×

Modern Family

Comedy deftly serves up laughs on multiple levels -- from understated one-liners to grand sight gags.

With:
Jay - Ed O'Neill Claire - Julie Bowen Phil - Ty Burrell Gloria - Sofia Vergara Mitchell - Jesse Tyler Ferguson Cameron - Eric Stonestreet Haley - Sarah Hyland Luke - Nolan Gould Alex - Ariel Winter Manny - Rico Rodriguez

Easily the new season’s best comedy pilot, “Modern Family” deftly serves up laughs on multiple levels — from understated one-liners to grand sight gags. Flitting among three storylines, it’s smart, nimble and best of all, funny, while actually making a point about the evolving nature of what constitutes “family.” It is also, more pragmatically, something of an odd fit in ABC’s Wednesday stack of new comedies, which otherwise range from a staid 1990s feel (“Hank”) to the not-so-hilarious lowbrow (“Cougar Town”). Some thinning of the comedy herd seems likely, and one can only hope that this cream rises to the top.

The pairing of former “Frasier” writer-producer Christopher Lloyd and “Just Shoot Me’s” Steven Levitan has previously yielded “Back to You,” but this is a vastly superior effort — one that employs some of “The Office’s” direct-to-camera production style and confessionals without feeling overly precious or like it’s working too hard at being the coolest kid in the room.

ABC’s promos spoil a nice reveal toward the end of the pilot (we won’t), which follows three separate arcs: a gay couple (Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet) who have just adopted a Vietnamese baby; a know-it-all dad (Ty Burrell) and his wife (Julie Bowen), raising kids in a somewhat unorthodox manner; and the May-December marriage of a cranky older guy (Ed O’Neill) trying to keep pace with his extravagantly gorgeous Latina bride (Sofia Vergara) and her son, enduring the fact that people tend to call him “Grandpa.”

Each thread has its own merits, with O’Neill (he of “Married … With Children”) as perhaps the lowest-key and highest-profile of the leads. Burrell (whose teachable parenting moments have a way of spectacularly backfiring) and Stonestreet (music from “The Lion King” has seldom been put to funnier use) nab the biggest laughs in the premiere.

As for the show’s prospects, the lack of an obvious companion amid ABC’s fledgling sitcom four-stack, and the shaky track record for smart single-camera comedies, raise doubts as to whether “Family” can find a sizable audience. Although the network clearly recognizes the show’s potential — having screened the pilot in its entirety at the upfronts — the specter of another dysfunctional clan, “Arrested Development,” looms relatively large, and juggling three storylines does invite skepticism as to whether Levitan and Lloyd can maintain the zaniness and quality.

In other words, as enjoyable as “Modern Family” is, these are tough times for families in general and sitcoms in particular. Those dynamics require applying some of the same approach to grading half-hours as dealing with eccentric relatives — namely, practicing patience and lowering expectations.

Popular on Variety

Modern Family

ABC, Wed. Sept. 23, 9 P.M.)

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Levitan Lloyd Prods. in association with Twentieth Century Fox Television. Executive producers, Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd; producer, Jeff Morton; director, Jason Winer; writers, Levitan, Lloyd.

Crew: Camera, David Hennings; production designer, Richard Berg; editor, Ryan Case; music, Gabriel Mann; casting, Jeff Greenberg. Running time: 30 MIN.

Cast: Jay - Ed O'Neill Claire - Julie Bowen Phil - Ty Burrell Gloria - Sofia Vergara Mitchell - Jesse Tyler Ferguson Cameron - Eric Stonestreet Haley - Sarah Hyland Luke - Nolan Gould Alex - Ariel Winter Manny - Rico Rodriguez

More TV

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • Peter Weber and Mike Johnson

    'The Bachelor's' Mike Johnson on Diversity and New Leading Man Peter Weber

    ABC named its newest star of “The Bachelor” this week, officially making Peter Weber the leading man for Season 24 of the long-running dating show. Social media backlash ensued following the announcement due to ABC’s selection lacking diversity, yet again. Since the dating franchise began in 2002, there has been only one “Bachelorette” of color [...]

  • ABC Studios Logo

    ABC Studios Head of Alternative Fernando Hernandez Exits

    ABC Studios’ head of alternative Fernando Hernandez has departed from his post at the Disney-owned television studio, a source familiar with the situation told Variety. The Hollywood Reporter first reported the news. Hernandez’s exit follows an executive shuffling at the top in recent months that has included the departure of Amy Hartwick, ABC Studio’s head [...]

  • Rob Cowan, Greg Silverman'The Conjuring 2'

    Greg Silverman’s Stampede, School of Rock Team for Unscripted Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Former president of Warner Bros. Pictures Greg Silverman is partnering with School of Rock through his content creation company Stampede. The collaboration with the music school will create exclusive content, starting with the development of an unscripted series.  School of Rock operates a network of performance-based education franchises that offer students of all ages guidance [...]

  • TV Roundup: Erica Durance Reprises 'Smallville'

    TV News Roundup: Erica Durance Reprises 'Smallville' Role in 'Arrowverse' Crossover

    In today’s TV news roundup, Erica Durance reprises her “Smallville” role in the CW’s annual “Arrowverse” crossover, and Showtime shares with Variety an exclusive sneak peek at the return of “The Circus.” FIRST LOOKS “2020 is the most important election of our lifetime,” Alex Wagner says in a new trailer for the fourth season of [...]

  • Patrick Whitesell and Ari Emanuel WME

    Endeavor Targets Sept. 27 for Stock Debut, IPO Video Tells Company's Origin Story

    After years of preparation, Endeavor is set to make its formal Wall Street debut on Sept. 27, when its stock will begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Endeavor has targeted Sept. 26 for the final pricing of its shares. The stock will trade publicly the following day. Earlier this week, Endeavor said its [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content