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'The New Adventures of Old Christine' and 'The Middle': Two frustrated characters, two strong sitcoms

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The New Adventures of Old Christine and The Middle — if you watched them back-to-back last night, you got to see two stars wringing fresh changes on tired sitcom premises.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and show creator Kari Lizer continue to take Christine to places most laffers wouldn’t bother trying to go. Last night’s storyline had Christine finding a “freckle” under her breast and assuming she has cancer and will die. Even as I write it, it sounds like pure poor taste, doesn’t it? Yet if you watched, you saw how, thanks to Louis-Dreyfus’ go-for-broke performance as an incorrigibly self-centered person, it was proven yet again that no subject is off-limits for comedy. And the pay-off — that the freckle was a piece of brownie stuck “up there” — only confirmed this.

After that, switching from CBS to ABC brought us to The Middle, and Patricia Heaton’s Midwestern family sitcom. Again, a cliche has been seized — in this case, the harried mom/wife — and exploded. Heaton’s Frankie has a mantra (“It’s fine, everything’s fine”) that doesn’t hold up to the truth of the economy.

Strapped for cash, unable to afford repairs to a broken clothes dryer, and desperate to perform so small a parental duty as check out a library book for her son Brick, Frankie was driven to manic distraction. When the episode ended with a tornado, I thought the half-hour was going to blow away into slapstick silliness. Instead, the episode had been cleverly constructed to arrive at a miracle: a new dryer blown by the storm onto her front lawn. As with Christine, The Middle‘s pay-off left us on a high note.

Did you watch? Do you enjoy these sitcom women?

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