Modern Family's Kid Characters Almost Ruin the Show

So, I'm definitely enjoying Modern Family, ABC's new mockumentary sitcom about an idiosyncratic American clan. The humor is surprisingly offbeat, most of the performances are wry and smart, and it has genuine heart without being syrupy. And yet watching this week's episode, I was struck by something unpleasant. What was it? To be blunt, I just really hate the kids.

See the problem is that in 1992 a young lad by the name of Macaulay Culkin came and perfected child acting in Home Alone, thereby ruining it for the future. Before him, most kids in TV shows and movies weren't expected to become Major Movie Stars. Sure there have always been child stars (your Shirleys, your Tatums, your Henry Thomases), but something about Culkin's star-making turn -- its sarcasm, its knowingness, its catchphrasery -- just really spoiled the pot and has stoked 20 years' worth of ugly copycatting. The Culkin phenomenon made kids and their parents and their handlers think that America enjoys watching child characters who are wise beyond their years, who are smart alecs and wiseacres. There's been something so forced and precocious about child acting in the post-Culkin years, an era that has given us eerily-adult actingbots like Dakota Fanning and Abigail Breslin (who was good in Little Miss Sunshine because she was told, or allowed, to be weird and sad, but was terrible in more mainstream fare like No Reservations, which asked her to wearily sigh and say "Men...," shaking her all-knowing head.) Probably to blame more than the kid actors are the script writers, who have figured en masse that snide, precocious kids are a clever little plot device. Kids say the darndest things, right? It's so relatable! Except, no. It's not.

And that's the problem with the kids -- specifically, the Manny and Alex characters -- on Modern Family. They're written to be snotty and unpleasant, instead of possessing the ordinary weirdness that can make real kids actually funny and endearing. Alex is the little rebellious tween who doesn't want to wear dresses but does want to snark on her sister and talk frankly to her fiery Latina step-grandmother about girl-on-girl kissing and how many people Step-Granny has slept with. And I don't know about you, but I don't find that remotely cute or charming (which I think we're supposed to). I just find it kinda gross.

Same goes for Manny the Manchild's philosophical musings and "We'll talk about this next week..." Little Adultisms. Why is the idea of kids knowingly saying things that adults say appealing? To me it's smug and off-putting. The kid characters on otherwise good and clever shows like Modern Family should be messy and weird and individual the way real kids really are, not made to speak in awful one-liners or spout cynical pearls of wisdom. While that may have been kinda funny or interesting a few times in the late '80s or early '90s, by 2009 it's just become lazy and boring and groan-worthy.

I'm trying to think of an actual good example of a child character on television, and I'm coming up short (heh). The little pipsqueak on Two and a Half Men has gone from sarcastic adult in tiny trousers to awkward but still sarcastic teenager, in wildly ungraceful fashion. So he doesn't count. And... uh... Well, actually, I don't really watch any TV shows with kids on them, for this exact reason. A show like Everybody Loves Raymond handled this problem well by mostly not showing the kids. Those writers must have known what I believe to be the truth: Child actors are often annoying, and trying to make child characters "Funny" in a way that keeps up with the adults is repugnant. Best the children, on TV anyway, be seen and not heard. Unless they're weird little ragamuffins who don't make any sense (like most kids.)

What do you think? Am I being a heartless Miss Hannigan? Or do you agree with me that the plague of precocious children, like the ones on Modern Family, are hurting more than they're helping?

