Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Modern Family"

So I finally checked out the first three episodes of Glee last evening. It's been the talk of many of my fellow bloggers and message board users since it features lots of Broadwayites in leading and recurring roles, as well as ample musical numbers. I'll get to writing about that soon enough; however, there's another new comedy series that just premiered on ABC that has become my favorite new show of the season.

Modern Family is a single camera mockumentary that follows three branches of a wonderfully "normal" (read: dysfunctional) family. The family patriarch, played by Ed O'Neill, is newly remarried to a much younger Hispanic woman (Sofia Vergara) and living with her eleven year old son (already an old soul and romantic). His daughter and her husband (Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell) are struggling in every-day suburbia with their three children (including Grey Gardens' alum Sarah Hyland as their eldest!). Meanwhile his uptight son, played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson (of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) has just adopted a Vietnamese baby with his life-partner (Eric Stonestreet).

What most impressed me about the pilot wasn't only it's unique hilarity (which was practically non-stop), but the strength of the writing. Sitcoms about families have been done since Lucy told Desi that she was having a baby and in all honesty, the genre has been pretty much dead over the last few years. Lately, most of the successful network comedies focus mainly on the workplace (The Office, 30 Rock and Ugly Betty, for example). Much to my surprise and amusement, this series has resuscitated the family comedy.

Most shows usually establish an archetype in the series' pilot and as the writers and actors feel their way through the series, they begin to add emotional layers and depth. However, in this case, they've successfully established realized characters and have cast them with actors with impeccable timing. (Even the youngsters playing the kids!) The writers have taken enough care in building the characters that the humor comes out of every day interaction and their personality flaws. (Especially Ty Burrell's unpredictable and hilarious attempt at being a hipster fatherand who successfully embarrasses everyone around him). They've also managed to show how this dysfunctional unit successfully functions as family. This is especially evident in the touching, albeit hilarious, dinner scene where the two men introduce the baby to everyone.

I don't think I've enjoyed a series pilot this much since Arrested Development came on the air in 2003. And this from the network that dragged out the mindnumbingly unfunny According to Jim for eight seasons, no less! While musing about the pilot with the irrepressible KariG and realized that it was the first series I've liked on ABC since the woefully shortlived The Job, and that was canceled in 2002. Plus, there's something comforting about having Ed O'Neill back on TV as a curmudgeonly father. I have high hopes for the future of the show, and actually am interested in seeing what happens next week.

The series airs Wednesday nights at 9PM on ABC. You can check out the pilot here.

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