Mitchell: Stop eyeing the princess, you’re gonna freak her out.
Cam: I don’t know, I think the whole idea of needing a prince to come along
and make you happy sends the wrong message, Mitchell. I really do.
Mitchell: Really? And a grown-man pulling boxer shorts out of his mouth doesn’t?
As I begin the second week of my newly attentive television watching habits, I realize that I watch mostly melodramas and situational comedies. After writing about Hellcats yesterday, I began to think about Community since I wrote on the expression of sincerity in each show. As I watched Modern Family shortly thereafter, I thought about its comedic structure in relation to Community.
Both shows would be considered sitcoms, but the way in which they elicit humor is somewhat different. Community relies on a cast of eccentric characters to render an improbable situation hilarious. This is why some episodes of Community can take place entirely within the study room, an innocuous space with a large table, chairs, a couch, and not much else. The humor here derives from the interactions of the characters and their slapstick use of a space, but not from the physical space itself. In Community, characters do not generally encounter the comedic situation; characters create it (although an episode that took place inside a fake, KFC-branded space shuttle was a notable exception).
In comparison, the characters of Modern Family are fairly unremarkable. Of course they’re zany and unpredictable together, but their mundanity emerges when they’re alone. Comedy occurs when these mostly stock characters (the bumbling father, the high-strung mother, the hyper-intelligent middle child, etc) are placed into unexpected situations. On this episode of Modern Family, Mitchell and Claire’s mother brings her new younger lover, who also happens to be Claire’s high school boyfriend, to Lily’s princess-themed birthday party. This example is notable for two reasons: the awkwardness of the characters attending the party (the situation) drives the humor, but the scene is also dependent on the presence of a character from outside the immediate family (the ex-boyfriend) in order to fuel tension and conflict.
Protagonists don’t explicitly create comedic events on Modern Family; they are average characters who become entangled in difficult or funny situations. When other characters, who usually appear only once, create humor through their actions, they are often depicted as being off-balance or erratic, much like all the protagonists on Community. Humor is usually character-driven on Community because it’s a show that consists solely of high school ex-boyfriends, possibly gay golf buddies, and chocolate milk-drinking little girls who want to steal your sons away (Why yes, I have seen every episode of Modern Family).
Will Modern Family stay the traditional sitcom course or will it experiment with new types of humor? Will the author become a chocolate milk-drinking hussy with a thing for mama’s boys? Stay tuned!