Fresh take on family comedy

The cast of Modern Family. Photo by TV3.
The cast of Modern Family. Photo by TV3.
Just when we were thinking it couldn't be done, TV3's Modern Family has single-handedly brought the family comedy back from the dead.

Astute in a way we haven't seen since, oh, I don't know, Family Ties or maybe Married . . . with Children, Modern Family is sharp, timely and fresh, complicated enough to be interesting but with a soft, sweet centre - because there is nothing wrong with that.

Interspersed with faux documentary-like interviews with the principals, Modern Family (premiering Sunday night) follows three parts of a larger clan.

Ed O'Neill plays Jay, who favours a sweat-suited retiree look, despite being rich and married to a young Colombian woman, Gloria (Sofia Vergara).

Gloria comes with a fabulous son, Manny (Rico Rodriguez), who, at 11, already believes in the ascendancy of true love and the power of poetry to capture same.

Jay spends much of his time in the pilot glancing at Manny through the rearview mirror as if he were some ornately plumed exotic bird while Gloria exhorts him to be the wind at her son's back.

Helping to raise Gloria's son is Jay's second chance at fatherhood; apparently he flubbed his first a bit.

Daughter Claire (Julie Bowen) is a stressed-out, overworked, over-scheduled mother trying to keep her teenage daughter from following in her own wanton footsteps and her two youngest children from killing each other.

Helping not at all is her husband, Phil, a hilarious Ty Burrell, aiming to be the coolest dad on the block, despite the outdated slang, a very bad back and a general air of oblivion.

Providing the sparkling centrepiece of the family is Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) who, with his partner, Cameron (Eric Stonestreet), has just adopted a baby girl from Vietnam.

Highly strung by nature, Mitchell is suddenly torn by feeling they are too gay to raise a child - "We've got to stop having friends with names like Jacques," - and furious at anyone who might possibly feel the same way.

Cameron, meanwhile, is content to go more Zero Mostel, in word, deed and totally fabulous silk robe, creating a naturally occurring updated version of The Odd Couple.

In the pilot, theirs are the funniest segments, particularly the introduction of the baby to the rest of the family, although Bowen and Burrell run a very close second.

All the performances are terrific, but what makes Modern Family work is its relentless portrayal of recognisable family life in a way that is sharp but not cruel, amused but not judgemental. - Los Angeles Times Modern Family premieres on TV3 at 8pm Sunday.

 

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