September 25, 2009

TV: Modern Family (ABC, Wed 9)

A look at suburban family life, told in mock-documentary style.

Jay (Ed O'Neill) is getting a second shot at fatherhood, thanks to his recent marriage to the much younger Gloria (Sofia Vergara), but can't quite make sense of 11-year-old stepson Manny (Rico Rodriguez). Cameron (Eric Overstreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) have been together for are five years, and are new fathers, having just adopted Lily. Claire (Julie Bowen) and Phil (Ty Burrell) are the most traditional of the families; she's a stay-at-home mom, and they're raising three kids. At the end of the first episode, we learn that these families are actually one; Mitchell and Claire are Jay's children.

I haven't been a fan of the mockumentary comedies currently on the air, but this one works better. It uses the documentary interview technique less obtrusively, and unlike The Office or Parks and Recreation, the show actually seems to like its characters, instead of taking delight in their cruelty and stupidity. (And this show has characters who actually are likable, which makes a big difference.)

The writing is funny, only occasionally stooping into cliche, as with Phil's "I'm the cool dad" routine; the cast is solid. Vergara, as she has in the past, is channeling Charo a bit too heavily, but Ferguson and Overstreet are a marvelous comic duo, and already have the kind of chemistry and timing that make them instantly believable as a long-term couple.

(And I think -- please correct me if I'm wrong -- that Cameron and Mitchell mark the first time a broadcast network has given us a gay couple as regular characters. We've had gay characters, and occasionally even a reference to an off-screen partner, but I think this is the first time that both members of a couple have been part of the ensemble.)

And the nice thing is that while we see squabbles and disagreements among the members of this extended family, none of it rises to what you'd call "dysfunctional." These are three very functional families, with couples who love one another and parent/child relationships marked by respect and concern. These intergenerational, multi-cultural, gay and straight families may be the best representation of traditional family values TV is giving us these days, which has gotta make a few heads explode among the right-wing punditry. That alone would be enough reason to root for the show; the fact that it's so funny and entertaining is almost a bonus.

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