Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 33: Modern Family

9 Aug

In the 2009-2010 television season, two broadcast comedies stood out both critically and commercially and made it all the way to a second season.  Neither of them was divisive, but both had significantly different appeals.  Community was much more of a narrow cult show, full of pop culture homage, and a perfect fit on NBC’s Thursday night block.  Modern Family was a far more traditional family sitcom with many classic elements, which also did a lot of things better than most classic family sitcoms.  It fit in perfectly appealing to a broader audience on ABC.  My friend and I watched both of them that entire year and we enjoyed both, but also had a year long argument over which show was superior – I on the side of the quirkier, much more interesting  Community, while he picked the old-idea-but-new-excellent-execution Modern Family.  I didn’t pick Community because the idea was new – I probably care less about newness and authenticity than almost anybody I know. I just have little love for the traditional sitcom (which makes me very glad I was not born any earlier than I was).  I have fallen behind on Modern Family, but for a rather different reason than I’ve more or less stopped watching Glee.  The decision not to watch Glee eventually became an active choice to stop watching a show that I thought once had a really good direction but lost its way.  The non-decision to kind of stop watching Modern Family came more out of forgetfulness and relative indifference – the show is the same it always was, at the same level of quality.

Now that sounds unduly harsh, so I’d like to take the edge off.  Modern Family is better than I made it out to be by my indifference. I admit it might be a character flaw on my part.  Modern Family, for those who don’t know, is about three related families, a typical nuclear family with two parents and three kids, two gay parents and their adopted baby, and an older man married to a younger woman, and her kid.  The best family is the classic nuclear family led by parents Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen, who are the highlights of the show.   Phil (Ty Burrell) is lovably awkward, an uncomfortable dad, but ultimately a good one.  And, similarly maybe most to Friday Night Lights, which I’ll talk about later in the rankings, the show showcases essentially working families, rather than dysfunctional ones.   For all their arguments, the parents are good ones and there’s no question that even when things temporarily go bad and tempers flare that everyone loves each other.

At its best the show plays by traditional sitcom rules, while at the same time subverting them in simple but important ways – the best example of this I can think of offhand is when, in a first season episode, Ty and Julie’s anniversary is here, and as opposed to the traditional sitcom (think, say, Home Improvement or Everybody Loves Raymond or countless others) in which the husband is always forgetting important dates, Ty remembered and plotted an elaborate series of gifts, while Julie had forgotten all about it.  It’s a small thing, but an important one, which makes the show interesting.

Why It’s This High:  It’s very well done, and although it’s not my favorite, it’s admittedly more a personal preference than because of the show’s failing – what it sets out to be, it is

Why It’s Not Higher:  What it wants to be is just not entirely up my alley – I can appreciate it, but I can’t develop a hunger for it

Best Episode of the Most Recent Season:  I haven’t watched a lot of the most recent season, but I’ve seen a few and I need to follow my own rules, so I’ll say “Unplugged,” in which the Ty Burrell attempts to wean his family from technology by having a contest to see who can go the longest without using it, and accidentally promises their oldest daughter a car if she wins it; when she does, they’re forced to admit they were lying

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