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Modern Family Lets Its Sitcom Flag Fly

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Modern Family certainly isn't the first TV comedy to forgo a laugh track, but of those that have, it still feels the most sitcom-like. There's no music (or, in contrast to Arrested Development, narration), which lends an air of immediacy to each line of dialogue. It's centered on a lightly dysfunctional, easily lovable family. And each week, these deeply predictable characters find themselves in unpredictable situations, with everything tied neatly together at the 21-minute mark. The sitcom tropes are all there—minus the laugh track, obviously—but updated for today's savvy TV audience. I used to think that a show needed to be substantially "different" in order to capture my attention, and I was a staunch opponent of traditional sitcoms. But that belief is quickly eroding with Modern Family, a show I love week-to-week because it's so familiar and warm—but with a twist.

Wednesday's stupendous installment was one of more sitcom-y episodes of the show's run, and demonstrated the kind of Sitcom 2.0 Modern Family has become. It started with the ol' bait-and-switch: Jay and Gloria are headed to Hawaii for a special vacation when… surprise! The entire family is joining them, on Gloria's dime. (Well, where do you think she gets her money?) Jay is visibly bummed, and in order to drive that point home, the show puts all the weirdness of the family on display. Luke takes Dramamine and spins around incessantly. Cameron gets neurotic about an interaction he had with Mitchell earlier in the day, and continually sprays Lilly (the best child actor on the show) with a water bottle to keep her awake. Claire quietly freaks out. Phil takes it upon himself to pull off a near-impossible feat that could put the entire trip in jeopardy. None of these quirks seemed uncharacteristic, but seeing them all paraded around at once made for quite a cacophony of laughs.

They also made it easy to pinpoint what it is I love about Modern Family's characters. Phil, for one, has this propensity for getting himself in over his head, and saying the most ridiculous things to overcompensate. His exchange with the airport security officer ("Can I borrow your hat for a second, this is going to be hilarious." "No.") was a highlight, as was the sequence where he broke into Mitchell's house, accidentally claimed to be "clueless," and secured the window against break-ins, anticipating a next time. Because Phil and Mitchell rarely spend time alone with one another, Mitchell was able to take full advantage of his never-ending supply of eye-rolls. Cameron and Claire also got some time alone, as did Claire and her father. The ever-changing alchemy on Modern Family keeps it fresh and funny.

Plus, it ensures that the show's pearls of wisdom come from all sides of the family when it's time to tie things together at the end. Modern Family isn't a serialized show—it's a sandbox for these characters to play around in and make messes to clean up. But it's refreshing to see that when the show brings everything full-circle, it takes care to keep predictability out of the picture. I knew Jay was probably upset that he wasn't going to get much alone time with Gloria, but I never thought he'd take that as a sign that Gloria didn't love him as much as he loved her, that she was going out of her way not to spend alone time with him. Same with Cameron and Mitchell's mutual stubbornness—seeing the depths to which it reaches made the episode's conclusion all the more satisfying.

Now why is it that Modern Family never shows a gay kiss? I guess some old habits die hard.

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