Why Modern Family Is Good, Not Great

Modern Family has a new episode tonight and got a second-season pickup yesterday (along with fellow ABC comedies Cougar Town and The Middle, but not Better Off Ted, which seems doomed), so although it’s a few days old, I’d like to link to David Loehr’s post on why Modern Family doesn’t grab him, despite the high quality of most of its elements. Not all his thoughts are the same as mine, of course, but his feeling about the show is pretty much mine: it’s a very well-made, well-acted show that doesn’t really feel compelling in any way.

Every era has some comedies that strike me that way, shows that are clearly “quality” shows yet don’t have much of a spark. Will and Grace was like that in its early, acclaimed years. Going back another decade, so was Designing Women, a show where all the elements were in place to make a high-quality show, yet never delivered the laughs or even the interestingly quirky moments of a scrappier comedy. (Was Growing Pains a better-written show than Designing Women or Murphy Brown? Yes, it was.) Sometimes a show can be well done in every respect and yet not have anything that makes it linger in the memory; it’s like one of those pop songs that’s got all the right craftsmanship but just doesn’t have a memorable tune.

I don’t want to sound like I’m hating on Modern Family or questioning anyone who likes it. The question of whether a show’s objectively good qualities (well, good writing, acting, etc. aren’t completely objective, but they’re not completely subjective either) add up to more or less than the sum of their parts is one whose answer differs from person to person. It’s a real thing — we have all seen things that are good in every detail but don’t add up to much — but it’s very subjective.

I think the best comparison for MF that I’ve heard, from a couple of people including Justin, is Wings. Especially since both its creators, Chris Lloyd and Steven Levitan, were longtime Wings writers. There was a show whose writing had all the “quality” benchmarks in place, assembled an excellent cast (including Tim Daly, Steven Weber, Tony Shalhoub and Thomas Hayden Church), and was almost always enjoyable to watch, just as Modern Family is — for me — usually enjoyable. But it never added up to more than a pleasantly enjoyable show, easy to watch and forget. The characters were all recognizable as stock types delivering their well-written stock lines in stories that were well-crafted but unsurprising. Wings appeared at a time when there were lots of really good, surprising comedies on the networks, so it was generally regarded as a middle-of-the-pack show. If it came back as a new show today, it might be regarded differently, but it might not deserve it, even now.




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Why Modern Family Is Good, Not Great

  1. Watched first episode of Modern Family. Verdict: total and utter dreck! Cancel that piece of rubbish!

    Plus: Lousy "acting" & not funny at all!!!!!

    • Well, considering you think that hat is fashionable enough to wear, I wouldn't really listen to your tastes…

    • U must tell us what crap u like. idiot.

  2. I only started watching Better off Ted a few weeks ago and I actually like it. I'm not sure if I'm way, way off base because of this or if I have stumbled onto some undiscovered gem.

    • No, Better Off Ted is really funny. Doomed, but funny.

      • I’ll miss Better off Ted.

  3. Wings (mid-season 1 & 2 for $12) is a part of my DVD collection. In fact, it's the only post '86 televison show within my collection. Less than pristine video, a surprising 23 minute runtime per episode, and misleading cover art – overlooking its two older cast members for season 3+ Tony Shalhoub (Monk). Enjoyable but it could be better; it could be on TV again with all of its seasons.

  4. It's a great show! I love it's false commercials that happen right before it breaks to real commercials. I'm surprised to hear it's doomed.

  5. The only problem with Modern Family is that it is only 30 minutes, I'm not ready for it to end yet. This show should be an hour long show. Hysterical!

    • Agreed!!! I love it and find it very memorable. Oh and by the way so does everyone! It will be around for a long long time!

  6. Good Lord, I was willing to listen to that guy's arguments until he ended by praising "The Middle." THAT is dreck, and until tonight I've given it a huge chance by watching it in between Modern Family episodes. But that's it.

    • I agree…but I have a bias against Patricia Heaton. I don't understand why anyone finds her entertaining to watch.

      Though Modern Family has its problems (mainly the kids), I'll take it over just about any other sitcom that isn't "Sunny" or on NBC.

      • Yeah, it's just uncomfortable whenever Luke is on screen. Is it too late to replace him? The other kids aren't so bad – in fact Manny is probably my favourite character.

  7. Almost all 30 minute television shows are forgettable…………Modern Family is great entertainment!

  8. I think the show is genius, the characters have developed at a great pace, its not your typical family sitcom and I think too many people expect it to be….and The Middle= Poor man's Malcolm in the Middle.

