Given the increasing popularity of reality television and crime scene investigation programming over the past decade, there's been a desperate shortage of situation comedies that audiences of all ages can watch together. Additionally with both scripted series and sitcoms at an all time low, the time had come for a combination of the two to attract audiences looking for the same type of warm, fuzzy, funny and life-affirming ABC “TGIF” lineup families had enjoyed back in the '90s.
Answering the call of viewers and dethroning the increasingly eccentric 30 Rock to become the Emmy Award recipient for Best Comedy Series, Just Shoot Me and Frasier producers Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan struck comedic gold with their admittedly familiar yet fan-favorite network creation Modern Family.
In telling the story of an extended family spread across three different households, the show's writing staff blend together elements from other series such as the mockumentary approach seen on NBC's The Office as well as Parks & Recreation that manages to work in interview based voice-over comments to wrap up episodic themes a la Desperate Housewives or Scrubs.
Although the humor is anything but Modern and in fact much like fellow Emmy nominated newbie series Glee, far too many Family jokes derive from stereotypical caricatures both ethnic and homosexual, on the surface the set-up for Lloyd and Levitan's program is in stark contrast to a large number of sitcoms.
A true ensemble effort thanks to a large cast that's bursting at the seams, this Modern Family is headed up by patriarch Jay Pritchett (Married with Children's Ed O'Neil) who is married to the lovely Gloria, a much younger Colombian wife (Emmy winning scene-stealer Sofia Vergara). And even though his daughter Claire (Julie Bowen) leads a traditional sitcom life with dimwitted husband Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell), Jay's son Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) is in a loving gay relationship with partner Cameron (hilarious Emmy winner Eric Stonestreet) and their adopted Vietnamese daughter.
Claire and the ever-annoying Phil (who seems like the long-lost brother of The Office's Michael Scott) have three children between them, whereas similar to Cameron and Mitchell's life with a new baby, Jay is adapting to life as both a newlywed and stepdad to Gloria's passionate, overly sensitive stereotypically Latin son Manny.
And considering the amount of family comedies that have filled the airwaves since the age of Leave it to Beaver, obviously it's hard to surprise us very often when it comes to new plots, especially when the writers are working overtime to make sure that they've come up with a theme that can overlap in a few households to give enough characters stuff to do.
From a John Hughes like family vacation episode to a few misunderstandings, sibling rivalries and marital headaches, while there's not that much about Modern Family that we haven't seen before, for the most part, it aces its underwhelming genre due to the likable cast members and attempt to avoid old shortcuts thanks to the absence of a laugh track and the fake documentary paradigm.
Even though genuine chuckles are few and far between as it relies way too heavily on big guest stars during its rookie season by bringing aboard everyone from Edward Norton to Shelley Long, it's hard to watch the show without at least smiling from start to finish even if you wish that a few of the characters would've been scrapped so that others could be better developed into three dimensional people.
Despite my high hopes, disappointingly the first season only offered a mere six out of the stellar Blu-ray collection's twenty-four episodes that I would highly recommend as standouts including: “The Bicycle Thief,” “Come Fly With Me,” “Undeck the Halls,” “My Funky Valentine,” “Starry Night,” and “Travels With Scout.”
Promising yet overrated, although I applaud the matter-of-fact, mature handling of topical issues from same-sex marriage to immigration, honestly and regardless of how Modern the series is, more time should be spent on delivering funny and intelligent plotlines than patting itself on the back for simply reflecting our evolving family units.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.