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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2009-2010 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on either a cut screened to us privately or a copy supplied by a third party NOT a screener provided by the network in question. All were received or screened prior to the networks' official mailings that went out in mid-June.]
MODERN FAMILY (ABC)
(Wednesdays at 9:00/8:00c starting this fall; TRT: 23:51)
The network's description: "Today's American families come in all shapes and sizes. Shot from the perspective of an unseen documentary filmmaker, this comedy takes a modern look at the complications that come with being a family in 2009."
What did they leave out? The hook of the show is that the documentary is being done by a Dutch filmmaker who's returned to the neighborhood after living there as an exchange student 15-20 years ago. This however isn't mentioned in the final product.
The plot in a nutshell: "Modern Family" is the story of three seemingly unrelated families as they share their stories to an unseen documentarian. Phil (Ty Burrell) and Claire (Julie Bowen) have been married for 16 years and have three kids: Haley (Sarah Hyland), Luke (Nolan Gould) and Alex (Ariel Winter). During that time Claire has evolved into the actual parent as Phil is more interested in trying to be the cool dad ("I know all the dances to 'High School Musical,'" he brags.) than actually helping out. Such is the case when Haley invites her first boy over and Luke accidentally shoots Alex with his BB gun. Horrified she'll make the same mistakes she did ("If Haley never wakes up on a beach in Florida half naked, I've done my job."), Claire can't help but embarrass her while Phil can't quite bring himself to enforce the house rule that if Luke shot anyone, his punishment would be to get shot himself. Meanwhile, Jay (Ed O'Neill) and Gloria (Sofa Vergara) are newlyweds with a few decades between them. Not helping matters: everyone keeps on mistaking him for her father or a mall walker.
Gloria has an 11-year-old son from her previous marriage named Manny (Rico Rodriguez) whose love of poems and songs annoys Jay, especially when he decides he must declare his intentions for a 16-year-old kiosk worker at the mall. (Jay: "I'll give you $50 not to do this." Manny: "I'm 11 years old, what am I going to do with money?" Jay: "What are you going to do with a 16-year-old?") Rounding out the bunch are Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet), a gay couple who are returning from Vietnam with their adopted daughter Lily. "We had initially asked one of our lesbian friends to be a surrogate," Mitchell explains. "Then we figured they're already mean enough, can you imagine one of them pregnant?" Cameron adds. "No thank you." Mitchell nevertheless is overly sensitive about the decision, so much so it turns out he still hasn't told his dad or sister. Cameron however is one step ahead of him and has invited them over for dinner - the twist being you've met them already.
What works: There's a comfortability and rhythm to the show right out of the gate that makes it feel like it's been on the air for years. Kudos to co-creators (and sitcom stalwarts) Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan, not to mention director Jason Winer and a pitch perfect cast, for putting together a real gem of a show. From Phil's awkward attempts at being cool ("You two keep it real, you know what I mean son?" he tells Haley's beau) to Manny's precociousness ("I gave her my heart," he shares after returning from his quest. "She gave me a picture of me as an old time sheriff.") to Mitchell and Cameron's bickering (Mitchell: "I'm not saying anything." Cameron: "You're saying everything."), I can't recall a moment where I wasn't laughing or bracing for it. Other highlights include Mitchell discovering that Cameron has commissioned a mural of them as floating angels over Lily's crib; Phil and Claire spending a solid minute trying to schedule when to shoot Luke; and the piece de resistance, Cameron introducing Lily to her extended family by using the theme to "The Lion King." (Mitchell: "Just turn it off." Cameron: "I can't turn it off, it's who I am." Mitchell: "The music.") I literally would transcribe the entire pilot for you if it didn't seem too fanboyish.
What doesn't: Zero.
The bottom line: It just may be my favorite comedy pilot this year.