High Definition: Modern Family Finds Its Funny
Despite my high hopes for Joel McHale, John Oliver, Ken Jeong and the rest of the cast of NBC’s hit-and-miss Community, the funniest new comedy this season is Modern Family on ABC. The story of three inter-related families works because its characters seem familiar to life but fresh to the screen.
Not that the show is above archetypes: There’s the rebellious teen seduced by popularity, the beautiful Colombian second wife, the trying-too-hard-to-be-cool dad, the patriarch who doesn’t like to show affection, the flamboyantly gay boyfriend. But it’s not taken long for TV veterans Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan to let each character’s uniqueness flourish through the myriad relationships within the family.
We’ve seen Jay Pritchart (Married With Children‘s Ed O’Neill) struggle to relate with his new stepson Manny and his son-in-law Phil, but surprisingly connect with Cameron—his gay son’s boyfriend—over football. We’ve seen 10-year-old Manny give parenting advice to Jay’s daughter Claire and fight with Claire’s slow-witted, hyper son Luke (technically, his nephew). And then the cameo from Jay’s first wife, played by Shelley Long, took the craziness to a whole new level (as Cameron says, “There’s a fish in nature that swims around with its babies in its mouth. That fish would look at Mitchell’s relationship with his mother and say, ’That’s messed up.’”)
There’s dysfunction here, and while a meanness sometimes creeps in, there’s also as much love for these characters as there is laughter at their expense. Mitchell’s tendencies to get uptight are mellowed by Cameron’s constant joviality. Jay’s crotchetiness is mitigated by his wife Gloria’s vivaciousness. Even Phil, the show’s version of The Office’s Michael Scott—with no self-awareness and a self-sabotaging quest to seem hip—is protected from his own antics by a loving wife.
It’s these relationships that make even a completely messed-up family a valuable thing. No matter how bad things get in this Modern Family, it always beats the alternative of not having each other. They’re flawed individuals, offering only broken bits of love to one another, but that’s more than enough to cling to. As Dylan, the boyfriend of Claire’s oldest daughter so sweetly an wisely said—before breaking into a song about Haley with the lyrics, “I just want to do you, do you” in front of the family—“You’re reaching out, trying to hold on to something awesome… Haley’s got the kind of confidence that you get from having a family like this that’s passionate and accepting of hot foreigners and gay dudes and nutty people—you know, family that actually loves each other.”
And a funny one at that.
Josh Jackson is Paste‘s editor-in-chief. When he’s not watching TV, he blogs about music, film and beer at High Gravity.