Modern Family, a new comedy premiering tonight on ABC, follows three branches of an extended family: the standard household — mom, dad, three kids; the gay couple; and the grandpa with the much younger wife. That the show’s so funny is kind of surprising, especially given that it’s preceded by Courteney Cox’s lame Cougar Town and followed by the tepid witch-dramedy Eastwick. Emily Nussbaum named Modern Family one of her favorite shows of the fall season (and big-upped it again today on her blog, Surf). Here are five specific reasons to set your DVR.
1. Ty Burrell as Phil. Television’s first grup? The hoodie-wearing dad spouts lines like “I’m hip, that’s my thing” and “LOL, laugh out loud, OMG, oh, my God, WTF, why the face?” and attempts to learn the songs and dances from High School Musical. Burrell hilariously nails the “cool dad” in a family that thinks he’s decidedly uncool.
2. Ed O’Neill! Given as much as he’s had to work with, the sitcom king is at his finest as the grumpy Jay Pritchett: He’s married to a fiery Latina (see item No. 3), played by the spunky Sofia Vergara, who gets hit on by men much younger than her husband (who gets mistaken for a mall walker). And he has to play father to his wife’s son, a geeky Romeo-in-training. O’Neill adds a wizened comic sensibility to the mix.
3. Hilarous — but harmless! — stereotypes. A Spanish Lothario, a hot-blooded Hispanic mother, a flamboyant gay, a neurotic gay, a frazzled mom, a too-cool dad, a grumpy old man — all funny rather than offensive. When sitcoms verge on bitter (think Bob Saget’s horrible Surviving Suburbia), their characters become one-dimensional, but Modern Family’s typecasting works because of the show’s good-natured, openhearted vibe. And each character has enough charm and distinction to break free of the clichés.
4. The gays. The show features a committed gay couple who adopt a baby (from Vietnam), a first, we believe, for network TV. The great thing about the pair (played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet) is how endearingly normal they are. Stonestreet’s senstive character has body issues and acts like more of a mother hen, while Ferguson is the more uptight of the two. Yay for gay people without lisps or female roommates on mainstream TV!
5. The capper. The show ends on a laugh-out-loud rendition of “The Circle of Life” featuring an Asian baby instead of a cartoon lion. You’ll have to watch to truly get this one.