Saturday, April 23, 2011

Modern Family's Episode of Perfection

Let me start by saying that Modern Family one of those rare sitcoms where it all comes together - superb writing, acting and directing. Even more than that, it has that little something "extra" when it comes to cast chemistry. I Love Lucy had it. The Mary Tyler Moore show had it. So did Friends and Seinfield. Last Wednesday's episode was flawless. It was filled with the show's trademark snark, brilliant character reactions (verbal and physical) and perfect timing.

The premise of the show is simple. Its execution is a little unorthodox. We have an extended family that lives in Los Angeles. The patriarch, Jay Pritchett (brilliantly played by Ed O'Neill), has married a second wife (Sofia Vergara) who's 20 years younger. She's a beauty from Colombia who has a 10 year old son. Rounding off the ensemble are Pritchett's adult daughter Clair, her husband Phil, and their three kids; and Pritchert's adult gay son Mitchell (Claire's brother), and his partner Cam (Eric Stonestreet already won a well deserved Emmy for portraying this character). Last season Mitchell and Cam adopted a baby girl they named Lily.

Last Wednesday's episode, titled "Someone to Watch Over Lily," centered around Mitchell and Cam's quest to find guardians for their little girl should something happen to them. Clair, Jay and Gloria did their best to (unintentionally) disqualify themselves. Hilarious - and the perfect way to further develop already well-defined characters.

My favorite part of the episode was the secondary storyline involving Claire & Phil's two teenage daughters. The two have never gotten along. The older sister is the pretty and popular one with a big social life. The younger sister is the bookworm and dork who strives to be a perfectionist. The older sister, of course, doesn't want to be seen dead around her uncool younger sister. In this episode, we have that wonderful moment when siblings start growing up and begin to "catch up" to each other in maturity. Circumstances throw the girls together and they embark on a caper that will surely get them both in big trouble. Older sis sees a new, emerging side of younger sis - one that's willing to actually have some fun. Younger sis discovers she kind of likes the thrill of doing something dangerous and naughty. The two have a bonding moment.

In real life such sibling attitude reversals usually don't happen all of a sudden - as it does in one TV episode - but certain life-events can be strong catalysts for relationships to evolve. I remember being the bratty kid-brother. I remember fighting with my sister as typical siblings do. I remember her not wanting me around her "cool" friends (are you listening Jane - co-owner of The Flaming Nose and the one friend of my sister's who always felt bad for me!!). Then I entered high school and my sister went off to college and wow, things changed. We became very close friends and I can't think of any serious fighting between us since. I have become heavily invested in Modern Family's characters, and to see this sibling "bonding" moment materialize was strangely heartwarming.

Side note: the actor who play's Gloria's son Manny, Rico Rodriguez II, is one of the greatest child stars to come along in a while. The character is 10 going on 40 - truly one of the most hilarious and unique characters on television. Rodriguez's portrayal is nothing short of genius.

You can't help but see yourself and your family when you watch this show. The strange thing is, as a gay man with a partner, you'd think I would always identify with Cam and Mitchell. Well, I do, at least 50 percent of the time. What surprises me is how often my 16 year relationship reminds me of Gloria and Jay, and occasionally Claire and Phil. It proves how universal this wonderful sitcom really is.

In keeping with the episode's theme of "good parenting," Claire and Phil take their youngest child, Luke, to a therapist. You can learn so much about the characters from each scene - including this one.

Modern Family airs on ABC Wednesdays at 9pm ET/8pm CT.


Jane said...

What a wonderful post about one of my favorite series! I love it when writers fold their own personal anecdotes into a review of a television program, particularly when I was a real time witness of the story! Yes, I took great pity on the sibling cruelty I witnessed back in the 70's when dinosaurs roamed the earth. (maybe because I was so close to my own sisters). And yes, I am happy to say I lived long enough to see what magnificent friends you and my BFF have become over the years. Family is wonderful in all its permutations. Modern Family is wonderful in all its permutations. It's a little bit of heaven in a half hour. Although I must admit I was aghast when little Lilly got her ears pierced this week. Horrors!

Lisa said...

I've been holding off watching MF because it seemed to be so much about kids...I guess I'll have to take the plunge, eh? I know everybody loves it and it's probably time for me to catch up! This was a charming personal appreciation of the show, Scott, and that really makes it special. TV is especially important as a mirror of us or as a window into different experiences, and it so seldom achieves that quality. Thanks for this great post!