood on the dunes on "CSI" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---A hate crime close to home on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
---Press scrutiny grows on
"Revenge" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
Joel McCrea stars in two comedy masterpieces directed by Preston Sturges: 1941's "Sullivan's Trav els" (8 p.m., TCM) and 1942's "The Palm Beach Story" (9:45 p.m., TCM).
---Pranks on "Betty White's Off Their Rockers" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
---A troubling offer on "The L.A. Complex" (8 p.m., CW, r, TV-14).
---A killer's execution sparks copycat crimes on "Criminal Minds" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---Off to Macau on "America's Next Top Model" (9 p.m., CW, TV-14).
---June needs a confidence boost on "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23" (9:30 p.m., ABC, TV-14).
---Sen. Tom Coburn is scheduled on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" (11 p.m., Comedy Central)
---Seth Rogen, Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi and Daryl Hall appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS, r)
---Jonathan Haidt sits down on "The Colbert Report" (11:30 p.m., Comedy Central).
---Norah Jones appears on "Late Show With David Letter man" (11:35 p.m., CBS)
---Jay Leno welcomes Scarlett Johansson, Blake Shelton and K'Naan featuring Nelly Furtado on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC)
---Eva Green and Brad appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (midnight, ABC).
---Amy Poehler, Daniel Dae Kim and Lady Antebellum visit "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" (12:35 a.m., NBC)
---Craig Ferguson hosts Anjelica Huston and Reno Wilson on "The Late Late Show" (12:35 a.m., CBS).
Kevin McDonough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.