Monday, September 6, 2010

Modern Family - Season 1



I thought I'd check out the show that finally usurped 30 Rock's title as standing Emmy winner for best comedy series. It's not the funniest show on TV in my opinion, but it's pretty darn good, and certainly more deserving of the award than Rock was last year. It's about three interconnected families living in Los Angeles, and the wacky sitcom hijinks they get into. Ed O'Neill of Married... with Children fame plays Jay, patriarch of the Pritchett clan. He's recently remarried Gloria and taken in her son. He has two children from his first marriage; Mitchell, who adopts a Vietnamese baby with his partner Cameron in the pilot; and Claire, who has three children with her husband Phil.

The fact that I bothered to name all of the main characters, and I wasn't bothered by the fact that all of them except O'Neill were nominated for acting awards, tells you how great the cast is. Cam (played by Eric Stonestreet, the only one to actually win an Emmy) and Phil are definitely the funniest ones to me, but they all bring a surprising amount to the table, when they could have easily been sitcom clich├ęs. Like, amazingly easily. The grumpy old guy! The fussy housewife! The feisty latina! The dorky dad! The gay guys! But the combination of smart writing and solid performances keep it grounded, and funny rather than painful most of the time. Even the child actors on the show are generally pretty good, at least able to deliver a punchline and not be too annoying.

Really, it's a miracle the show isn't depressingly tired, with all of the classic sitcom tropes it runs through during its first season. Comic misunderstandings, white lies that balloon into mass deception, an inordinate number of people discovering someone in a compromising position, even a twist on "He's right behind me, isn't he?" But that's sort of part of the fun, I guess. They do a great job of developing the characters, so you actually care about their relationships and hope it works out instead of just getting some cheap laughs out of impossible situations. Yeah, they'll do a story you've seen many times before, but the results will usually be illuminating in some way, if maybe trying a bit too hard to be touching. If I had to compare Family to one sitcom in the last ten years, it would be Arrested Development because of its large interrelated cast (and generally being good) with the only surface difference being Family has more and younger kids, but they're actually fairly different in tone. Development was always kind of cynical about how Michael can never really count on anyone in his family, and how sometimes even he wasn't a very good person. Family is a lot more sentimental and generally nicer, which is a fine approach, it just leads to the last two minutes of episodes tending to be pretty cheesy. Luckily that's diffused often enough with some humor that it never gets too oppressive. I'm looking forward to seeing the second season on regular TV with my other shows.

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