I like Modern Family alright, but the comparisons to the classic dysfunctional family show Arrested Development need to end. The characters of Modern Family are not nearly as idiosyncratic and erratic as the characters of Arrested Development, not to mention that the show itself isn’t remotely as hilarious. Modern Family depicts slightly-off balance people doing slightly-off balance, but somewhat familiar familial activities (yeah, you like that one?), but it lacks the pure insanity of the Bluth family.
In fact, whereas Arrested Development was firmly focused on depicting the family as a malfunctioning unit, Modern Family seems to operate through the activities of three distinct couples. This latest episode, a Valentine’s Day-themed confection, really highlights this specific sitcom formula. Episodes tend to revolve around the misadventures of the middle-aged hetero couple, the May-December (and America-Columbia) couple, and the yuppie gay couple, but their respective kids are never as prominently featured. Often when the children are involved in an episode, it’s because their issues have given their parents something to talk about. Haley’s romance with bad boy Dylan isn’t about Haley; it’s about Claire hearing Dylan serenade Haley on the front lawn and pausing mid-make-out with Phil to ask, “Am I a bad enough parent to ignore that?”
Well, yes and no. Claire’s not a terrible mother, but the show’s tendency to focus on the parents at the expense of depicting the lives of the children can occasionally portray the grown-ups as self-absorbed and the kids as neglected. Maybe if the title suffered a quick re-write to Modern Relationships, I’d be less concerned about the Dunphy kids’ screen time. As it stands, Modern Family might benefit from an increased focus on the “family” component of the show
Characters orbit each other, but rarely goad each other. Where is the familial strife and conflict that made Arrested Development so funny? I don’t want to see my family, only slightly weirder; I want to see my family a million times weirder. I want to be so alienated and confused by the problems of a true modern family that my family seems positively meek in comparison. Perhaps Modern Family‘s real problem is that its self-interested parents and unremarkable children are too close to the real thing? Stay tuned!