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Friday, September 25, 2009

Kicking Televisions

Modern Family


Created by Christopher Lloyd (one of the best Frasier writers, not the actor) and Steven Levitan (Just Shoot Me)

NBC’s Parenthood is supposedly in delay, and perhaps after they saw this show, about similar themes, they knew there was no way to compete. If you’ve seen the commercials or previews you’ve seen essentially half the pilot episode, so while it’s not funny because you’ve seen all the bits, what is evident is that this has the possibility to be the funniest show on network television since Arrested Development. Both shows were/are mockumentaries, and both focus/ed on a fragmented extended family, but the parallels end there. There is no voice over, and unlike the Office, the mockumentary aspect is used not so much to juxtapose the ironic disparity between what is said and what is seen, but rather to add another level to some of the characters’ anxieties, aware that they are being filmed. This anxiety is quite acute in the gay couple which is fully aware of the stereotypes and is trying consciously to break them with mixed results. In fact, the access given to the cameras by the family is proportional to how their characters would allow the access; we see very little direct interaction with Ed O’Neil’s character (Jay) except in hidden cameras and long takes, while “cool dad” Phil is seen most often in interviews. What this show does so well, is that the funniest bits either come from silences, things not said, or things that don’t happen. There aren’t smug Jim looks, but rather allusions to other events we can only imagine (a classic trope of The Simpsons).

The best surprise is that the show doesn’t just use the kids as plot devices, as so often is the case. The kids are, in fact, the most interesting characters on the show, highlighted by 11 year old Manny Delgado, Jay’s nearly deadpan but brilliant step-son with an EQ of men five times his age, who’s already on my short list of coolest kids ever to be on TV. If the show can continue its ability to be funny without compromising its sweetness for bitterness or cynicism, Modern Family will be a modern classic. If only ABC had stuck with The Goode Family, it’d have two of the best shows about families on TV. Oh, well, at least rumors are the Goode’s might find a new home.


Created by: David S. Goyer (Christopher Nolan’s Batman films), Brannon Braga (Star Treks’ Enterprise, Voyager, and TNG)

I’m not Mary Whitehouse (Wikipedia it for those in the US) or anything but I was concerned that such incredible carnage on an apocalyptic scale is on in the 8/7 time-slot; then again with that in mind, it doesn’t add to my Office and Community or Fringe conundrum. The show has an almost-all-star cast: Joseph Fiennes is a bit too stiff in his character’s seriousness, but John Cho is excellent. The show has an intriguing premise, where everyone on earth blacks out and sees the future, made more immediately satisfying since the date everyone saw was only this April, so it will be interesting to see how the show works that out. The show also didn't play the whole "was it real?" skeptic card, but instead jumped in head first. Still, while the show is very well-made, and quite easy to get pulled into, the big question is can it escape the shadow of Lost? The show is essentially marketed as Lost but not Lost, an impossible task, and one which is made difficult by the fact that the show features a prominent air-line company and Dominic Monaghan. The show needs to quickly work on making the characters a bit more well-rounded. It needs to remember, even if it doesn't want to be Lost, that what made that show so compelling its first season was that hardly anything happened, mythology wise, but it was instead the characters and the revelations about them, which made it so rewarding.

The New V: Fear of a Black Planet?

If the Bush Administration had Battlestar Galactica as its sci-fi parallel (but, oh it was so much more, namely the greatest television show of all-time), or perhaps the more bitingly subtle criticism of the American presence and the British compliance in galactic imperialism in the rebooted Whoniverse (Dr Who, Torchwood), is the new V the sci-fi parallel to the Obama administration?

I have not seen the new show, just the previews. But for those not familiar, here’s a brief overview of the original. The original, a television event unlike any I remember, was a miniseries playing off of Arthur C Clarke’s masterwork Childhood’s End. Alien space craft hover over the largest cities in the world, and promise earth new technologies and approaches for world peace, curses for disease, and longer lives. However, unike Clarke’s text, where the aliens essentially were awakening the ability to become gods which resided inside the human race, these aliens are more on the “To Serve Man” side of the alien line, secretly lizard like beings who like to eat live mammals. Not that Alf made too threatening, but these Aliens were bad news, eventually standing in as an extended metaphor of Hitler’s Germany in specific, but facism in general.

Jump forward 25 years and you have a new leader promising hope and change, seen by the fringes as something of an alien himself, and by those same extremists as a amiable front for backdoor facism in America. The previews make a point to prominently place the church as threatened by the aliens, a theme found in many of the Obama fears, either specifically or latently. It will be interesting how this show is received, if it is embraced by the right, or if, unlike the original, it can work after its initial miniseries.

1 comment:

erin said...

I loved Manny Delgado! Roles like that for kids can go so wrong but he was great.

Flash-Forward literally felt like that- the entire first season of Lost fast forwarded to fit in one episode. I mean, come on, the kangaroo? Red Panda stuff? The near identical first scenes what with the burning wreckage? I mean, I'll give it a shot but it doesn't even look like they're trying.