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By Barry Garron
It’s always a challenge to say specifically what makes a TV comedyoutstanding, but, as Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography 45years ago, “I know it when I see it.” When it comes to “Modern Family,”you will, too.
Long on heart, brimming with great characters, smartly cast,expertly written and funny from start to finish, “Family” is theobvious choice for best new fall comedy — and possibly best series.
If ABC’s new two-hour comedy block puts the network on top onWednesdays, much of the credit rightly will belong to veteran sitcomproducers Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd. Their new series, withits multifamily approach and semi-documentary form, redefines, updatesand invigorates the family-comedy genre. Freed from the speed bumpscreated by laugh tracks, the show moves smoothly and briskly, with onegood line quickly followed by another.
The premiere introduces viewers to three families. Ty Burrell andJulie Bowen play the traditional mom and dad. Burrell takes the role ofTV clueless dad up a notch by deluding himself into thinking he is hipand cool. Bowen portrays the mom as a former wild child who now worriesher kids will follow her former rebellious path. Their three kids — ahigh school cutie, a precocious daughter and a klutzy son, all familiarTV types — turn everyday parenting challenges into comedic gold.
The second family, a gay couple played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson andEric Stonestreet, become adoptive parents in the opener. Ferguson’scomedy skills were apparent on CBS’ “The Class,” then obscured in Fox’s”Do Not Disturb.” Here, and especially opposite Stonestreet, Fergusonrealizes his potential.
The third family is a May-December combination played by Ed O’Neilland Sofia Vergara. O’Neill’s Al Bundy is one of TV’s most unforgettablecharacters, but this role will let viewers see him in a new light. Atthe same time, Vergara’s character confirms that the former calendarpinup girl can be a formidable comedy actress, something her previousseries suggested but didn’t conclusively demonstrate. In this show, shehas a stocky young son from a previous marriage.
The premiere’s story line leads up to a big surprise — a twist thatcreates the potential for even greater hilarity in future episodes. Isthe sitcom staging a comeback? If previous ones were this clever, thegenre never would have fallen off.
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