Jessie Tyler Ferguson (left) and Eric Stonestreet play the hilarious...

Jessie Tyler Ferguson (left) and Eric Stonestreet play the hilarious gay couple on ABC's hit comedy, "Modern Family." Credit: Handout

THE SHOWS "Modern Family" and "The Middle"

WHEN | WHERE Wednesday night at 9 and 8:30, respectively, on ABC/7

WHAT THEY'RE ABOUT On "Modern Family": After getting back from Hawaii, Claire (Julie Bowen) decides to get everyone together for a photo - all dressed in white, in descending order, on her staircase. Meanwhile, Jay (Ed O'Neill) gives Phil (Ty Burrell) a ticket to the Lakers game, and when he waves at Kobe, there's an unexpected acknowledgment by the superstar. Plus, we learn that Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and pigeons do not mix well.

On "The Middle": Sue (Eden Sher) finally gets a break, so to speak, and a tough librarian at school (White) is going to keep Brick (Atticus Shaffer) out of third grade until he returns some books.

Whether you like 'em or not - and ratings indicate that most viewers do - ABC's new trio of Wednesday comedies (which includes "Cougar Town") represent one of the singular achievements of the 2009-10 season: the return of the sitcom. We're not talking rocket science here, except that in TV terms, this is rocket science: Why should something that lasts 22 minutes be so hard to do, or at least succeed at?

These finales reveal exactly why. They're funny, charming and gentle, with excellent casts who have nearly pitch-perfect grasps of just about the oldest form of TV - family sitcoms. "Modern Family" is the better show, perhaps, while "The Middle" is the more approachable. Both are winners.

GRADES "Modern Family" A- ; "The Middle" B+

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