Fourth season of ‘Modern Family’ still tugs heartstrings
Comedic mockumentary remains appealing, despite backlash
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 08:10
ABC’s ensemble comedy “Modern Family” occupies the rare cultural space where critics praise it, awards are dumped on it and it also has a huge viewership. As recent shows like “Girls” have proven, this kind of universal acclaim usually leads to a vicious backlash from cynical reviewers. Despite the instinct to hate on the show, the series’ fourth season proves that “Modern Family” is still a funny and amusing sitcom.
The key to “Modern Family’s” success is its exceptional, believable cast. While all the characters are stock “types,” the actors find ways to make them human and incredibly funny. And even though all of the actors are top−notch, two in particular stick out for their ability to overshadow the rest.
Emmy−winner Ty Burrell is wonderful as goofball Phil Dunphy. He could easily fall into the stock “useless dad character,” but Burrell’s timing is effortlessly perfect. Any fan knows that in most episodes, Phil is going to say something that has a second, dirtier meaning that flies right over his head. This shtick should theoretically become boring and stale after so many seasons, but it still works because of Burrell’s sincerity and honest delivery.
Burrell makes it clear that Phil means well even if his actions are often embarrassing and a little misguided. This keeps him from becoming the typical “dumb character” that most shows have. Burrell’s honesty makes it easy for “Modern Family” to showcase its sentimental plotlines alongside its zanier ones.
The other star of the series is the beautiful Sofia Vergara. It would be very easy to brush off Vergara because of her perfect features, but underneath her flawless exterior is a very talented actress and comedian. She brings an appealing naivete and hidden rage to her character that makes her an absolute scene−stealer. From her frequent mispronunciations to her sudden bursts of anger, she keeps the audience laughing even when the material isn’t of the highest caliber.
What gives “Modern Family” its wide appeal is how clean and generally relatable its humor and stories are. While most current shows are cynical and mean, “Modern Family” isn’t afraid to be sentimental and interested in just how much the family members love each other. Most of the humor stems from awkward but mostly innocent situations, and episodes generally end with heart tugging lessons and the characters knowing that they all still care about each other. This premise might sound slightly obnoxious, but the actors sell the emotions well enough that they make the show’s outcomes and the audience’s reactions feel authentic.
A major flaw that’s plagued both this season and previous seasons is the writers’ attempts to balance a large cast. Most episodes get divided into three separate storylines that become connected or come together by the end.
With run times of only about twenty−one minutes per episode after commercials are factored out, that only gives each storyline about seven minutes to create a problem, deal with it and find a solution. Some plots feel either minor or rushed because of this time crunch. The show would benefit from having a few episodes focus more closely on fewer characters, or from having more episodes that bring all the characters together throughout the episode.
The current season of “Modern Family” has seen some major shifts to the show’s structure. After a time lapse, Gloria is visibly pregnant, Mitch and Cameron have gotten a new cat and now Haley is off to college. These little changes work because they open up the characters to plenty of new plotlines. There is a comedic goldmine of possibilities of what to do with Gloria and how she is adjusting to being pregnant with her second child. The same can be said of Haley leaving home, as there are numerous situations that could stem from this, including how her family will deal with, or revel in, her absence.
“Modern Family” is currently one of the biggest shows on television. While the show might not deserve such its acclaim, it does have an excellent cast that makes the characters both funny and real.