Friday, September 28, 2012

Modern Family grows a little bigger

Most of the season premiere of ABC's Modern Family, set the day after last spring's finale, centers around everyone worrying what Jay's (Ed O'Neill) reaction will be when he learns that Gloria (Sofia Vergara) is pregnant. She tells several other relations first, worried and upset that her husband won't be happy. While the resolution is easy to see coming from a mile away, O'Neill still plays it so well that you will soon forget the writing isn't original.

Why would a sitcom as brilliant as Modern Family re-use an old plot already found in a number of other sitcoms? The reason viewers can predict that Jay will be thrilled, rebelling against the life of leisure his friends tell him he has to look forward to in retirement, is because the exact same thing has happened in other shows. And yet, there are only so many ways to set up a reaction to such news, and by letting it play out in this particular fashion, "Bringing Up Baby" stays true to the characters that make the series so great.

This is the focus, but there is so much more in the episode. Modern Family really has perfected the ability to deal with authentic emotions in a comedy setting. Not only do we see Jay get near to tears when learning he will be a father again, but we also see Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) grope with the loss they feel at not getting their son. They have inappropriate reactions, of course, but they mostly keep it together for their daughter, Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons), and lean on each other exactly when they should.

Yet, "Bringing Up Baby" is also funny. It isn't a cheapening of the raw moments when Mitchell lets out a bit of anger at learning Gloria's news, but rather, it elicits a laugh. Claire (Julie Bowen) acting manic, but being wrong about Jay, is also amusing, as is Phil (Ty Burrell) once more going after Jay's approval, this time during a surprise fishing trip on his birthday. And Luke (Nolan Gould) purposely setting off Manny (Rico Rodriguez), then smirking at the grenade he blew up, isn't too mean-spirited to be humorous. It's friendly cousin rivalry.

It all wraps up nicely with a sweeping camera shot that stages a several-month time jump. It's the perfect way to get through the summer, which most shows have to deal with when the fall episodes begin, and it feels like a visual hug. What a great way to end the episode, leaving fans feeling good and sated with their finally returned weekly look at the Pritchett-Dunphy family! The throwbacks to earlier lines, including Phil's beard and Mitchell's cat-scratched face, are just the icing on the cake, and what earns this series repeated Emmys.

With a package put together so perfectly, why try to nitpick it apart anymore than that? Wonderful season premiere!

My only small caveat is, while I don't begrudge Stonestreet another Emmy win, why couldn't O'Neill take it this year? Is it because his best moments are more drama than comedy, and these actors are only up for comedy awards? Next year, Emmys, recognize the deserving patriarch.

Modern Family airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

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