I’ve been feeling like I missed the boat on Modern Family, having pretty much ignored it last season. But since it made such a great showing at the Emmy’s and sounds like it’s here to stay, I figure I check out this pilot. If you haven’t watched it yet, maybe this will help fill you in, too.
The show opens in sit-com 101 mode, with a family starting their day with breakfast in the kitchen. It hits you with a good guffaw right at the top. The dad is yelling for the kids, and the daughter enters with, “Why are you guys yelling at us when we’re way upstairs? Why don’t you just text us?” After that there’s a bit about the daughter’s skirt being too short and the parents having baby oil on the bedside table. These may not be the most original jokes we’ve ever heard about offspring and ‘rents, but they’re delivered pretty fast and furious. This show isn’t going to waste our time.
Three couples are introduced in a “When Harry Met Sally” format, each sitting on a couch talking about their relationship. One couple is a traditional-looking husband and wife; the second one is a younger Latina with an older white guy (Ed O’Neill, already established in our minds as a crotchety dad); the third is two gay men with a newly adopted child. These segments are interspersed with scenes of the families in their natural habitats. There’s the sense that this show thinks itself edgy. But we’ve seen gay and interracial couples before. It’s got a handheld camera, documentary-style look about it; also nothing new.
However, contrary to what cable has taught us, you don’t have to be edgy to be funny. People want their network television vanilla and their characters loveable, and clearly that can work. We laugh at relatable things like an awkward dad trying to talk slang to his teenagers, or a little boy with a crush that’s way out of his league.
Then there comes a little chocolate sauce on our vanilla. A tween girl, daughter of couple number one, asks her mom, in reference to her older sister, “If Haley got pregnant, would you ever like pretend she had mono for a few months and then tell everyone the baby’s yours?” And said awkward dad accidentally shoots his daughter’s boyfriend in the neck with a pellet gun. These little unexpected moments start to add up.
An unexpected moment arrives when we learn how the three couples are connected. So at last the show feels like something a little new and different—sort of a comedic Brothers & Sisters if you have to compare it to something. It’s a nice little ice cream sundae, familiar but tasty. And a Lion King reference is the cherry on top.