When it was originally on: 2009-2020
Original network: ABC
Where you can stream it now: The current season is streamable on Hulu, but otherwise you can purchases individual episodes on platforms like Amazon, Apple TV+, etc.
Had I seen it before: No.
What IMDb says: Three different but related families face trials and tribulations in their own uniquely comedic ways.
Why I picked it: Modern Family is arguably the only non-NBC program to obtain massive success in an era where the network sitcom world was largely dominated by NBC. The Office, Parks and Recreation, and 30 Rock were all at the top of their game in 2009. And unlike the popular CBS comedies of the time (The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, etc.) that were relying on the older multicam format, Modern Family was able to achieve its acclaim using the same kinds of formulas that NBC was. It used the trendy mockumentary format that NBC reserved for workplace sitcoms and repurposed it for another time old tradition of network television: the family sitcom.
And the results are undeniable. An 11-season run. Five consecutive Best Comedy wins at the Emmys (a run that ended when Veep burst on the scene). It’s actually a little surprising to me that I’ve never even tried to get into Modern Family given how successful it was. And now that it’s ending, maybe it’s time for me to capitalize on SEO to the extent that I can.
What I liked: I was pleasantly surprised at how funny this pilot manages to be given how many characters it’s trying to establish at the same time. There were several proper, laugh out loud moments for me, and I thought there was a good variety of humor. At times, it’s more slapstick such as people getting shot with a bb gun. At other times, it’s more cringy, secondhand embarrassment style humor. Then you have the over-the-top ridiculousness of Cameron presenting a baby to the circle of life. It’s a show where I can see a lot of different people finding things to laugh at regardless of what kinds of comedies they usually go for, and that’s no small feat.
I also think they did a fairly good job of establishing the different families, and I love their decision to spend most of their time building three separate units before throwing everyone in a room together. They’re arguably a little too reliant on the mockumentary device to make this happen, but the interview scenes were still entertaining enough that that wasn’t a huge deal for me. We get a sense for how each of these three families functions separately, and then they tease us with a big group scene at the end to leave us wanting more.
What I didn’t like: I’d really like to believe that even in 2009, the whole emotional, fiery Latina stereotype would’ve been obsolete and offensive, but I’m scared I’m wrong. It’s okay to have a character who’s expressive and emotional who’s also Latina, but why do they have to go out of their way to tell us that her passion and emotion are the only things we should know about her? And while the show tries to answer this, we never really get a convincing reason as to why Gloria would marry an older, not-as-handsome man like Jay. It would’ve been easy for Gloria and Jay to talk about their own love story in an interview, but apparently it was more important to make dumb jokes about how passionate Gloria’s (presumably Latino) ex-husband was.
Similar issues come up with the same-sex couple, Cameron and Mitchell. Yay for representation I guess but I’m not sure there’s a single gay person that would openly complain about their friends having names that sound too gay. And while having two gay characters at least means that neither Cameron or Mitchell gives each a little more leeway to be flawed since neither has to be THE representative of all gay men, neither one of these characters isn’t a gay stereotype. They’re just slightly different gay stereotypes. They still kind of feel like a gay people that was dreamed up by someone who doesn’t actually know any gay couples in real life, and is instead just imitating other representations they’ve seen in television and movies.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: If streaming this was more accessible, I would 100% watch episode 2. It’s a nice break from more traditional family sitcoms while still maintaining most of what makes the genre charming.
Sidenote: CBS had a similar, but not as popular show called Life is Pieces that is utterly delightful. All four seasons of that are on Hulu, so if you’re craving Modern Family but don’t want to pay for it, that’s a valid option.