Modern Family's Season 4 Premiere: Comfortable, Not Outstanding

Modern Family S04E01: "Bringing Up Baby"

The word "outstanding" must mean something different to Emmy voters. Earlier this week, Modern Family won the prize for Outstanding Comedy Series, beating out a field of confoundingly pedestrian and/or aging comedies like The Big Bang Theory (pedestrian) and 30 Rock (aging). I didn't even know Curb Your Enthusiasm was still on the air, Veep couldn't keep me interested for twenty minutes, and Girls is an acquired taste. So, I suppose, in that field, Modern Family may be outstanding.

The thing is, in the grander scope of all television, Modern Family struggles to be relevant, let alone outstanding. I used to be a big fan of the show. I would guffaw each week. I championed its first season. But from Season 2 forward, I lost my fervor. Watercooler discussions of the previous night's episode just made me screw up my face while searching for a diplomatic way to say it wasn't that good. I guffawed no longer.

It's not a terrible show. There are plenty of worse things out there. Have you seen Guys With Kids? It's just that you would hope that an outstanding show wouldn't be so middling. It's not really the best at anything anymore. Funnier series? I'll start with Community, Louie, and New Girl (I'd like to include Bob's Burgers and Archer but we'll stay in live-action). Modern Family isn't the funniest mockumentary-style sitcom (that'd be Parks and Recreation). Last season, it wasn't even the funniest series on Wednesday night on its network (I'd give that to Happy Endings but I'm told The Middle has been making strides).

Last night's Season 4 premiere is a perfect indication of the reality of this show. The jokes were stale, the situations tired, and the strange final few minutes were not only bizarre but basically flouted the show's format in favor of a cheesy segue effect. Gloria fretted about telling Jay she's pregnant but we knew from the beginning that Jay wasn't going to be upset about the pregnancy. Because this show always ends with a bow on it and where there's not a chance that Modern Family will be bold enough to have a "very special episode" debating a woman's right to choose, there are no stakes. Without stakes, there is no tension. Without tension, Gloria's plot for most of the episode has no substance.

The episode also dipped into some absurdism and worked blue. When Phil kidnapped Jay and Jay fell into the lake, what kind of advice was, "Punch him in the head!"? That might be funny if people actually did that—for anything. Cam and Mitchell had the least cliche storyline (coping with not being able to adopt a child) but, unfortunately, the resolution was a hug (they hadn't hugged since coming back from the hospital?) and stuffed animals giving each other the business. Both scenarios were contrived, particularly Phil's in respect to how it played into Jay explaining why he's ready to be a new father.

Is Modern Family outstanding? It's not, though Steven Levitan would hold up three years of trophies to beg otherwise. Is it funny? It's more like it's not unfunny. It has its smirkable moments but notice that, this year, it interestingly didn't win the Emmy for Best Writing in a Comedy (that went to Louie). So how does a comedy win best series but not best jokes? You have to wonder how much of it is a lingering mystique. The courtship with Modern Family was so wonderful and whirlwind that, once we married the show, we didn't mind it bombing around in its sweatpants, barely trying, because of the intangibles like character empathy and its warm and fuzzy premise (though I would contend Parenthood is the place to go for that good old familial warmth).

Can Modern Family achieve its former glory? It doesn't matter. We're still going to watch it anyway. But we need to come to terms with it no longer being destination television. It's comfortable television. While I'll still watch Modern Family, we all need to embrace the fact that we're living in a golden age of television where comedies are innovating, experimenting with format and different styles of wit. Next year, how about we look to the bleeding edge of comedies when handing out hardware and let this one eat bon-bons on the couch come award season?


What did you think of Modern Family's Season 4 premiere? Can the show return to its past glory? Or has it never missed a beat?



