It’s one of those TV shows that everyone I know–from My Beautiful Wife to my business partner to my pretend Internet friends–seems to love. Modern Family just won a bunch of Emmy Awards. All the TV critics adore it.
I hate it.
Okay, “hate” is a little strong. But just a little. I’d rather watch reruns of The Flying Nun. Which was awful. But it was at least original. (See, there was a nun. And she could fly.) Here’s why I dislike the Dunphys so much:
1. Wake me up when the cliches stop. Let’s begin with the “Clueless Dad/Overbearing Mom” couple. When was the last time you saw that particular combo? I mean, other than on practically every sitcom since–let’s just keep it in my lifetime and say, The Honeymooners? It’s the most hackneyed trope in all of scriptwriting.
Then let’s add the Older Sister Who’s Kinda Dumb And Boy-Crazy and the Younger Sister Who’s Really Smart And Makes Fun Of Her Dumb Sister and the Little Brother Who’s Just As Dumb As His Dumb Dad. And, I dunno–how about the Horny Old Man With A Trophy Wife and the Latina Bombshell and the Latin Lothario? Does the fact that the LL is a little fat kid make it any less a cliche?
No, it doesn’t. These aren’t people, they’re stock characters, and they’re not funny.
2. Please turn off the joke machine. Remember when there were shows in which the humor grew out of the characters? Those were the days. Today, most TV characters are puppets upon whom to hang jokes.
Modern Family is one of the worst offenders. The jokes fly out of nowhere. Rather than deriving naturally from round characters, they fly out of writers’ heads and require said writers to create backstories retrospectively, to suit the jokes. That’s a lazy and ultimately unsatisfying way to work. Give me Emily Gilmore any day.
3. It’s on ABC. This bothers me. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I haven’t actually liked an ABC comedy since Taxi, and I didn’t like Taxi much. Cougar Town is another dreadful joke machine. Is there another ABC comedy? Maybe my really low expectations for ABC comedies keep me from seeing something great about Modern Family. I doubt it.
4. Totally predictable story lines. Let me name a few: dumb dad tries to teach son a lesson and ends up totally screwing it up. Couple wants so badly to get child into exclusive daycare that they try to be something they’re not. Stepdad tries to prove to stepson that he’s a better father than birth dad. All of these story lines crossed swords in one stinking episode of Modern Family (“The Bicycle Thief”).
Maybe it was just a bum show, right? Here’s another (“The Incident”): principle character’s first wife shows up. She’s crazy. Mom and Dad try to figure out whether to allow their daughter to go to a rock show with a boy. New wife is surprised by ex-wife’s presence at a family party, and they fight. I am not making this up.
Which is the problem. Barely anyone is making this up. It’s the same, old cliched sitcom story lines we’ve see for decades. Perhaps there are no new plots. But, good lord. The fact that the crazy daycare couple is gay doesn’t make the story any fresher.
5. Julie Bowen broke Ed‘s heart. Well, it wasn’t really Julie Bowen. It was her character, Carol Vessey, on the NBC series Ed. Ed (Tom Cavanagh) pined for Carol throughout the series, but she continued to stiff-arm him right up to the end. He had a nice relationship with Frankie (Sabrina Lloyd), which he should have pursued. But his heart belonged to Carol, even though Carol was sort of a bitch. My dislike for Carol Vessey carries over to Claire Dunphy. I know it’s not fair, but there you go.
So, if you add up all of the above…there’s actually only one big reason I dislike Modern Family. I dislike it because it’s been praised as being some kind of breakthrough original comedy. But the mockumentary style isn’t exactly new or groundbreaking, and everything else is the same old crap in a shiny new package. Yes, Eric Stonestreet, as Cam Tucker, has his moments, and Ty Burrell is perfect in his role as clueless dad Phil Dunphy. But the Dunphys are just the Griswolds with an extra kid. And even the Griswolds were based on an old National Lampoon story by John Hughes (“Vacation ’58″), and bore more than a passing resemblance to a NatLamp comic strip called “The Appletons: The Saga of an American Family.” In that strip, Mom was clueless and Dad was subversive and sadistic; once on a camping trip, he suggested the kids slather themselves with honey to keep the bugs away. Now, that was breakthrough comedy.