Television Review: “Modern Family”: Mid-Season Review

12/08/2009 Posted by Admin

By our guest blogger, Matt Jussim

Families can be funny. Sitcoms about families? Sometimes not so much.

Either way, that’s been the case ever since they pulled “Arrested Development” off the air. Since then, audiences have been forced to sit through shows desperately trying to match the cleverness and wit of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” but just fail miserably. Viewers have become so bored with networks' new idea of a “family sitcom,” that most of the successful comedies on television now are set in the workplace (“The Office," “30 Rock”).

Thankfully, this year, ABC has brought us “Modern Family.” The show borrows a few ideas from the shows I mentioned above--a single-camera format, the mockumentary style, and the frequent slip into ridiculous situations. Having said that, this sitcom about dysfunctional families is it’s own unique, brilliant brand of comedy, and easily the best new show of the season.

Created by Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd--the guys behind Fox's newsroom sitcom "Back to You"--"Modern Family" follows three distinct but connected family units. Set in a nameless suburbia, each represents a specific submission or challenge to contemporary domestic convention.

Claire (Julie Bowen) and Phil (Ty Burrell) have been married for 16 years and have three kids. They're a suburban, yuppie family. Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) have been a couple for five years and return from Vietnam with an adopted baby.

Jay (Ed O'Neill) and Gloria (Soffia Vergara) have only been married six months. It's a second marriage for both--he is much older while she is a young immigrant from Colombia with a sixth-grade son, Manny (Rico Rodriguez), who's more interested in pitching woo to a high school girl than he is in playing on his soccer team. Jay is the father of Claire and Mitchell, which in turn makes him connected to everyone on the show.

The entire cast is fantastic, which is one reason why the show has had so much success. Burrell, Stonestreet and Vergara get the bulk of the punch lines, but no one on the show is a weak link. Even the kids, who sometimes can be that weak link on family shows, are excellent comedians.

Rodriguez, who play’s Manny, is a natural scene-stealer, and he has fantastic timing and delivery. In one episode, after his friends prank him by drawing a beard on him in marker, he says: "So, that's why they were laughing. I thought it was my funny take on current events.”

But by far the funniest actor and character on the show is Ty Burrel’s suburban father, Phil. He is completely whipped by his wife, but also horny for a neighbor (a curvy divorcée) and literally contorts himself with mixed-message body language whenever he's around both Claire and this temptress to hilarious results. Phil tries way too hard to be a cool dad. He mangles online jargon (he thinks WTF stands for "Why The Face?").

Another great example of Phil’s style is when a teen-age boy comes over to see his daughter. Burrell is perfectly deadpan when he says, "Let me meet this, playa." He growls at the boy, who just stares at him, dumbfounded. "Phil Dunfee, yo!" Then in a voice-over Phil explains: "It's like that. You just stare down at them, let the eyes do the work. Your mouth might be saying, 'We cool.' But your eyes are like, 'No, we not.'"

It’s almost impossible to describe well enough in words how ridiculous this scene becomes when Phil pulls a muscle in his back, falls down the stairs, and ends up being carried like a baby to the couch by the kid he's trying to intimidate. Either way, the point is that Burrel is the show's comedic star. I think he is just as good on this show as Steve Carell is on “The Office,” and that is saying a lot.

That is only one example of how hilarious this show can be. Another thing that the show has going for it is that it is very light hearted, and there are a lot of tender moments mixed in the ridiculous situations. You actually feel that the family on the show is a real family. That is a testament to the writers, but even more so, to the actors, who all seem comfortable with each other.

“Modern Family” works because it does something network sitcoms haven’t managed in years--it’s a family comedy with characters you actually care about (and are actually funny). You will not be disappointed by tuning into this new comedy.

“Modern Family” airs Wednesday’s on ABC at 9 p.m.

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