NOTE


– Just one more thing. On Sunday, Deadline's Nikki Finke said pretty women aren't funny, referring specifically to Julie Bowen's Emmy win for Best Supporting Actress. I've never agreed with that old chestnut, having known many women both on the screen and in real life who are both gorgeous and funny. The source of the comedy is irrelevant if it still makes you laugh. And I'll add that the funniest lines of this otherwise boring episode came from the women, Bowen (my dear sweet Carol Vessey) delivering the "She's going to get fat" line with as much aplomb as anyone uglier might. Gloria's tirade to Jay about raising her child alone, Claire's "no" to her concoction being a hangover cure, and Lily's first line about naming the kid and kitten Larry all overshadowed the performances by men in the episode, including the not-oft-overshadowed Ty Burrell. Obviously, I'm not the first to say something about Finke's assessment of who's funny, but I would be remiss if I didn't talk about this episode and share that the bright spots of comedy all involved beautiful women.

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Why is it Ok for the boring Mad Men to win best drama 4 years in a row and it is not Ok for Modern Family to win best comedy!!!!?? And YES, It is the Most outstanding comedy on TV.
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i love this show....cant wait to see more of this season
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Anyone that has seen the second season of "Louie" can tell you that "Modern Family" has no business winning Outstanding Comedy this year.But Levitan got the Disney PR team backing him up, so he'll keep on winning, regardless on whether he deserves it or not. I mean, in my opinion, "Community" was the funniest all-around sitcom last year, yet it didn't even manage to get a nomination...

As usual, those awards shows are more a popularity contest than a true indicator of quality. So I completely expect "MF" to keep on winning for years to come...
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I liked it... the only part that was confusing was at the end when they flashed forward... It looked like they had flashed forward to Jay's next birthday... 12 months later... but there was no baby?
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Rewatching it, I can see how you could be led to that conclusion. The gift is just something Cam and Mitchell brought back from London. Since they talk about something Manny wrote for poetry camp, I assume he just returned from there so we're probably at the end of the summer (ostensibly, we've been brought from May to now, which puts Gloria at 4 months pregnant). Why everyone is milling about (another aspect that might lead you to believe it's a party), I suppose is because everyone in this family is obsessed with each other and they have no outside friends.
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I was REALLY hoping that this season would at least START off in season one form and not in continuation of season three form... but I was wrong. This episode may have actually been worse than any of the ones I complained about during season three.

I didn't laugh once -- not even Luke made me laugh -- and the two times I got as far as smirking was 1) the gorilla banging the elephant (only the first time), and 2) Shorty's little quips about beards and his vegetable garden.

Every other joke was so obvious, I couldn't laugh at them. Hey, show writers, stop being so obvious.
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seriously "punch him in the head" is not so mysterious. ppl who think they're drowning have tendency to panic and frantically grab onto and endanger their rescuers. he was simply implying to "punch him in the head" to make it easier to save him. Anyway for me the show seems pretty much the same as far as the humor goes. So-so.
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I had high hopes for its return but this episode was underwhelming. I love "Modern Family" it's on my favorite comedy list with "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia", "30 Rock" and "Happy Endings" but I had to force myself to even finish it.
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season 3 proved to me that it had been comfortable since the beginning of season 2
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Plenty of laugh out loud moments. LOVED IT!
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Finally, some respectful and balanced words on Modern Family. Yeah I believe it can get better. Not Season 1 great but season 2 decent.
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I agree that it hasn't lived up to the first season. But even then there were moments that violated the mockumentary format: characters not realizing that they were being filmed (Mitch at the day-care center, Claire with Haley's laptop). Also, Cam's entrance as Fizbo The Clown was announced by a cinematic-style close up of his feet hitting the floor. But that didn't matter as long as the writing was so outstanding.
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I don't really think Julie Bowen is funny. However, Sofia Vergara has the best comedic timing of anyone ever. Saying pretty women aren't funny is like saying green cars aren't fast. There's just no correlation between the two things at all. That sentence doesn't even make any sense.
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I stopped watching halfway through the episode. I'm done with this stale show, and I should have been done a year ago, when I did the same with The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men.
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I don't think i would have such a "problem" with Modern Family if it wouldn't get all (i.e. literally all) the awards. It is a funny show. Is it groundbreaking earth-shattering funny. No. I think if it wouldn't have been hyped so much and still is some of us would not have such strong feelings towards it. Still bummed out that Wilfred didn't even get a nomination. There's a comedy that's constantly breaking the rules and pushing the boundaries yet never forgets to be funny. Extraordinary so.
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Eh. 65 year old man fathering a baby. Jay would be around 84 if the kid graduates high school on time. Seriously, isn't a baby plot a Jump The Shark moment / when a sitcom has run out of ideas? MF is becoming very average.
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Have to be honest, I laughed once last night, and now I can't even remember why I did. Season one was insanely funny, and I agree they just haven't matched that since.
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Wasn't the reference to "punch him in the head" to do with fishing?
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Do people punch fish? ::quick research:: Yes. Yes, they do. Also: InBetweeners - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQKk99I3wTQ (possibly NSFW for graphic violence)
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uuuurghhh

