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Why No One Ever Talks About the Second Highest-Rated Sitcom on Television

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | February 28, 2013 | Comments ()


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I'm sure that many of you have a friend or three who you might consider to be close, though you rarely talk or see each other. A friend you grew up with, or your roommate from college, someone who you make little effort to keep up with, besides sporadic Facebook updates. Yet on the rare occasion when you do find time to spend together -- a wedding, a reunion, an unexpected visit to his or her resident town -- everything flows naturally, as though there was never a break in conversation. I love those friends, who never saddle you with a guilt trip about keeping in contact, who never expect anything, make any demands, or chide you for losing touch. It's their easygoing nature that makes it so simple to hang out with them, picking up where you left off, and then disappearing for another year or two with next to no contact.

ABC's "Modern Family" has become the equivalent of that friend for me. You might have noticed that, though it is the second highest-rated sitcom on television, it's not often talked about anymore. We don't follow the weekly drama, dissect the meaning in a kiss, or track the development of each characters. That's because "Modern Family" is not a very exciting show. In fact, after a stellar first two seasons, the show fell into a comfortable, if not monotonous routine, which at first was disappointing, but has since become not worth arguing about. Sure, Haley went to college and got kicked out, and Gloria had a baby, but the beats of "Modern Family" have not changed, nor has the complaisant structure of each episode. We always know what to expect from each episode: Gloria will be loud and shrill; Jay will be grumpy; Manny will annoyingly woo anything that moves; Mitchell and Cameron will squabble over some banal domestic issue; Phil will bumble; Claire will be easily exasperated; Alex will play the role of the smart kid, and Luke will be the dumb goofy one. Sometimes the roles are lightly subverted for comedic effect, but they always amiably return to them by the next episode.

In fact, "Modern Family" has become that show that I watch when I'm avoiding the heavier, serialized dramas, 22-minutes of light decompression, which I'm happy to watch with my wife or alone. Even first-runs are liking watching re-runs, so predictable in their nature, though that is not necessarily to its detriment. I watch for the same reason I used to watch episodes of "Brady Bunch," "Saved by the Bell," or "The Addams Family" after school. They give me a moment to get my bearings, soften my brain a little, and relax. With so many increasingly complex dramas and fast-paced sitcoms with a dozen pop-culture riffs a minute, it's nice not have a few moment when it's not necessary to catalogue every joke or weigh each plot turn.

I could describe to you last night's episode of "Modern Family," but it wouldn't be that different from describing any other episode. Nothing ever really changes in "Modern Family," and were you to skip a few episodes, you could jump back into the series without consequence. It is comfortable, insouciant, and familiar. It makes no demands, it asks so very little of us, and yet it delivers each week a B or B+ episode, a few gentle laughs, and an occasionally authentic moment of tenderness. It would seem like an easy show to emulate, but I'm glad that the networks' efforts to overrun us with imitations has failed because I appreciate "Modern Family" for its unique ability to turn off our brains but never make us feel dumb.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Buck Forty

    Okay, I see what you did there.

    I read the whole review waiting for some vicious/edgy punch line but there was none. You started, wrote a few paragraphs, threw in a funny gif, and then finished. You added nothing to the discourse, but offended no one in the process with your well written inarguable prose.

    Well done good sir, you captured the show perfectly.
    [stands, applauds]

  • kirbyjay

    It's a loving family, warts and all, just like Shameless. What's wrong with that? I guess I'm a chump but I find heartwarming tales with some silly thrown in, well....heartwarming....and silly. Two of my favorite things.

  • babykangarootribbiani

    people might sharpen their pitchforks for making this analogy, but the reasons you cited to watch modern family are the same reasons my roommate and I watch the reruns of Full House night after night. You know what to expect from each one, you know they won;t make you feel any dumber, you can watch them while doing other things, and they can still put a smile on your face. a lot of people turn up their nose at those T.G.I.F. shows or what Modern Family has turned into, but as the long as the plot moves forward somewhat and the kids continue to get older as opposed to staying stuck in some cartoon-style timewarp like that 70s show (where the years would go by and they;d stay the same age, being in their junior year of high school for four years and having christmas two or three times) then really, what;s the harm?

  • Josh

    Gotta say, I laugh harder watching Modern Family than any other sitcom. Think it's extremely clever. It can be light and at the same time have an undercurrent of satire (like last night's episode, which did better than any other show in proving the absurdity of who we allow to marry). Very unperceptive view of the show, Dustin. Love ya, though.

  • LEROOOY

    I skipped this show for a year just because of the name..."Modern Family." The most generic title since "Friends" belies it's genuine comedy. So if you just keep hearing people say the title, but never get any extra info, why bother? See also: True Romance.

