Even after The Office became a hit for NBC, other networks were slow to embrace the single-camera sitcom. CBS didn’t want one at all, which is why Modern Family ended up on ABC. Today, it’s the most popular example of the mockumentary/confessional format used by The Office and Parks, perhaps because it blends the new style with traditional family sitcom beats. (Really, aside from the one gay couple, there’s little that’s modern in this show about three families that each have one working husband and one stay-at-home spouse.) The self-delusion and awkward silences of cringe comedy are there, but so are the snappy rhythms, frequent punchlines, and life-lessons-learned moralism of typical family comedies.
Patriarch Jay (Ed O’Neill), who’s cranky, old, and wealthy enough to speak his mind without fear of reprisal, could once be counted on to say something hateful about nearly every one of his extended relatives, but he’s softened a lot over four seasons. At least the show remains unwilling to let a potentially sappy moment pass without puncturing it with a gag. And the kids have grown a lot but not matured or become wiser, which means they’ll be able to say amusingly silly things for many seasons to come.