First impressions mean a lot in television, and whoever was responsible for putting together the promo ads for ABC’s “Modern Family” (Wednesdays, 9 EST) ought to be taken out to the woodshed and garroted. Take a gander:
I saw that promo poster a few weeks ago in EW, and my first thought was: Lame multi-camera traditional family sitcom with a drowning laugh track and enough gay stereotypes to kill Nathan Lane. The only question I had was why wasn’t it airing on FOX.
So, I was more than pleasantly surprised by the pilot episode. It’s not really at all what I was expecting. It’s actually funny. Really funny. And, from what I could glean just from the pilot, it’s a family sitcom an undercurrent of real heart. It’s good (good enough to attract Ed Norton to a future episode). It’s a better pilot, in fact, than NBC’s “Community.”
Now, my only question is: When will it be cancelled?
It’s not a multi-camera sitcom with a laugh track, although like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” it is yet another faux mockumentary show. Don’t let that dissuade you from watching it; the mockumentary aspect isn’t all that noticeable — it just gives the show a decent framing device and allows the three families the occasional confessional (which provides a lot of humor).
The three suburban families are the traditional one, with a neurotic uptight mother (the glorious Julie Bowen, who is the best actress on television that can’t hold a steady job) and the-thinks-he’s-cool Dad (Ty Burrell), in what is essentially a version of “The Office’s” Michael Scott as a father (only considerable less needy), and their two children. Then there’s an older man (Ed O’Neil) in a track suit, married to a sexy younger woman (Sofia Vergara), who brings her child, a chubby junior-high wannabe Lothario into the marriage. Finally, and what terrified me most, is a gay couple (Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet), who have just adopted a Vietnamese baby.
Besides the unhip Dad who uses text-speak in a failed effort to be the cool relatable father, the gay characters are actually the best thing about “Modern Family.” They do reflect, in a way, gay stereotypes, but they’re stereotypes as written by gay men, if that makes any sense. And though one of them is a flaming drama queen, they nevertheless feel real. They’re not caricatures. And neither, for that matter, is Ed O’Neil. I expected them to play up the trophy wife angle (the pilot episode doesn’t suggest why they got married, or if he’s rich), but the comedy seems to focus more on his age, and not her hotness. The traditional family, too, is just plain fucking awesome — one of the tiny narratives involves the Dad having to follow through on a promised punishment to shoot his son with a BB gun. It may sound sitcommy, but the result gets the biggest laugh, of many, in the show.
“Modern Family” comes from Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, the team behind “Frasier,” “Just Shoot Me,” and “Back to You,” although I actually liked the pilot for this show more than I liked any of the others. It’s really more of what I expected from mid-season’s second stab of a “Parenthood” series over on NBC. It’s winsome. It’s genuine. And it’s really fucking funny, though the humor is understated and often deadpan. It’s “Arrested Development” without the screwball zaniness. And it just goes to show: You can never judge a television series by its promo ads.
Give it a shot. Trust me on this one. If the pilot is any indication, “Modern Family” is the best comedy on ABC, this side of “Better Off Ted,” which is ironic, since the latter show will probably take its place once “Modern Family” is cancelled.