Modern Family is a comedy juggernaut. Through three seasons, the show has garnered large amounts of critical and mass acclaim, piled up the Emmy awards, and got credited for saving the sitcom genre. From a ratings and awards standpoint, Modern Family has become probably the most bankable show in the business. But here’s the dirty little secret: The third season was a creative disappointment. After spending two years developing characters to the point where viewers felt like they knew these people, Modern Family tossed all that character development to the side time and again in the effort to score cheap laughs. Cam the former football star runs “gay?” Of course he does. Phil Dunphy is either incredibly perceptive or monumentally stupid depending on what day it is. And poor Claire is too often played as the shrewy housewife when Julie Bowen is capable of so much more when she gets the proper material.
The problems of Modern Family have befallen many a sitcom over the years. When a show begins to garner massive acclaim in any format, it has a tendency to go bigger and broader in an attempt to maintain that audience. Characters that started out with small neuroses early in a show’s run can become caricatures of themselves if not serviced correctly. It happened in a huge way with another large ensemble cast comedy (Friends), and season 3 seemed to indicate that it may be happening to Modern Family.
And then there is night’s like tonight where Modern Family reminds you what it can do when it brings its fastball. While tonight’s episode was more about the emotional fallout surrounding one baby lost and one baby gained, the show didn’t fail to produce laughs with snappy dialogue and physical comedy (good on Ed O’Neil for being a good sport in the lake). It was everything that we were used to getting from the show in the previous two seasons and the high points of the third. Even though you knew how the emotional beats were going to play out, it didn’t take away from their effectiveness. Despite the few flaws that it has developed, moments like the one between Cam and Mitch in the parking lot or between Jay and Gloria after the pregnancy announcement are genuine, earned moments that the show can pull off with aplomb.
Besides the effective emotional beats, the episode had many other well done parts that felt like a call back to better creative times. For example, Julie Bowen’s performance in this episode was excellent. She wasn’t the shrewy housewife. She was the vindictive mother that is far easier to cheer for and far easier to identify with. And while Manny continues to be Manny (to varying degrees of enjoyment), Luke continues to absolutely crush it. Nolan Gould has really come into his own in this role. He adds something to every scene he’s in and never takes anything off the table. Luke is the one character that has dramatically improved since the series began. It’s always good when a series can go deep into its bench for some good laughs. Hopefully, the call back to the glory days will continue into next week.
What did everyone else think of the premiere of Modern Family?