Is “The Middle” (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) the most subversive comedy on network television? If challenging the prevailing depiction of families on the small screen is any measure, then the answer could be yes.
In contrast to the effortless prosperity shown on most TV series, “The Middle” makes the most of the decidedly modest income that Frankie (Patricia Heaton) and Mike (Neil Flynn) bring home.
Perhaps not since “Roseanne” have set decorators had so much fun with a budget and a thrift store look.
The comedy “2 Broke Girls” also puts the emphasis on budgeted living, but that sitcom oozes with the vulgar humor made popular by “Two and a Half Men.”
“The Middle” is most daring in depicting human beings, and even teenagers, not entirely consumed with or defined by hyper-sexuality. The comedy goes out of its way to dress and make up its characters in ways that are the polar opposite of “hot.”
In a recent episode, the strenuously plain Sue (Eden Sher) is asked to the prom by a shirtless greeter at the nearby Abercrombie store at the mall. He’d fit in as just another himbo on Bravo, but on “The Middle,” he’s actually a shy guy who goes to the local Catholic high school.
You have to say something about a comedy that allows a stud to emerge as a human being.
Sue and her brothers may be clueless goofballs, but “The Middle” avoids themes of deliberate, savage cruelty that permeate TV teen fare, where many young people are portrayed as either zombies or vampires.
“The Middle” transpires in a reality that’s rare for TV but common to many people, a world about five years behind the curve and far outside the media-saturated bubble, a place where trying to be a flawed but decent human being is a bit of a struggle, but well worth the effort.
Ernest Moniz is scheduled on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” (11 p.m., Comedy Central) … Helen Hunt and T.J. Miller appear on “Conan” (11 p.m., TBS) … Martin Short and Norah Jones appear on “Late Show With David Letterman” (11:35 p.m., CBS) … Jimmy Fallon welcomes Kerry Washington, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Noel Gallagher on “The Tonight Show” (11:35 p.m., NBC).
Anna Wintour, Willie Nelson and Twin Shadow visit “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (12:35 a.m., NBC) … Dana Carvey and Elizabeth Olsen appear on “The Late Late Show With James Corden” (12:35 a.m., CBS).