Television Review: "Modern Family" Christmas Episode

12/11/2009 Posted by Admin

By our guest blogger, Sam Roos

So far, the first season of ABC’s "Modern Family" has mostly focused on storylines that tie together the three separate households in this one unusual family. This gives the writing staff a host of different pairings of characters to play with each week. They do this frequently by splitting up the households, which is a good way to create new alliances and new types of stories. But at some point, if the show wants to have staying power, they need to have episodes where all three families stand on their own. That’s what they did this week, and it made for a great Christmas episode.

Each household had a storyline that developed from places where tension seemed most likely to rise. For Jay Pritchett and his new wife and step-son, it came from their cultural difference during a time where traditions are important and varied. The use of the Colombian Christmas tradition of practical jokes allowed for some very punchy, laugh-out-loud comedy. For Michael Pritchett and his partner Cameron, the story evolves out of their habit of fussing over their little girl. In this case, trouble comes when they insist on a fatter mall Santa Claus than the one currently working his shift. Their reasoning isn’t as bad as it sounds--they’re trying to make everything perfect for their baby daughter’s first Christmas (continuing the theme of new and old traditions). Bringing this sad sack Santa Claus home for Christmas dinner was actually kind of sweet, as well as funny.

But when it comes to the show's long-term prospects, probably the most important Christmas was the storyline that developed at the Dunphy house. Featured was a very classic sitcom storyline that pitted the kids against the parents, in this case over a possible cigarette burn on the couch. The stakes are as high as they get in a family sit-com when the father, Phil Dunphy, cancels Christmas unless someone comes forward with the truth of who did it. It’s definitely not new ground for a family sit-com, but that’s kind of the point. If this show is going to run for more than a couple seasons, it needs to attract a slightly broader audience. To do that, it occasionally has to slow down and take on simpler, single-episode story’s. The Dunphy Christmas could have come out of 40 other sit-coms, and while maybe that’s a little disappointing to those of us who follow the show for its clever writing, it’s probably a good thing for "Modern Family" to be doing.

This was an episode that took the show off it’s high horse a bit. The storylines were simpler than usual, but executed very well. Better yet, they didn’t lose much humor by being less ambitious with the storylines. There was a real sense of heart to the show, and all three emotional resolutions weren't saccharine, as some Christmas episodes can be on other shows. The writers avoided cliché almost completely, and the few moments managed to wink at the audience. All in all, this was a sharp and professional Christmas episode that retained most of what we’ve enjoyed about the first season so far.

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