What Happened to ‘Modern Family’?

Written by Brian Wishart October 20, 2011

By Brian Wishart

Well, nothing at all, and that’s a huge problem.  Back when Modern Family premiered in the fall 2009 it was a fresh show with loads of potential. It was relieving to see a less stereotypical gay couple as well as an older man who legitimately loved his younger and very hot wife. The characters were lovable, the writing was sharp and the plots were fun, heart warming and not always predictable. After watching the pilot episode it quickly became my new favourite show and I could not wait for new episodes to premiere. Millions tuned in every week and critics and fans loved following the misadventures of the Dunphys and Pritchetts. Modern Family was at the top of its game and of course got picked up for a second season. The old rule says, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and with a Primetime Emmy and high ratings under its belt why change a thing for the next year?

Variety is why. I can’t think of many sitcoms where new episodes premiere and I can’t shake off the feeling that I have seen the episode before. A DVD bonus feature on the first season set has the writers and cast members relaying how real life incidents in their family, such as shooting a BB gun at the son who misused his fake weapon, had been adapted into plots for episodes. These plots felt organic because they were outlandish but real. You could see elements of your own family’s dynamics in these stories.

Realism or caricature?

The entirety of the second season, and so far the third, lack this relatability. The characters became less real and more of caricatures of what they once were. This happens to a lot in TV shows (I’m looking at you The Office US) but hardly ever so early in a show so young. Cam and Mitch’s (the gay couple) plots can be summed up with “Cam and Mitchell commit a social faux pas and try to correct it with whacky results” or “Cam is carefree and overdramatic which conflicts with Mitchell’s more subdued personality”. Jay and Gloria (old man and young spicy bombshell) have their age/cultural differences to move what feels like every single one of their storylines along. Phil, Claire and their kids have more variety in their plots due to the larger quantity that they have. More often than not these storylines are funny but they just don’t have the same impact as they did before.

There is a greatness in these characters, but the writers are not exploring them and are instead relying on old previous plots ideas and character tropes. The show is still funny and I do get a few good chuckles in each week, but it is missing that special zest that made the first season so lovable and fun. I hope the writers are able to move the characters beyond their basic archetypes and family interactions and return Modern Family to the exhaustingly brilliant show that I know it is capable of being.

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About Brian Wishart

TV writer for We Eat Films and recovering Lost-fanatic. Juggles being a full-time fourth year student at Huron/Western University with trying to watch a plethora of television and movies with varying success.

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