Summer Reruns, New and Old (Part 1)

It’s never too late to discover, or rediscover, a TV show that you may have found late in its original run, or have never seen at all. Thanks to a plethora of cable networks that need to fill their schedules with a mix of old and new programs–plus the networks that were specifically created for nostalgic baby boomers in mind–its easy to indulge (even without the help of Hulu, YouTube, or other on-line sites) in shows you haven’t seen yet, whether they’re still on the air in their first runs, have recently ended, or haven’t been on for decades.

So, here are a few recommendations for shows that you may have missed at first (as I did, in some cases), or that have slipped your mind in recent years, but can be found in reruns somewhere on the schedule grid if you look carefully enough. This week, let’s look at sitcoms that are either currently on the air, or have just ended their original runs. Next week, we’ll reach a little further back in time.

Bonnie and Christy in a rare tranquil moment.

Mom (CBS) – I missed the entire first season of this terrific show, but once I gave it a try, I was instantly hooked. The main characters, Bonnie Plunkett (Allison Janney) and her adult daughter Christy (Anna Faris), are both recovering alcoholics/drug abusers, struggling to stay sober and make something of their lives. We see them meet regularly at AA meetings with their close friends and sponsor, and seek happiness in meaningful relationships. Sounds like a downer? It’s not. It’s hilarious.

Creator/producer Chuck Lorre (The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men) has the characters tackle tough personal issues, and suffer occasional setbacks, but the show sustains its often cynical humor throughout, which is quite a remarkable achievement.

American Housewife (ABC) – Katie Mixon, who stole scenes regularly as Molly’s stoner sister Victoria on Mike and Molly, stars here as Katie Otto, the strictly middle-class mother of three, in a decidedly upper class town of Westport, Connecticut.

As a pudgy, unkempt,harried housewife living among the town’s younger, slimmer, and wealthier trophy wives, she’s determined to push back against the snobbery, while still keeping her dignity intact–which proves a tall order. Katie is no stranger to public humiliation. Her laidback husband Greg, a college professor (Diedrich Bader), spends much of his time attempting to ease both family and community tensions, often brought on whenever Katie finds herself on the warpath.

This show got off to a bumpy start when it premiered last fall, but quickly found its way, and will follow Modern Family on Wednesday nights in the upcoming season–a perfect combination, and part of a superb line-up!

The Middle (ABC)– Often described as an unsung but reliable sitcom on the ABC schedule, The Middle is about to enter its 8th and final season. It’s clever, funny, and often scarily relatable, as it follows the financially-struggling Heck family (again–three kids, two in college now).

The appealing thing about the show, led by perpetually-exhausted matriarch Frankie (Patricia Heaton, Everybody Loves Raymond) and husband Mike (Neil Flynn, Scrubs),is how they cope with their outdated, faulty appliances, piles of store coupons, and their struggles to pay the bills on time (give or take a few weeks).

Sue celebrates her teeth without braces. Finally.

Their only daughter, Sue (Eden Sher), is a stand-out, thanks to her almost relentlessly sunny and optimistic–if often naïve– disposition, even when faced with failure and rejection on a regular basis.

2 Broke Girls (CBS) – Yes, if you’ve ever seen an episode, you already know that the humor is juvenile, the dialogue is crude, raunchy, even shocking, crammed with references to various sex acts and bodily functions. You can almost see the actors thinking “I can’t believe I just said that on network TV” after uttering an especially risqué line.

BUT…the two leads, Max Black (Kat Dennings) and Caroline Channing(Beth Behrs) are utterly charming as diner waitresses struggling to succeed in their cupcake business. Caroline was once worth billions, but all was lost when her father was convicted of stock fraud and sent to prison.

Max’s frequent references to her rough and delinquent childhood, promiscuous mother, drug use, and worse, successively top each other from week to week, or scene to scene (but we can tell she’s exaggerating, if only a little bit). The other characters at the diner, owned by diminutive, put-upon Korean owner Han, have become a family over time. The show was canceled at the end of this past season, but it already lives on, in all of its very naughty glory, in syndicated reruns.

That ’70s Show – The oldest show on this week’s list aired its final original episode in May of 2006, after eight seasons. I didn’t get around to sitting down to watch an entire episode until season seven.

The cast is faultless, the characters will remind you of people you knew in high school, and the writing is consistently just plain funny. Even though it takes place in the mid-1970s, references to the pop culture and world events of the time flow naturally through the dialogue and stories, and are never dragged out just to remind us, “Don’t forget, we’re in the ’70s!” (the same can be said for another current favorite of mine, The Goldbergs, which takes place in the ’80s). As I write this, Comedy Central runs a dozen back-to-back episodes of That ’70s Show on weekend mornings. It deserves the weekly marathon.

These are just a few of the sitcoms whose reruns are as entertaining now as when they first aired, and are worth seeking out if you’ve never gotten around to them. Next week, we’ll take a look at older comedies and dramas that are being given a second chance for us to find again on nostalgia networks and local stations.

Until then, happy watching!