ABC‘s Modern Family has a lot going for it, but what won’t jump out at you right away is the solid writing of creators Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd. The writing won’t jump out at you, because that’s just the way these two work. They are (together or separately) responsible for Just Shoot Me, Frasier, and Back to You, and those are shows (like them or not) which did not always demand attention be given to the writing. They have a quick-witted, quiet style that plays up the actors and situations, and even while you’re laughing, the writers aren’t first in your mind.
Premiering Wednesday, September 23 at 9:00 est, the show is filling a good spot in the overall schedule. It’s a little more grown up, but it’s still got some good laughs, and even if it’s just a sit-com, it looks to be aiming for characters that can’t hide by turning sideways.
As you watch, the show pretty quickly throws three families at you. Jay (Ed O’Neill) is getting a little older, and he’s found himself a much younger new wife who has a very emotional 11 year-old son. Jay is a man’s man from a different generation, and his new wife is a saucy spitfire.
Next we jump to Phil and Claire. They’re the typical family in a show aiming to make the point that there are no typical families anymore. They have 2.5 kids (ok, 3) and their oldest daughter is growing up too fast for Claire (Boston Legal‘s Julie Bowen). That’s mainly because Claire is projecting her own overly wild childhood on her. Phil, on the other hand, is “cool dad.” He’s down the younger generation and all their Oh My Gods, and Laugh Out Louds, and Why The Faces. Yo.
Finally, we meet Mitchell and Cameron. Partners for five years, they are adopting a baby. Cameron is intensely dramatic, but he’s balanced by somewhat overly serious Mitchell, who wishes they had friends whose names weren’t so gay.
The show is fast-paced, satirical comedy that often moves on practically before the jokes see the light of day, and it’s a choice that works here. There are also cut-in interview moments, as though there is some documentary going on, and these snippets deliver a lot of the best lines. That leads me to the show’s “secret,” which has been getting talked about a lot lately. Now that it isn’t a secret that is. The secret basically has to do with the curious nature in which the premiere episode plays out, which leaves the audience unsure why exactly we’re watching these people. I’m not going to mention it, because it was fun watching it play out without knowing, but you probably won’t be able to avoid it.
The test is going to be how the show manages to shuffle all these lives at us without getting so bogged down that the comedy slows too much, and keeping the characters fresh and complicated so they don’t just become their stereotypes. For now though, things look pretty good, and the diversity of outlooks is a fun and welcome spark for laughter.