Review: Modern Family 1×1

Outnumbered meets The Office – to some slight amusement

Modern Family

In the US: Wednesdays, 9/8c, ABC
In the UK: Thursdays, 8pm, Sky 1/Sky 1 HD. Starts October 15

If your only source about modern life was American TV, you’d pretty soon come to the conclusion that all families are either nuclear or have single parents struggling to make ends meet. Yet modern families can be a whole lot more complicated than that.

The appropriately if unsubtly named Modern Family tries to show something a bit different. A mockumentary following three separate but related family groups, we see a nuclear family struggling in its own special way to cope with life with children, a gay couple who have just adopted a Vietnamese baby and Ed O’Neill on his second marriage with a much younger woman from Columbia and her son.

While it’s not the funniest show around, it does have some laugh-out-loud moments and some interesting characters to watch at least.

From the Emmy® award-winning writers of Frasier, the mockumentary style series centres around three very different American family units who are being followed by a film crew. It quickly becomes apparent that they are anything but the husband + wife + 2.4 children.

The pilot episode has already garnered considerable critical acclaim in the US: USA Today called it “smart, funny and well-cast”, Variety named it “one of the best comedy pilots in a long time” and Time Magazine found it “the funniest new family comedy of the year…very, very funny”. Plus, it has already attracted a big name guest star in the shape of Edward Norton, who will play a band bassist in an episode later in the year.

MODERN FAMILY will take an honest and funny look at the complications that come with being a family in 2009 and features:

Phil and Claire. Phil and Claire are the parents who want to have that open, healthy and honest relationship with their three children. It’s not always easy especially when you have a teenage daughter who is growing up a little too fast, a too smart for her own good middle daughter and a rambunctious boy. On top of that, Phil wants to be the “cool dad” and Claire is just trying her best to run a tight ship – determined not to let her kids have the rebellious childhood she had.

Jay and Gloria. Jay is your traditional guys’ guy. Some would say he is experiencing a bit of a mid-life crisis. He’s found himself a younger – and much hotter – Latina wife Gloria, who has become the centre of his world. Gloria is a passionate and sassy divorcee who comes with an 11-year-old son, Manny, an overweight and hopeless romantic. Already taking notice of girls, Manny is passionate just like his mum, spending most of his time daydreaming and writing poetry. As Manny’s new step-father, Jay’s not too comfortable with the “sensitive” stuff. He would rather toughen Manny up, but that’s the least of Jay’s problems when he’s faced with the challenge of people mistaking him for Gloria’s father and not her husband.

Mitchell and Cameron. Mitchell and his partner of five years, Cameron, have just taken that amazing next step of adopting a child together from Vietnam. Cameron has a wonderfully big personality and, let’s admit it, maybe a flare for the dramatic, while Mitchell is definitely the more serious of the two. Together, they balance one another out as doting fathers – some might say even a little overprotective – of little baby Lily.

Life is not rigid, politically correct or tidy, but that’s exactly what makes it fun and interesting. Here’s a window into the sometimes warm and often twisted embrace of three modern day families.

Is it any good?
It has its moments, but the acclaim it’s getting – and the ratings – aren’t really deserved.

It’s hard to know exactly what’s wrong the show – it might be more accurate to say it’s hard to know exactly what’s right. The gay couple have some fun moments, including a gloriously over the top “introduce the baby to the rest of the family” scene, complete with Lion King music. The nuclear family is entertaining in an Outnumbered kind of way, although much of its humour stems from: the desire by insanely competitive dad to still be seen as cool by teenagers; and the mother’s suspicion that her children are going to be as badly behaved as she was. The Ed O’Neill/Gloria pairing has the least going for it and is more cringe comedy than anything.

And indeed, as you might have guessed from the show’s mockumentary, Office-like style, cringe-comedy is what they’re mostly going for here. Which is fine if you like cringe comedy, but I don’t, so this show probably is never going to work for me. As I said though, it does have its moments, particularly with cool dad and the gay couple, but for the most part, it merely gives rise to a wry smile at best.

Might be worth trying if you can imagine Outnumbered crossed with The Office and think that’s your cup of tea; otherwise, steer clear.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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