TV Review | ‘Modern Family’ returns with heartfelt premiere
Published: Thursday, October 10, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 10, 2013 02:10
Wednesday nights are looking a little brighter with the return of ABC’s “Modern Family.” Fresh off of the its fourth consecutive Emmy win for Outstanding Comedy Series, the sitcom returned on Sept. 25 with two back-to-back episodes for its fifth season premiere.
The first of the two episodes, “Suddenly, Last Summer” brought the viewers through the Pritchett clan’s chaotic summer and up to the fall. A true highlight of the episode was Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell’s (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) engagement story — finally made possible after Proposition 8, which barred same-sex marriage in California, was overturned this past June. Like many plotlines in the show, the proposal plans were initially farcical and rife with misunderstandings. Both men planned on proposing to the other in elaborate, romantic ways that could have ended in disaster — who didn’t see that coming? But fitting the mold of the show, the story ended up being quite touching. The couple stopped on the highway to change a flat tire and, in a truly romantic moment, simultaneously said, “Yes!” to each other.
While Mitch and Cam’s proposal could have been horribly sappy, the chemistry between them made the moment authentic and “aww”-worthy. The dynamic between all of the cast members — both romantic and familial — is one of the main reasons to keep coming back to the show. And the Emmy voters clearly agree.
“Modern Family” has won three Emmys for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series and Julie Bowen, who plays Claire Dunphy, has twice picked up a trophy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. Although this past season the show failed to collect, for the first time ever, any acting Emmys in the supporting categories, “Modern Family” still garnered five nominations — three for supporting actor and two for supporting actress. It is rare for all or almost all of a show’s principal cast members to receive nominations, but any fan of “Modern Family” can easily understand why it is so critically acclaimed. The cast creates an incredible energy. If these first two episodes are any indication of the comedy’s future, the acting looks as strong as ever.
As always, the child actors, who have improved noticeably over time, continue to contribute to the strength of their adult costars. Although Rico Rodriguez, who plays Manny, and Nolan Gould, as Luke, have seen their voices start to change, they are consistently both endearing and hilarious. The writers have also finally starting using the rather flat tone of Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, who stars as Lily, to their advantage. A highlight of “Suddenly, Last Summer” was her exchange with Jay (Ed O’Neill), who assures his granddaughter, “Oh honey, no one ever leaves home and never comes back.” Lily, who is adopted from Vietnam, responds wryly, “I did.”
As the actors continue to deliver phenomenal performances, the writers will have to be careful as the comedy enters its fifth season. At this point in a sitcom’s run, it is easy for a once funny and creative show to slip into a writing rut. While part of the show’s appeal is the ridiculousness of the characters and the situations in which they put themselves, the writers should be wary of overdosing on this humor. “Modern Family” appeals to audiences because it is relatable. Many viewers have similarly struggled with planning family vacations or dealt with parents that never really grew up.
“Modern Family” is also easy to enjoy because it succeeds without many long-term plotlines; a casual viewer could easily start watching any episode with little confusion. Fans should cross their fingers that showrunners can keep coming up with everyday problems to blow out of proportion, as “Modern Family” is at its best in these moments. If the writers begin to incorporate dramatic and unrealistic conflicts to keep the story moving, “Modern Family” will lose its simple, lighthearted structure.
The comedy’s writers also face the potential problem of producing new and original jokes that don’t feel forced. Nobody likes to see beloved and quirky characters become caricatures of themselves. Claire is a control-freak, Gloria (Sofia Vergara) has a large Colombian family — we’ve got it. Jokes about Haley (Sarah Hyland) being sexually active and Alex (Ariel Winter) studying too much will only get so many more laughs out of viewers. In order for the show to progress successfully, the characters will have to see more development. Whether that will really work for this sitcom is yet to be seen.
For now, “Modern Family” is still definitely worth watching and faithful fans are praying that it will stay that way. The ball is in the writers’ court. With any luck, they will stay true to their characters while still imbuing the sitcom with fresh material.