by Jordan Green
"...Modern Family nearly swept the [Emmys'] comedy categories and the backlash is in full swing (especially since Louie was shut out of its few nominations). It would be too bad if a show with this much potential and accomplishment became a catchphrase for populist mediocrity because it won a bunch of awards." - Donna Bowman at the AV Club.
For a couple years now, Modern Family has been something America has agreed on. Part of that has to be by design, considering the show features eleven primary cast members spread across nearly every American demographic and age group (notably excluding African-Americans and the elderly). Liberals could point to the show's openly gay characters as subversive on some level. Conservatives could appreciate the family-centric message behind each episode and the old-school patriarchy of Jay. Horny men and teenage boys could appreciate Sofia Vergara.
The show has never been at the top of my sitcom viewing list, especially when stacked next to NBC's Thursday night lineup in our Hulu queue, but I've seen every episode and I like it a great deal. What Modern Family has lacked in originality, has always been made up in clever writing, engaging characters, and being downright funny. You have to respect a show that appeals to so many demographics. I'll say this: while it's not entirely shocking, I wouldn't say I anticipated a backlash.
That said, I will now join the backlash.
Oh, man, those first three episodes have been bad. They're retreading old storylines like a meth-head cobbler. Phil is still trying to gain Jay's respect, an ongoing theme that seems like it's been resolved four times already. Cam is still a dichotomy. (You mean a flamboyant gay man can like The Three Stooges!?! What a world we live in!) Claire is still struggling to get that stick out of her ass. And, am I crazy, or is Gloria's accent is getting worse?
I don't care about any of that as long as Modern Family makes me laugh. But that's the problem: it's not. At first, I thought it was a new writing staff feeling out the characters, but IMDB indicates everyone receiving writing credits has been around since last season. Maybe they've just run out of places to go with these characters. Even worse, the episode-ending moral lessons, which have always seemed sweet-natured and appropriate in the past, are bordering on treacle. The end of episode 3 started off well enough as Phil finally realized his dream of tightrope walking, but then Claire comes in on one of those third-wall breaking, documentary-style interviews and says, "Turns out I've had my Super Dunphy all along." Guh. If I didn't have proper perspective, I would've jammed butter knives in my ears.
Or maybe the backlash is my fault, and I'm turning into Sir Reginald Jaded McCynical, Esquire. The sky isn't falling yet. It's only three episodes, and there have been some solid jokes peppered in. (Phil: “It’s just when you say ‘Phil is my son-in-law,” it sounds like ‘Phyllis, my son-in-law.’”) I'm telling you, though: I genuinely want to love Modern Family. I don't expect it to be Louie or Community, just a solid, sweet, and well-written show that's broadly appealing for good reason. And funny. It's really gotta keep being funny.