Defending champ ‘Modern’ impresses past TV toppers

Road to the Emmys 2012: Comedy

Linwood Boomer has come to expect a nice payoff with every new episode of “Modern Family.”

“When you watch that show, you know you’re going to have two or three really big laughs, which is a very rare and wonderful thing,” says the creator of the 2000-06 Fox laffer “Malcolm in the Middle.”

The cast and crew of “Modern Family” have come to expect a nice payoff of their own every year — the Emmy for comedy series, which has come each of its first two seasons on ABC. They’ll pursue a threepeat with a show that remains consistent, according to another fan, Bob Bendetson, exec producer of the 1990s ABC family sitcom “Home Improvement.”

“It still seems fresh, and the relationships seem real,” Bendetson says. “It’s hitting on all cylinders and levels.”

The third season of “Modern Family” took the show’s various clans everywhere from a dude ranch to Disneyland, put them in the center of a local political campaign, rushed them into a last-minute Express Christmas holiday, and — as always — dealt with the stuff of everyday life.

That would include a storyline which produced, says Boomer, “one of the best jokes I’ve heard in a long time.”

In “Leap Day,” the Dunphy family and Manny made plans to celebrate Feb. 29 in grand fashion — flying on a trapeze at a local amusement park. But everything landed with a thud once the guys discovered it was that time of the month for Claire, Haley and Alex. The girls’ roller-coaster emotions were often directed at Phil.

“The three of you ganged up on me like when the Wolfman, Dracula and Frankenstein show up in the same movie — except this wasn’t awesome,” he complained.

“You didn’t see that punchline coming,” Boomer says. “You totally understand why it came out that way, and at the same time it was a complete surprise.”

When it premiered, “Modern Family” went against the wave of workplace comedies and brought the genre back home with success, says Rob Owen, TV critic with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Creators Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd painted such a broad canvas that viewers recognize themselves and members of their own families, Owen adds — and he’s not just referring to the demographics.

“You can relate to the behavior of the characters,” he says. “The situations that they get into may be absurd at times, but they’re often recognizably absurd. The writers do a great job of balancing the believability with the silliness that makes it funny.”

At the Emmys, “Modern Family” already stacks up nicely against two earlier family sitcom hits, “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which won comedy series in 2003 and ’05, and “The Cosby Show,” which won in 1985.

“They’re well on their way. From the pilot on, ‘Modern Family’ has gotten it right,” says Barnet Kellman, who directed 75 episodes of another Emmy winner, “Murphy Brown.” “It’s not a show that we watched struggle trying to figure out what it is. These guys know what show they’re writing, and they’re not doing it out of a playbook. They’re writing out of their own lives and the people they know. … The truth is funnier than anything you can make up. It’s not synthetic, it’s authentic.”

Road to the Emmys 2012: Comedy
A grander gander

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