What's On: ‘The Middle’ returns for its last season, Larry and Bernie explore ‘Roots,’ ‘This Is Us’
The Middle (8/7c, ABC): How I’ll miss this underappreciated gem of a family comedy. If the ninth-season opener is any indication, our final year with the Hecks will be another great one. It’s a typically frantic half-hour, with Axl (Charlie McDermott) back from his Europe sabbatical with a new look but an old attitude, overworked Sue (Eden Sher) trying to cram a summer’s worth of fun into two days, and Brick (Atticus Shaffer) considering breaking up with fellow oddball Cindy (Casey Burke). As usual, Frankie (Patricia Heaton) is distracted, this time by the town of Orson’s time capsule, and what to include to represent this wacky but oh-so-relatable family. In a series of speeches that can be read as something of a Middle mission statement on the show’s legacy, Frankie frets: “Will people remember that the Hecks were here? … I want to know that all the things that we’ve done, all our pains and struggles and laughs and sorrows, everything that we’ve shared, that it won’t be overlooked.” Not as long as we’re around to beat the drum. And hey, we’ll always have syndication.
The Middle kicks off a night of top-shelf ABC comedy, including Fresh Off the Boat (8:30/7:30c), in which Jessica gets to compete on Wheel of Fortune with Honey (Chelsey Crisp); a transplanted black-ish (9/8c), celebrating “Juneteenth,” and the promising new The Mayor (9:30/8:30c).
Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (8/7c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): What a week for Larry David. Curb Your Enthusiasm returned to HBO Sunday to deservedly great acclaim—if anyone deserves a fatwa, it’s Larry—and thanks to Gates and his crack team of genealogical researchers, he now gets to explore a largely unknown family history that reaches back to Jewish communities and persecution in Europe. Joining him on a parallel track: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who Larry so famously impersonated last season on Saturday Night Live. Both learn painful and unexpected truths about their ancestors, and through DNA testing, discover a genetic connection that helps explain why Larry David made such a convincing Bernie. A terrific hour.
This Is Us (9/8c, NBC): Emotions run high, as usual, in the Pearson family as they all head West to attend Kevin’s (Justin Hartley) comeback taping on the set of The Manny, which he infamously quit in last year’s pilot. It’s a somewhat forced device to get everyone to face up to their insecurities and doubts: Kate (Chrissy Metz) about singing in front of her mother (Mandy Moore), and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) about being a successful foster parent. The most effective storyline is set in the past, as Jack (a moving Milo Ventimiglia) confronts his alcoholism and its impact on his young family.
Inside Tuesday TV: Turner Classic Movies devotes Tuesdays all month to “Classic Horror,” and it doesn’t get much more iconic than the 1931 Frankenstein (8/7c), followed by the even more twisted sequel, 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein (9:30/8:30c) and another Boris Karloff standout, 1932’s The Mummy (11/10c). … A DVD highlight: The Best of the Carol Burnett Show (Time Life) is a six-disc collection commemorating the great sketch comedy on its 50th anniversary. … OWN’s Queen Sugar resumes its second season with a special Tuesday episode (10/9c) before returning to Wednesdays (10/9c). The midseason premiere includes a reunion between Charlie (Dawn-Lyen Garnder) and her mother (Sharon Lawrence). … Modern Family’s Julie Bowen guests on Hulu’s The Mindy Project, clashing with Mindy (Mindy Kaling) as a “cliquey” mom at Leo’s school.