Modern Family gets all the ink, but ABC’s other comedies — Trophy Wife (cancelled, le sigh), The Goldbergs, and Suburgatory, for example — are pretty solid

It’s upfronts time in TV, so networks are announcing shows that got the ax (no more seasons) and some of their new shows for the fall. Over at ABC, Modern Family gets all the ink (its last couple of episodes have been strong, tear-jerking-type stuff) and Trophy Wife, which was way better than you might assume it would be, just got cancelled (sigh).  All of ABC’s moves are listed here, and somewhat unsurprisingly, Modern Family will be back. (From the also-sad column: The Neighbors did ultimately get cancelled.)

Before I get deeper into this, let me say that my bar for sitcoms is probably fairly low. I hated Mixology, another show ABC just cancelled, but in fairness that show was horrific — but then, I actually liked a couple of episodes of Dads over on FOX. So my barometer is likely pretty skewed, no doubt. But I actually think ABC might be running of the better 30-minute comedy slates out there — despite the fact that they’re canceling some of the better, more subversive ones.

Take Suburgatory, for example. (We don’t know yet whether it will be renewed.) This show basically created a bizarre sub-universe of cartoonish plots that mixes Saturday Night Live alums, elements of Clueless and Mean Girls, and even aspects of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — while featuring Randy from The Wire, among others. Their most recent episode got an “A” from AV Club, and with good measure. To note:

What makes “Les Lucioles” so great is that it is a quintessentially Suburgatoryepisode, overly concealed blemishes and all. It’s a fantastic little boutique bonbon box, a delicately, hand-wrapped surface containing an exquisite something you can’t find anywhere else. Even at series low points, like this season’s beauty pageant, Suburgatory is unmistakable. Everything from the titles to the quirks tie into central themes or animating ideas. Showrunners talk about their shows being personal all the time, whether its Lauren Iungerich pouring her heart and history into Awkward. or Matthew Weiner confessing his most private thoughts through Mad Men. But almost nothing on television—I probably shouldn’t have mentioned Mad Men—is as unified as Emily Kapnek’s suburban dramedy, from the cartoonish plots to the colorful design to the fanciful blend of high-culture aspiration with low-culture pleasures. It all fits right into Suburgatory’s personality. Lisa dancing down the aisle flanked by her parents to Rich Homie Quan’s “Type Of Way” is just right for this show. It’s funny, it’s bold, and within the context of Lisa and Malik’s strange Chatswin coupling, it’s even touching.

Emily Kapnek previously created Emily’s Reasons Why Not, which was a fairly horrible show, as well as writing an episode of Parks and Rec. But this show is good in part because it stretches reality without cracking the fourth wall: the characters just get into odd, surreal situations. Consider this, for example.

And here’s a pretty sweet scene with the aforementioned Randy Wagstaff:

Similarly, The Goldbergs (renewed) has famous names/faces/voices associated with it — Patton Oswalt is the narrator, and he brings a lot of believable energy to various things that excited kids in the 1980s — but it might be the performance of the teenage/20-something kids on the show that really drive it (although Wendi McClendon-Covey, from Bridesmaids, as the mom is pretty excellent). Sean Giambrone plays Adam (essentially the lead), and he’s quite good/funny for a younger actor. Consider:

Troy Gentile, as Barry (middle child), might be even funnier on the show:

Here’s another quick one:

It’s rare for a teenager-driven show to be funny (Growing Pains had moments, as well as a few others), but I’d say most episodes of The Goldbergs, while not necessarily keeping me in stitches or anything, deliver 2-3 solid laughs. It seems like a good set environment too, which hopefully keeps the three “kids” from becoming train wrecks or anything.

I didn’t think Trophy Wife was centered around the kids — I actually thought the kids on that show, sans maybe Bert, were fairly annoying — but I have a feeling that show got canned because of cost. Bradley Whitford and Marcia Gay Harden are pretty well-known, especially for TV, so they have to cost a bit. Malin Akerman is a “movie star” in that she’s been in a Ben Stiller movie, The Watchmen, etc… so that’s some dime too. If nothing else, maybe that show can live on as the vehicle that broadly introduced Michaela Watkins to the world (aside from some SNL work).

When you evaluate TV these days, obviously the top of the heap is AMC/HBO/Netflix, and then on the network side, it’s probably CBS (which has NCIS, Big Bang Theory, 60 Minutes, the NFL, etc.) ABC actually runs fourth in the ratings often, but my point is … they actually have a couple of pieces to work with on the comedy side. They may need to re-arrange them — Suburgatory and The Neighbors, for example, were both buried on Friday night for a bit — but the affable, humorous content is there. Is anyone confusing it for the best sitcoms of all-time? No. But the network shouldn’t be running fourth either.

Ted Bauer