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I think I see your problem: You decided to watch a Sit-Com and expected realism....
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The kid LUKE is exactly the child you describe in this review! There are all kinds of kids, and some are annoying little know-it-alls like Alex. But actually Manny is just a kid being silly trying to act like a grown up... I think that is the whole point of the character, he is polite and latin loverish... cute!
The teenagers are the typical teens... so I agree with your point on most Tv child actors, not particularly on this show.
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Personally Manny and Alex are the two kids that I like. Probably stemming from the fact that I don't really like children. Kids are like the worst people. They are selfish, noisy, self-centered, ignorant, filthy, and basically unpleasant. I think by and large people expect kids to be like that so we accept it, but I think parents are supposed to weed OUT that stuff. Comedic situations centered around "real" children just don't do it for me. It would be weird to have families without kids in these shows but I'm thankful they don't relegate all the kids to being kids. If all the kids were like Luke, I would probably not watch the show. Manny having a mature conversation was a lot more funny to me than Luke on a trampoline without pants.
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kid actors are horrible...thats why kid reality shows on Cartoon Network are horrible and..i actually like that funny lil guy from 2 and a 1/2 men...the cast of My Wife n' Kids was funny 2 me....but other than that i cant think of many..+ this is why im not a big kid fan in general..they all try 2 come off like they're grown ups, like they make a cup of coffee in the morning and read the New York Times....those young years are suppose 2 be spent w/ their imagination a football and a room full of toys that will eventually collect dust when they get older......i digress..child stars r AWFUL w/ a few rare exceptions
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Ever think maybe they aren't perfect actors because they've been alive for less than a decade and are still learning the skill? People can be so pompous sometimes. As if you know the daily life of a child actor and what they are trying to be...
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Well, this sorta goes out to nilesa's comment, and those that think thhat way. Sure, kids nowadays have the internet, and other forms of media, but they are still just that; kids. Most kids I see do NOT get away with the kind of snarky adult-like speak. It isn't cute, nor is it funny. The author hit it just right--in an effort to make these mini-adult children characters "relatable", they just make it even harder to like them.



Jeez, in Two in a Half Men, that kid was always the reason I stayed away from that show. It's like, "will someone pop that kid across the mouth?". Sure, his wisdom that far exceeds his years is supposed to be quirky, but in reality, it makes me say "who the hell does that kid think he is? Show him the real world!" Most of them is like that.
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In every show on tv the kids ruin it.

Remember the obnoxious children on Tool Time, and if they don't have a way to ruin the show yet having a kid is a sure way to spell doom for the series. from Get Smart to Friends, to Mad About You - having a baby is the death knell for any show.
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I respectfully submit this comment ~~ very disappointing premier. The adults acted as ridiculous as the child(ren). I would never recommend this program to anyone. Shelly Long (whom I've always admired) doesn't belong in this cast.
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Actually, when I was a kid myself I often wondered why the kids on these shows didn't get scolded for their attitudes.
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For me its the same sex couple. The only reason I haven't watched it.
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Actually, you are being heartless. The world has changed. Children today have grown up with the internet, cable and day care or nanny providers. Hence, they are more mature and experienced than the cute Rudy Huxtable. Moreover, Alex P Keaton or Dennise Huxtable would have never hooked up at 13 years old, nor would their parent give them alchol as the kids today so commonly do. Therefore, you should not use your conservative 50's view, but understand that the TV show Modern Families is exactl that, a reflection of a 21st century modern family. Many families wathching identify and are laughing their asses off at the show. LOL.. I thin the real deal is you simply don't get it. So stick to Fox news, and I am sure you will identify there. As they are all about traditional values for others, and children being seen and not heard, while the GOP leaders are doing god knows what behind closed doors. LOL..... So lightenup, or change the channel. But the ratings clearly shows that America loves Moder Family TV show like they loved married with children TV back in the day.
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Wow, I usually hate these tv.com op-ed articles, bit this is pretty spot on. Btw though, don't know how you can knock the kids in Arrested Development though....
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Looking for "real" kids on a tv sitcom is a little like looking for a fish in the desert. Most sitcom writers center their "humor" around sexual situations and cynicism. Children have no place in such surroundings. Do tv sitcom writers even know any real children that they could observe to see what they do talk about and how they converse? It doesn't seem so, to me. Raymond's children were little more than props, but better that than having garbage coming out of their little mouths.
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Macaulay Culkin was annoying and his performance parroted earlier child stars. Also, unlike other child stars, he was never able to transition into an adult role. Kirsten Dunst was a child actor who starred in a number of blockbusters (Jumanji, Interview With a Vampire, etc) who went on to have a successful adult career. Dakota Fanning was another young star, also gradually building into adult roles (VA'd Coraline, starred in Push). Culkin gave two major performances (Home Alone & My Girl) amid a bunch of so-so films that couldn't sell because he wasn't half the star power people thought he was then we don't see hide nor hair of him for ten years.
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Quirky is becoming boring.
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I actually think they are great and funny kid actors