  9. Go back to watching Two and Half Men, you hack … they have good old fashioned laugh tracks that tell you when to find something funny and you can always REMEMBER that Charlie Sheen likes to drink and have sex with women no matter how much pot you smoked beforehand … ahhh, good old lazy predictability, right, Jaime??

    • All this for "good, not great?" Imagine the apoplexy over stuff I don't like.

      You are also mistakenly assuming that I love Two and a Half Men, seem misinformed about what a "laugh track" is, and appear to think that my complaint about Modern Family being too unmemorable means that I want it to be more predictable, instead of less. Other than that…

  10. We're on the same page. I'm also on another page: Last week, I left a comment on Sepinwall's ep review, comparing MF to Barack Obama. In both cases, we started out expecting greatness.

    • and in both cases, you were silly for expecting more than what either could give. it's a tv show, and it's brain-rotting drivel by nature. but hey, if you enjoy it, it's worth something.

  11. Crap. Better off Ted has become a PVR staple at our house.

  12. Modern Family is great.. not good… in every way. The other comedies today don't even compare.

    • I agree Amy

  13. modern Family rules. its characters are real and fun. not many shows worth watching but i make an effort to actually catch each one. cant believe u actually compared 2 wings. MF is a way better show. A shame if it were cancelled. Dont do it ABC.

  14. I love Modern Family!! Phil Dunphy-yo and Who Da Manny are my fave characters. It's well-written and well acted and crosses the politically correct lines just enough to be funny!

  15. Well, I really like Modern Family, and absolutely LOVE Better Off Ted. I love the idea that I can follow three families in Modern Family, so if I don't like one character, at least I can enjoy some of the others. The only character that drives me crazy in Modern Family is the dad of the family of three kids..but I really love all the other characters! So great to see some good comedy on TV for a break from all the reality TV drivel.

    Better Off Ted is laugh out loud funny and smart. I really hope it lasts…as I will take that any day over watching an aging Charlie Sheen…shudder…

  16. You are wrong. I
    It's great! MODERN FAMILY IS BRILLIANT!!! Looking forward to many more seasons!!!

  17. Modern Family is sooooo funny, it is the new favorite show at our house — two teen boys and two over 50"s–. It is the only show we like in common. I think all the character are perfect except for the 10 year old boy in the family of 5. The Middle is also very funny and I think they got the cast just right, with the kids being the best characters. I'm a big fan of Everybody Loves Raymond and Scrubs and it is a hoot to see Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn together. Good luck to both these shows!

  18. I love the idea of a character of Dad trying to be cool rather than a cool Dad. You are right that comedy is subjective and it is also has to be relevant to the times – if Wings came back today, it would not come back as that same show because the same things would not be funny. The characters on Modern Family are more well developed after 13 weeks than most characters on dramatic shows are after 5 seasons.

  19. This guy is a complete moron! Modern Family is quick witty and very entertaining. How he can class it as 'forgettable' is beyond me. The is one of the funniest shows on TV right now and I still am quoting lines from the pilot– look at that baby with those two cream puffs! The author of this article clearly no taste for humor.

  20. Modern Family is great and it really shows all the different characters in our society. Wonderfull!!!

  21. Absolutely one of the funniest shows I have seen on t.v. in a long, long time. The characters are well defined, the families each have their own special quirks that endear them to the audience, and the writing is spot on. I hope we get to keep Modern Family for many more years.

  22. The best, and freshest aspect of the show that seems be overlooked is that it's a MOCUMENTARY. That's what makes this show's delivery a step ahead of the others. I put this show up there with the office. God forbid we have a decent family show that isn't cheesy and cheap.. and actually has a central uplifting theme every week. Modern family is the best family show I've seen in a while.. I also loved the other user's comment about "I love the idea of a character of Dad trying to be cool rather than a cool Dad." Let me have my Modern Family.. everything else is CSI etc., single 20-30 somethings, reality shows, or drama.

  23. I think modern family is so brillliant, because there are so many funny situations instead of good lines. Just remember the time when Dylan got in for the first time and Phil slipped on the baby oil. As Dylan was carrying him to the couch… I almost pissed myself!

  24. "longtime Wings writers. There was a show whose writing had all the “quality” benchmarks in place…and was almost always enjoyable to watch"

    Is this satire? I can't tell anymore with you po-mo kids. Maybe Wings is funny the way that trucker hats are stylish, yes?

  25. Modern Family is fantastic. The subtle and not so subtle shots at political correctness are hilarious. Thanksgiving episode was a classic…. the Shelley Long wedding episode….the arrival of the adopted baby..let me see the little pot sticker. Splashdown. The biggest hurry of your life.

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