Tuned In

Test Pilot: Modern Family

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Test Pilot is a semiregular feature sharing my first impressions of the pilots for next fall’s shows. These aren’t reviews, since these pilots can be rewritten, recast and retooled before airing, and the shows that eventually get on the air can prove much better or worse. But, premature opinions are why God invented the Internet, so let’s get on with…

The Show: Modern Family, ABC

The Premise: A mockumentary-style sitcom built around three very different families: a gay couple, who’ve just adopted a baby daughter from Vietnam; a husband and wife with three kids; and a May-December marriage between an older man and a woman with a son from a previous marriage. 

First Impressions: ABC is evidently high on this show, because they screened the entire pilot for advertisers at their upfront presentation in Manhattan last month. I could see why, because I thought it was hilarious. I couldn’t see why, because it had the hallmarks of brilliant-but-cancelled shows—Arrested Development, or ABC’s tonally similar Sons and Daughters—that critics like me thought were hilarious.

But let’s let someone else worry about the ratings. From the casting to the pacing to the mix of offbeat comedy and heart, this was a near-flawless pilot. (It also features a reveal toward the end that is central to the premise and structure of the show, but which I can’t disclose because it’s a major spoiler, so you’ll have to take some of this on faith.) Applause first for casting Ed O’Neill—one of the best comic and dramatic character actors on TV—as the elderly second-time dad, wearily trying to keep up with his new wife (Sofia Vergara, Knights of Prosperity) and her awkward, romantic son (Rico Rodriguez), while trying to match his grumpy parenting style to her gushily supportive one. Ty Burrell also stands out as a middle-aged dad who believes himself to be his kids’ best friend; his un-self-aware confessional interviews make him into the Michael Scott of fatherhood. There are familiar family-comedy tropes aplenty—the teen daughter with the too-short skirt, e.g.—but the tone is fresh, and there are multiple shootings with a pellet gun. 

Do I Want to See Another One? Yes, please. And I want you to see the pilot, so I can stop biting my tongue about that spoiler.