Jan 27, 2011

[TV] Modern Family: Season 1

Modern Family: Season 1The success of comedy TV shows like The Office has helped support the rise of what we have come to know as the "mockumentary" format. Mockumentaries are those shows that are presented with a pseudo-documentary style but still within the context of the show's fictional universe. Thus the feel like artificial reality shows where the actors talk to the camera in-camera in a format popularized shows like Big Brother or with more dynamic camera-work as if shot by a TV crew live.

Now I was never really a big fan of The Office. I have nothing against the show, mind you. It just didn't quite draw me in enough to become a loyal enough viewer. But I did generally appreciate the treatment approach to the show and we've seen this crop up here and there in the classic manner that Hollywood tends to shamelessly replicate any idea that seems to be popular at the moment. It's a format that's here to stay, even though the results aren't always as successful.

I think these kinds of shows truly become successful when they don't allow the mockumentary format to dominate the show too much. It really should only be a bonus to the whole narrative - the storytelling experience still depends more on the quality of the writing, the skill of the actors and the vision of the director. And this was a show that I'm glad managed to figure out the differences.

Modern Family is FOX-produced comedy series that plays with the mockumentary style but does not entirely depend on it. It was created by Christopher Lloyd (the screenwriter and not the actor) and Steven Levitan.

The show follows the daily lives of three different families connected by the core family of Jay Prtichett (Ed O'Neill) and his two children who are now adults, Claire (Julie Bowen) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson).

Opening screenImage via WikipediaEd is now re-married to the much younger Gloria (Sophia Vergara), who has her own son Manny (Rico Rodriguez II). Claire is married to real estate agent Phil (Ty Burrell) and together they have three children: Haley (Sarah Hyland), Alex (Ariel Winter) and Luke (Nolan Gould). Mitchell is an openly gay man who has taken Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) as his partner and together they have adopted a Vietnamese baby, Lily.

The brilliance of the show is a combination of the crazy situations that they all get into on their own and yet how they still come together as one big family. And thus this touch of realism has us all thinking about the idiosyncrasies of our own extended families and yet how at the end of the day we generally get along. Yes, there's nothing funnier than real life and one can truly tell that the writers are drawing extensively from their own experiences in terms of the kinds of events and challenges they all deal with.

Whoever came up with the casting for this show was just brilliant. It's far too easy for actors to get swallowed up in an ensemble show like this one, but somehow they managed to pull it off. In this case, almost every family member gets their moment to shine and some of the best episodes involve significant number of family members interacting in a single scene. When you have them all up there, you can truly believe their one family.

And they all have their quirks that while somewhat far-fetched, remain still somewhat realistic. We all know the overly mature kids in the family like Manny or the control freaks like Claire. There are the rebellious teenagers like Hayley and the studious intellectuals like Alex. You have the trying-hard "cool" fathers like Phil and you have the smothering gay mother figure like Cameron. Sure, it's hard to find a family with all these diverse personalities in one branch of the tree all at once, but each are the kinds of archetypes that we encounter at every family reunion, thus giving the show a greater realism and a touch of charm as well.

I was trying to think of episodes I wanted to highlight in this review, but the entire season felt like comedy gold for me. It's always funny to see Mitchell and Cameron act strangely whenever they try to change themselves in order to fit whatever group or person of authority that they want to gain respect from (as a lot of gay couples end up doing). There's the neverending gags related to Sophia's thick Columbian accent or Claire's neuroses or Phil's strained relationship with Jay. And these aren't isolated events in individual episodes - they're all consistent themes (or running gags) that we get to enjoy time and time again.

Modern Family is a great show and a must-see comedy of our times. It draws its humor from the insanity that happens every day in any family, thus making it all the crazier. It gets 5 bell-aching Luke-isms out of a possible 5. The complete first season is available on DVD or you can even watch it online.

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