Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’ve become that jaded old comic who has seen everything, heard every joke and loves to complain. Maybe I am the modern Jack Carter.
Here’s the deal. A friend of mine recommended ABC’s sit-com “Modern Family” to me. When he said Ed O’Neill was in the series I figured it was worth a try. The series premiered in September of ’09 so I figured I’d do a little catching up and watch a few episodes online to get to know the characters and the story lines.
On the positive side the show looks terrific; a one camera shoot that looks like HD video but could be film. The acting ranges from good to excellent and the dialogue on the episodes I watched was a notch above the standard sit-com repartee.
On the negative side is just about everything else. The show is shot without a laugh track and with annoying “documentary” scenes. I know shooting without a laugh track is supposed to show us rubes that the producers are sophisticated and edgy but if I want sophisticated and edgy I’ll go to my local Equity waver theater.
Back in the 1970’s a trend which has taken over television “reality shows” started with a show called “An American Family.” We got to look in on the Loud Family as they tried to live their dysfunctional lives in Santa Barbara, California. Without getting into my usual “Kennison-ish” critique of all reality shows, how “real” can you be when there is a film crew following you around? The act of being watched must influence behavior. With “Modern Family” we have now come full circle. On “An American Family” the Loud’s tried to pretend they weren’t being watched. On “Modern Family” the extended family of Ed O’Neill’s “Jay” tries to pretend they’re the Louds.
The show also has several “musts” for the modern Hollywood television show. All straight men must be seriously flawed and not all that smart. Jay and Phil are the perfect tintypes of the Hollywood view of middle class guys. There are the obligatory gay characters and bratty smart mouthed kids. Of course, in keeping with liberal stereotypes, the white male kid is a bumbling ADD riddled goof while the Hispanic boy is a genius.
The writing tends to get a little predictable even for a sit-com. In one episode I watched called “Starry Night.” Mitchell, Jay’s son and one half of the show’s gay couple ends up in a dress while start gazing with his Dad and Manny (Get it? He’s gay and wearing a dress! Hilarious!) Just in case that isn’t obvious enough for you, while Mitchell is doing the dress thing his partner Cameron takes Gloria, Jay’s much younger Columbia wife to a Columbian restaurant in the barrio and guess what? The food is too spicy and someone steals the wheels off his car! How un-stereotypical!
As I said earlier I am an Ed O’Neill fan. I liked him as Al Bundy and think his work on “The West Wing” showed him to be an actor with some depth and range. I don’t know if it’s the writing or the acting but I don’t see a lot of separation between Al Bundy and Jay Pritchett. It’s like Al got a little older and somehow dumped Peg for a hot Columbian half his age.
Despite all my whining about its problems “Modern Family” is watchable and even at time enjoyable. The biggest problem with Modern Family is that it is buried by another fake reality show on Fox called “American Idol.”