After a series comes out with a very funny pilot, the test of the subsequent episodes is not only whether they can be as funny as the first, but whether the show has another gear: whether the characters are one-joke specials or if they have more dimensions to them. So far, with its second episode, Modern Family is meeting that test just fine.
First, the funny: Ty Burrell continues to stand out as Phil, and his well-meaning, inept handling of the bike “lesson” was excellent start to finish. But Eric Stonestreet is giving him serious competition as Cameron. Go back and watch his reaction when the mother at the baby’s group disses Meryl Streep. What’s funny is not just his expected dramatic reaction in his confessional but his repressed reaction in the scene as he chokes back his response—there’s the tiniest nostril twitch, right there, that betrays the dressing down he wants to give her. (Meanwhile, for whatever reason, “I just stole a baby’s intellectual property” just made me laugh unstoppably.) Ed O’Neill, meanwhile, continues to show how indispensible he is; his closing scene with Manny had just the right mix of sweetness without shading into schmaltz.
You’ll notice the gender of all the actors I’ve mentioned; I would like Modern Family to make better use of Sofia Vergara and, especially, Julie Bowen, who is mostly stuck reacting to Burrell. And like many comedies early in their run, it needs to perfect its tone (I actually thought Cameron’s closing meltdown about Sophie’s Choice was too much, and killed a joke done better in the excellent earlier scene).
But I’m down with Modern Family for the duration now. Your comments about it, ABC’s other comedies—or Glee, which I have not yet watched—are welcome as always. Just do not diss the Streep.