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I finished the latest episode of Modern Family today to a new discovery. I actually sort of like Phil, the dad character of the traditional nuclear family. Heretofore I found him and his whole family rather dull and riddled with cliché that got old when Everybody Loves Raymond was still airing. Claire, his wife, acts like he’s an idiot, and he repeatedly proves her right. But I’ll get back to them and talk about why the other characters constantly overshadow them in the series.

The gruff patriarch of the series, Jay (portrayed by the great Ed “Al Bundy” O’Neill), has divorced the mother of his two children and remarried Gloria. While she borders, at the very least, a stereotypical Latina she has enough good moments to balance out the character. Rounding out their household is Manny, her son from her previous marriage. He has a terrific dynamic with man’s man Jay, as Manny is so overly passionate, sincere and outgoing that he exasperates Jay. Basically Manny is a college freshman, but eleven years old and untainted with self-consciousness and bullshit. He also suffers the usual pubescent crises but in his own advanced way, wishing to be older than he can be physically or emotionally. He usually makes this family’s segments on the show, though appearances by his wayward father skew the relationship between his mother and Jay with a nicely portrayed awkwardness.

Jay’s son, Mitchell, is a gay man in what should essentially be a marriage with his partner Cam. Much allusion is made about the difficulties between he and Jay during his coming out, though they have a fairly good relationship in the current day. He and Cam have also adopted a daughter, Lily. He is uptight, prissy and often times an irritating bore. All of this actually serves the show, though, as it showcases the best character, Cam, to his best.

Cam may just be the best television character to come along in the past decade. So beset with contradiction is Cam that he seems to appeal to everyone and no one at the same time. The biggest queen on screen since Nathan Lane in The Birdcage, Cam also played linebacker in college and is an avid football fan. He attempts to bond with Jay over this in one episode with mixed results. That he tries so hard to please everyone also contradicts the way that he frequently does embarrassing things so unashamedly. His best moment was the episode that explored his clown background. Cam proudly reveals his past studying clowning and professionally performing, and wears his full makeup and costume to one of the children’s birthday parties. On the ride over Mitchell pumps the gas for their car because he doesn’t want Cam to be seen dressed this way. He gets into a confrontation with a jerk that bumps their car, however, and backs down. Cam gets out of the car and makes the guy apologize in what is probably the best moment in television in 2009. The guy is so bewildered at the thought of being assaulted by a gay clown (Cam makes their relationship known to him) that he immediately apologizes and backs off. If Cam hadn’t already been my favorite, with his endearingly odd and sweet personality, a threatened beating-by-clown would have sealed it.

The final family featured in the show is the more traditional one I mentioned, headed by Phil and Claire, Jay’s daughter. They have three kids, a typically self-absorbed drama queen of a teenager, Haley, the too-smart-for-her-own-good middle kid, Alex, and Luke, the weird kid. Their stories are generally the least interesting and most likely to be sitcom rehash. Listening to Phil and Luke this week, though, speculating what kinds of treasure they were likely to find both in and under the house, and what they would buy with the money they made selling it, was quite charming in its unbridled dorkiness. Claire is typically up in arms over something that isn’t right around the house and sorting it out while Phil offers up useless advice only to be scolded by her. While far from terrible, they’re just so easily surpassed by the better written characters in the show that they seem at times superfluous, and just included to balance out the eccentricities of the other two households.

All in all, though, the first season has been very enjoyable, funny, well written and acted and the characters are realistically portrayed. Everyone has their less than their best moments but no one is an outright ass, which is refreshing to watch, and the dialogue is clever without being precious. It’s been one of the better examples of what a sitcom can accomplish in the last few years of television. 4 ½ stars

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2 Comments

  1. Can’t wait to see this. I’ve become a pretty die-hard Ty Burrell fan over the years…such that I am finally bothering to learn his actual NAME, instead of continuing to call him, “That evil metrosexual from the ‘Dawn of the Dead’ remake…”

  2. I’ve been watching it on Hulu.


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