http://www.modern-family-tv.com
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The child actors bring this show down, and I blame the writers for creating these obnoxious characters. I'm sure the younger viewers love them but as an adult I find the offensive.
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I like the kids on that show!
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How about the kids on "Grounded For Life"? Another show that had good kids was a short-lived show from the early '90s called "The Byrds of Paradise", with kid actors Seth Green and (believe it or not) Jennifer Love Hewitt, in the best work I've ever seen her do, alternately sweet and grouchy. And the two (actually three) girls on "Roseanne" were also fairly realistic, especially Sara Gilbert. And how about "Malcolm In The Middle"? I admit it is a little hard to find good kid parts on TV, but it's not impossible.
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Interesting thoughts.
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Ms. Hannigan... I think Annie has once again escaped the orphanage and you feel the need to punish the others. You seem to think all kids are some sort of "bots" and monolithic in their think and speak. They're not. Remember Ms Hannigan you have a remote control. Use it. Obviously their are many folks Who enjoy both the kids and the show itself. Now go enjoy your tv dinner, a fresca and watch reruns of HAPPY DAYS.
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Yeah, Richard. You really have NO sense of humor. You are the most unfunny person on the planet. Just quit. Put your head to the ground and bury it like an ostrich. ssssss-sarcasm.
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WOW! I find your comment not only wrong but ignorant. The beauty of Modern Family is the inside look at real families. The first episode the Dad & son (Ty Burrel& Nolan Gould) with the air gun scenes were hysterical. Someone who is looking for something to pick apart in a great new show to the degree you have take, obviously has no sense of humor. No idea of real Modern Family situations. I find the family dynamic the heart of the show. Manny and his episode with Ed O Niel about his dad and Disneyland was really heartfelt as well as funny. What I think the show is going for.

Without the kids it would change the whole point of this great new show. Picking apart the kids acting? You have missed the point pal...

Tune into something less intelligent-possibly a reality show? May I suggest Wipe Out?
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I blame Danny Bonaduce.
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I agree, to a degree. There are not any REAL kids on tv anymore. Everyone is smart and sarcastic kids included. I think though that alot of the preteens and early teenagers today ARE that way. Maybe video games and Family Guy, whatever the reason, I believe it is another example of Art imitating Life and vice versa
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Totally agree -- child actors like this make me crazy. It seems like a lot of the commenters aren't understanding your point, Richard. It's not child actors in general that are bad (obviously you need kids on a show about families), but the writers try to make these kids funny in an "adult" way. It's annoying and unnatural. Not surprisingly, the UK usually gets it right. Maybe you readers have seen Love Actually? The kids acted and talked like kids, and they added to the dynamic in a natural way.
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What about George Michael and Maybe on Arrested Development. Those were two great kid characters. Especially Michael Cera as George Michael, before he became typecasted as the 'emo-kid' in all the movies he's been in since the show ended. How can you not love George Michael, I mean he's "George Michael"!
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I disagree. There are a lo of children out there who are wise beyond their age. Kids come in all types of packages. Plus. take in the fact that the child's character in this show was living in a single parent home before his mother met that guy. . .And a lot of kids are forced to grow up faster that way, especially if they're the only child. I thought he was funny. I liked the conversation he was having with his "sister in law" about the kids. It was great. It reminded me of myself when I was his age and even now!
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I disagree. There are a lo of children out there who are wise beyond their age. Kids come in all types of packages. Plus. take in the fact that the child's character in this show was living in a single parent home before his mother met that guy. . .And a lot of kids are forced to grow up faster that way, especially if they're the only child. I thought he was funny. I liked the conversation he was having with his "sister in law" about the kids. It was great. It reminded me of myself when I was his age and even now!
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In the BBC series Outnumbered, the kids are filmed on set responding to script that the adults are given. The writers and actors work with what the kids give them, rather than forcing the kids to act in the way that adult writers think they speak. I don't get Modern Family but I'll keep persevering; it might seem funny one day...
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I would have to agree with you. The boy was the only thing in the episode that bugged me. But what really irritates me is that I have never met a single kid who actually talked like that. Kids talk like, well, kids, not miniature versions of adults. hat suprised me is that the creators are Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, who are know for writing intelligient sitcoms for adults. Possibly, thats the key word, they are just too used to writing for adults.
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I definitely thought the same thing when I was watching this week's ep. The new show "The Middle" actually writes the children really well. They are all weird, awkward, quirky and child-like. Check it out, yo! I didn't think I was going to like that show, but it's pretty funny!
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Okay, first of all you need the kids for a part of this show to work(LOVE THE SHOW BY THE WAY)but it could use less kids, for example the 3 kids are too much but MANNY definately makes it work
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I completely agree. I hate child actors...they inevitably overact and tend to say rude things (totally the writers' fault, I know) that make me wish for the days when they could be spanked.
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Miss Hannigan. Sorry, I would write more to back myself up, but I cut my thumb last night and I am trying not to use it. But Manny is my second favorite character, and I loved that scene with Alex and her Grandma.
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When a sho start focusing on kids it hurts the show main premise. Look at Family Matters JoMarie Payton left the show because of Urkel.
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I agree with you about kid actors. The only exceptions on tv that I can think of is Arrested Development (RIP) and Malcolm in the Middle. Both those shows let the kids be kids--awkward and weird (does anyone remember George Michael and Dewey?)
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You're speaking truth to power, dear Richard. Manny is a creepy little boy who Tries Too Hard. The actress who plays his mom is a treat, as is the grandmother, but that little boy/man is a Mexican version of Pugsley Addams.
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The difference between the child actors is Macaulay Caulkin devolved into a messed-up alchoholic with no prospects, whereas Dakota Fanning and Abigail Breslin are still going strong. The fact that they have actual talent helps. Seriously, you praise Caulkin and bash the two best child actors in recent times?
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Well being that most families involve having children.... I don't know how well a show called Modern FAMILY would do without that element!

