Tuesday, November 3, 2009

TV Review: Modern Family

Property of The Daily Gamecock

The family sitcom has probably become the most derivative and groan-inducing of TV comedy’s sub-genres. Every once in a while the networks strike big with an “Everybody Loves Raymond” or an “Arrested Development,” but more often than not these shows reek of formulaic structures, bland characters, and obvious writing.

ABC’s “Modern Family,” airing Wednesdays at 9 p.m., almost explodes with great comedic writing and well-defined characters that run the gamut of deluded suburban stereotypes. This comedy from creators Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd is one of the season’s most enjoyable new shows.

Shooting in the popular style of mocumentaries, the show is splintered around three separate “spheres” of one family. One sphere focuses on family patriarch Jay, a superbly dry Ed O’Neill, his much younger and more Hispanic second wife Gloria, played by Sofia Vergara, and her son Manny, a 10-year-old who thinks he has wisdom beyond his years.
A second sphere, incorporating more standard suburban comedy situations, follows wannabe-cool dad Phil (Ty Burrell); his wife and Jay’s daughter, Claire, played by Julie Bowen; and their three kids: the too-cool-for-her-family teenage Haley, the snarky middle child Alex, and youngest Jake, whose immature actions confound his parents.

The final branch follows Jay’s gay son Mitchell, played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and his boyfriend Cameron, played by Eric Stonestreet, as they try to raise a newly adopted Asian baby.

The show’s premise is deceptively simple: What does the word “family” mean in a society with increasing multi-cultural and same-sex households? If the suburban sitcom of the 1950s was about rigidly enforcing the supposed homogenous morals of its time, “Modern Family” celebrates the unhinged and awkward flow of life between wildly different sets of people.

While the mocumentary style has become wildly overplayed in the wake of shows like “Arrested Development” and “The Office,” this show remains stylish and relatively conservative in how it employs the camera.

Talking head interviews are rarely overdone, and the handheld camera is often well framed and moves rather effortlessly around family confrontations.

The real surprise about “Modern Family,” and why it’s one of this season’s new comedies that’s worth a watch, is that it provides a commentary on why people love each other and the bizarre ways they try to express it.

Beneath its sarcastic and snide humor, there’s something genuinely expressive about the emotions in this “Modern Family.” In its first few weeks, it has found a footing remarkably fast, supported by a hyperactive wildfire of an acting ensemble, where even the kids feel well-rounded and truthfully written.

It’s a show that, above anything else, is exemplary of how to balance and package a lot into its 30-minute time slot.

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