TBTS Sneak Previews: The Premiere Episode of Modern Family
Through an intricate back-channel deal, the details of which should probably remain undisclosed (because the feeble illusion of intrigue I’m trying to create would be destroyed), I watched the full premiere episode of ABC’s Modern Family this week.
You can get a character synopsis, along with a 3.5-minute preview clip that does a good job of introducing the main players, over at ABC.com. So I won’t spend much time introducing the three somewhat unconventional families at the heart of the show. I also don’t wish to tell all the jokes (but you gotta see the hilarious bit where a kid gets shot) or spoil the debut episode’s plot twist that reveals the connections between the three families.
Based on the drab title, I was expecting Modern Family to be a very orthodox, live-before-a-studio-audience family comedy. I feared yet another 22-minute festival of saccharine, one with the requisite wisecracking kids, clueless husbands, and wives obviously written to make the male audience hate them and the female audience admire them. Must we once again Love Raymond? Do we need Two and a Half more Men? No, and hell no.
So I was very happily surprised when the show vastly exceeded my low expectations. In fact, I’d say that Modern Family seems poised to join NBC’s Thursday night line-up on the list of network TV’s smartest and best comedy shows.
Produced by small-screen comedy veterans Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, Modern Family shares the single-camera aesthetic of these contemporaries. Like NBC counterparts The Office and Parks and Recreation, it also features “mockumentary” interludes in which the characters directly address the camera and a fictional, unseen interviewer. Neither of these techniques wins points for originality, but they’re handled deftly enough.
At least based on the first episode, Modern Family also deserves credit for its handling of the gay couple Mitchell and Cameron. The episode found plenty of humor in their sexuality without holding the men up for ridicule, and it played on stereotypes without falling back on them. Mitchell and Cameron are prone to minor, mostly good-natured squabbles. They want a family. They’re loving, committed, and ultimately rather boring. In other words, they’re just another couple in every way—except those that society won’t allow. From network TV, that’s damn refreshing, and I hope that element of the show doesn’t get focus-group tested into oblivion.
Modern Family’s main flaw, though certainly not a dealbreaker, is that some of the other characters do seem to come straight out of Sitcom 101. There are wisecracking kids, clueless husbands, and somewhat domineering wives. However, the debut gave even the stock characters enough dimension and humanity to compel further interest in their development.
Final verdict: I’m enthusiastically adding Modern Family to my fall viewing/DVR list. It officially premieres on ABC Wednesday, September 23, at 9:00 p.m. eastern time.