And I think the kids, especially Manny & Alex are HILARIOUS!!!
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First of all you clearly have a bias against child actors, as you just stated. Now the kids on this show work because they are kind of the normal ones while the adults are kind of weird. This isn't Arrested Development where the only normal character was Jason Bateman's Michael Bluth (which btw is still a far superior show then Modern Family), that show focused on misadventures of the Bluth clan. It was meant to edgy and kind of an anti-family show. However in this show the parents are the weird ones and the kids are kind of normal, yet despite these interactions they still love each other (in Arrested Development they were pretty much a**holes). Seriously would you want to compliment for Ty Burrell's wannabe dad with a weird kid? No way. That would be just to much. It's the interaction between the oddness of the adults and how normal the children are that makes this show quite funny in my opinion.
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I couldn't disagree more. I think the children are usually very entertaining, especially Manny.
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WTF? Are you crazy? Those kids are hilarious, you totally misunderstand the concept of their characters. Analyze before criticize please.
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Miss Hannigan, you are so full of it!!!!!! I'd rather watch those kids than the stupid teens on all of the CW shows!
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My god what's up with tv.com. I swear you guys will rag anything.
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Pretty spot on. But what about Weeds? Both those kids are 18 and 15 or something like that. And they are fantastically weird. Kinda scary weird but still good.
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It was pretty much the only episode with the kids playing a significant role. And it really wasn't that bad. Not all the child characters can be messy and weird, and the kid with the box on his head bouncing on the trampoline in his boxers kinda filled that. Ty Burrell's Steve-Carell-as-a-Father shtick, however, is about as annoying as Michael Scott without Jim/Dwight to capitalize on his needy obliviousness. Let's face it, the only 5 seconds with him in it that weren't irratating was when he got a model airplane in the face. And we all saw that coming.
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YOU DO NOT LIKE MANNY? I like him, I don't care for any of the other kids though I can see myself liking Alex. If anything the girl we have only seen in the pilot is the weakest but not Manny
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Though I haven't seen enought of Modern Family to speak about that, I do agree that too many child characters are smart alecs. When my kids were young there were certain shows I wouldn't let them watch because of kids like that. They didn't need that kind of role model. The Cosby Show did it right, and a handful of others.
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The kids were wise beyond their years only in this latest episode. Don't condemn the show based on one episode. Manny and Alex I like, but that Vietnamese baby - She's really bringing the show down.
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Richard, spot on once again. Most child actors are annoying overactors. I guess some in your new audience don't get your genious yet.
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