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I agree that it's more comfortable than truly funny anymore. And the safety of this show is one of the things that bothers me most about it. "New Girl"'s premiere in particular emphasizes that. The characters on this show are safe. And yes, "Parenthood" is where EVERYONE should be going, both for the family fuzzies and for just awesome acting, characters and drama.



All that said, I still watch and love "Modern Family"... in an absurdist way. In a way that this show is not like and will not be like real life. But that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy the plots as a distorted form of what I know, just as long as I approach it from that way.



Also, beautiful women are funny, unfunny, right in the middle and everything else, just as ugly women, regular women, ugly men, handsome men and regular men are, too. I've seen it all, and most of you have, too. Likelihoods of each? Eh, they may not be level across the board, but whatever, those statistics are hardly relevant to any conversation, so why bother.
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The headline for this article says all you will ever need to know about this show. 'Conformable, Not Outstanding'. I think most of us have been saying that from season 1. But by all means, keep taking emmy's away from people who actually take a risk in the TV business.
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I actually thought this episode was pretty good. Better than what I remember of season 3. I was glad to see Shorty again as well.
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Pretty women not funny? Julie Bowen was funny the minute they gave her stronger material on Boston Legal, Sofia Vergara stole the show with both beauty and her readings on Knights of Prosperity. The thing of it is, attractive women are funny in ways that are different from men when it comes to TV, so it works better when they read dry to trust the script than when they do Lucy-esque rubberfaced schtick. Finke's claim that Bowen's "nipple covers" line wasn't funny on its 3 passes is bunk, it got a laugh, and I thought it was funny.

Other pretty gals on sitcoms right now that are hysterical: all 3 female leads on Happy Endings, the titular Bitch in Apartment 23, the 3 female leads on Big Bang Theory (Mayim looked great in her Emmys dress, so she gets promoted to "hot" even if they dress her down on the show), the female leads on How I Met Your Mother can be pretty funny at times, the women on The Office each with their own style of humor, Rashida Jones on Parks & Rec, Alison Brie on Community has real comedy chops and usually also knows when not to use them (unlike costar Gillian Jacobs who goes for the Lucy stuff too often), and Katy Mixon from Mike & Molly who goes for a broader type of humor and gets away with it.

Now note that there are schticky, somewhat-unfunny pretty women in sitcoms too, the kind that go for the rubberfaced Lucy stuff I mentioned before, and a prime offender would be Julia Louis-Dreyfus who was also nominated this year for the 13th time for an Emmy, so there is room for that kind of thing too. So ultimately, it's time to admit that the stereotype of beautiful women not being funny needs to be thrown out on its ear.
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Julia Louis-Dreyfus was pretty and funny in Seinfeld! Other pretty and funny women - Megan Mullally, Shelly Long, Amy Poehler, Jane Krakowski, Tina Fey, Olivia Munn, Samantha Bee, Kristin Wiig, Jessica Williams - the list of attractive funny women is long.