  • gunnertec

    would have gone with --> "See also: Romance, True."

    Oooo...yeah. Hurts to miss that one.

  • Sarah

    True Romance is my all time favorite movie. When I go on and on about it to people who've never seen it, they often look confused, not expecting such characters and situations from what obviously must be a romantic comedy or drama.

  • Slash

    I still think it's funny. Lily is becoming kinda bitchy, and I like it.

  • MissAmynae

    Nobody talks about it because if you say any characters' name three times, they jump out of your bathroom mirror and eat your soul.

  • Mr_Zito

    I watch a lot more of this show than I would like to, because all my family seems to love it, even though they admit it has been getting worst every week. It's not a terrible show, it's just become too conservative in its format, I don't see any sign that they are trying to do anything different, which is ironic because the original premise was a very inovative take on the family sitcom, breaking to mold of the nuclear family inside a house, splitting it in three unconventional families. But then there was Manny (and I thought he was hilarious the first time I watched the show... little did I know) and the ridiculous absence of sex in the gay couple (while Jay and Gloria have many, many scenes about sex) and a lot of other increasingly annoying stuff. I still think the acting is great, and Luke and Phil have some hilarious stupid moments from time to time, but they should try to do something different sometimes. There was a recent episode that broke the format and had three consecutive small stories, but the stories were all so bad that it fell flat, but I still think it was a nice effort of trying something different.

  • Jim Slemaker

    This season has not even been up and down. Until this week's ep, it had been strictly on a downward trend. It has gone from breaking and/or celebrating stereotypes in the first couple seasons, to schmaltzy and preachy and incredibly unfunny this season. Are the expectations too high, or is it just that the same jokes have become familiar and tired?

  • Rocabarra

    100% agree with every word. I like being able to turn off my brain and just enjoy the few laughs and chuckles I get, which is nice to know there's always at least a few.

    I must also add that New Lily really grates on my nerves, but apparently if you put her with Elizabeth Banks she is amazing.

    "I don't like you."
    "I'll get over it."

  • chato

    My god YES! I know she’s just a kid—but that is some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen, shebbutchers every single line reading, and it pulls me out of the moment every time. Which is just a shame, because I
    loved the original Lily’s reactions.

  • apsutter

    I hate child actors so very much. They're all so shrill and terrible. It seems like for every 50 terrible child actors there is only 1 decent one.

  • Sarah

    I think you meant reaction, because the old Lily only ever had one.

  • Rochelle

    It's one of the shows I don't watch for a few weeks and then watch back to back on hulu while I'm cleaning. I like it but not enough to make plans around it. The baptism episode a few weeks ago cracked me up at the end in a way the show hasn't for a while.

  • RilesSD

    It has fallen off a bit in quality since season 1, but I love this show. I do hope Cameron and Mitchell stop fighting every goddamn episode. That, or they divorce and the show explores that. I can take everything else, including Manny. I've always found him to be amusing, so I don't understand others' hatred of him.

  • toblerone

    I appreciate “Modern Family” for its unique ability to turn off our brains but never make us feel dumb. REALLY? Do you feel the same way about
    B.B.T and 2 1/2 Men? If yes then CBS is your network.

    Whenever I've seen it I've felt the exact opposite and usually can only stomach it during the commercial breaks for when something else I'm actually watching is on at the time.

    Modern Family seems to have had a pretty scandal free run which has probably hurt (except for the Ariel Winter thing).

    I personally hope it just goes away due to neglect.

  • I've completely given up on this show. At best, it's predictable. At worst, it's cloying and preachy - which is a damn shame, because Ty Burrell's performance as Phil Dunphy is friggin' brilliant.

    It's the rest of the characters I can't stand being around for more than 5 minutes.

  • atoz15

    i enjoy Ed O'Neill, too...but ya the rest are basically insufferable

  • True. Ed O'Neill is always great. But I wish they'd give up the grumpy old man facade. His character more than anyone else's seems to deliver The Heartwarming Lesson at the end of every episode and I think it kind of undercuts the performance.

  • L.O.V.E.

    Insouciant?

    Well someone decided to put on his fancy boy hat today.

  • Lucie

    Complacent*

  • RilesSD

    I noticed that too, but I looked it up and think Rowles used it correctly.

    com·plai·sant

    Adjective: Willing to please others; obliging; agreeable.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I'll pay top dollar for a picture of Dustin in a fancy boy hat.

  • the dude

    someone never read a book and feels threatened by BIG WORDS!

  • alwaysanswerb

    I'm.. not sure that's exactly what's going on here.

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