Television’s most celebrated comedy is not going through a mid-series crisis.
After picking up four straight Best Comedy Emmys, ballooning the paycheques for its adult ensemble and getting a big syndication deal, Modern Family could have coasted for the rest of its run with merely competent episodes. But the beloved sitcom, which descended from two very strong debut seasons to a very good, but inconsistent collection of episodes for the last two years, proved why it’s still regarded by the television academy as the finest comedy out there with two excellent season openers on Wednesday night.
On Sunday, it joined All in the Family, The Dick Van Dyke Show and Cheers as four-time Best Comedy winners (Frasier still holds the record with five). Still, Modern Family is not the crowning comedy achievement on television. It is not as innovative as Louie, or as zany as Parks and Recreation or Community at their finest. Nevertheless, what has kept viewers and Emmy voters coming back is the show’s broad appeal, which few laughers on television have anymore, and the excellent cast.
The show is sharp but decries snark, and sentimental without being overly saccharine. It’s a show that families can watch together; at a time where TV’s most acclaimed comedies have niche followings, Modern Family may be one of the last major network shows to have an appeal among such a wide spectrum of viewers, from grade-school kids to their grandparents.
Another factor that has made Modern Family such a gem is its lack of an episodic structure. While most television shows now demand viewers catch up on seasons of back-story and character development before diving in, Modern Family has rejected (for the most part) extensive plot threads. If one switched to Modern Family for the first time Wednesday evening, they would not feel lost or overwhelmed. While this showcases how timeless the characters are (since it’s them who we come back for, instead of their struggles and conflicts), the show can also be prosaic by its lack of “must-see” value.