Modern Family's 'Bringing Up Baby' had great lines and great slapstick, plus excellent timing as always. It was very funny. The writers and actors and all the Modern Family family rock!
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The problem with criticizing this show is the same as with criticizing any other show one used to enjoy. The passion may have died but we still feel some kind of affection. I must agree with the review. Its interesting to see that the only part of the first episode that made me laugh was the one with the gorilla and the elephant, and its the one everyone mentions. I will continue watching this and The Big Bang Theory regardless of the fact that they are not as interesting as they used to be.
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Modern Family can never go back to its glory days, because it hasn't changed one bit, each episode imitates the one before it, and it's becoming more and more tiring. Which I've only become more and more aware of since the 8th or so episode of the first season.

Still, I occasionally giggle at Dylan and Luke. So there's still that.
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Yes, I agree. Luke is one of the bright spots of the series, especially when Phil and Luke have an adventure together. The treasure-hunting episode (S01E16: "Fears") used to be my go-to for initiating any Modern Family virgin. Those two might be one of the best comedy pairings on television.
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I totally disagree with you. Parks and Recreation is a terrific comedy (tied for 1st on my list with Modern Family), but Modern Family has set the golden standard for comedy since its beginning, and its simply because its comedy isn't too complicated. Modern, everyday stuff that families go through that would simply pass most people by are presented in a hilarious manner. New Girl? Gimme a break!! Louie? OVerrated big time!! Community and Happy Endings are good mentions, especially Happy Endings, but they aren't on MF's level. The Middle has made a lot of strides, but it simply can't compare. Last night's premiere was once again freaking hilarious!! The attempted kidnapping of Jay, the "punch in the water", the two stuffed animals looking like they're getting it on from the roof of the car, I mean there were just so many LOL moments!! I even loved the ending with how the pregnancy was introduced.



While everybody had a moment to shine again, including Dylan (so hilarious!!), Phil stole it for me with his water punch and constantly staring at Gloria. Plus the attempted kidnapping of Jay? LOL!!!
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Louie is definitely overrated, if only because every critic elevates that show to some kind of sitcom deity. Nothing can live up to that. But I like to watch Louie more because, even though it's not packed with goofs like Modern Family is, Louie is sure to at least bring something different every week. MF gets stale, falls flat. It makes me smirk sometimes but I almost never laugh out loud. A fine time-killer but nothing I'd go out of my way to watch anymore.
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Modern Family from its first epiosde was mired in sitcom cliches that would make Three's Company blush, but what made this show stand out from the rest (aside from the single-camera format) was the interpersonal interactions and personality continuity - characters would interact with each other and within themselves in a way that was both funny and consistant without being a stereotype. That may sound like an obvious thing, but TV shows rarely get it right, so that's what Modern Family got recognized for even as viewers didn't recognize it. But viewers are fickle so after the first season when the characters stayed consistent the viewership got angry that there weren't big things afoot, that it was just more of the same - it was still funny, there were still new facets to be discovered, but it was "the same" and viewers complained. Now here we are on season 4 and this was an adequate episode, lots of laughs, and still lots of cheap sitcom jokes punctuated by personalities, and I found it fine, carrying ideas forward and throwing whatever would stick at the wall, but indeed it wasn't a life-changingly good episode - that doesn't make it a bad episode though. It's always had thoughtful comedy and schticky comedy, and here was no different, except they jumped forward several months at the end and didn't make Gloria look as hot pregnant as Phil was claiming.
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At no point in all of human history will an elephant giving the business to a gorilla not be funny.

They did a decent job of arriving at the situation in a somewhat believable way. Is it sophisticated humor? No. Is it fucking hilarious though? Hells yes!
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"I didn't even know Curb Your Enthusiasm was still on the air"

You're missing out, man. The last season was one of their best.
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