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And that says more about those two shows than Modern Family.

 Modern Family is funny and smart; its plots, for the most part, are grounded in character. “W & G” was more sitcommy with stereotypes and dumbed-down yuks. “AITF” was simply abrasive, except to those who think Don Rickles is actually funny.

 Handsome Hunk and I watched MF for its fifth season opener, a choice prompted as much by its recent Emmy win (best comedy) as by the Nova rerun on PBS (our usual viewing choice). We’ve never not liked MF, not in all the times we’ve seen it, but we’ve more fallen into the habit of watching PBS.

Wednesday night, September 25, offered a back-to-back treat of episodes, for a full hour (another reason we decided to watch it), and a delightful hour it was. “Suddenly Last Summer” led off, set on the day the Supremes threw out California’s Prop 8 and DOMA and, of course, multiple scenarios play out:

  1. Claire (Julie Bowen) and Phil (Ty Burrell) suddenly decide to reschedule their kids’ camp and internships to allow themselves some alone time. Favorite bit: the way Phil talks Alex (Ariel Winter) into buying into the plan.
  2. Meanwhile, Gloria (Sofia Vergara)and Jay (Ed O’Neill) scramble with all those pesky last-minute details, getting Manny (Rico Rodriquez II) off to visit Gloria’s family in Colombia. Favorite bit: Jay and Manny, unthinkingly standing in line with same-sex couples getting marriage licenses. They’re getting a copy of Manny’s birth certificate for his trip but their dialogue (in context of the same-sex couples waiting in line) is hilarious.
  3.  Then there’s Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). Now that same-sex marriage is legal (again. Finally.) the two scramble to Pop the Question, in their own way, to the other, without the other knowing it. Claire and Gloria pitch in to help, and, of course, neither plan works out the way the two men expected. Favorite bit: Fixing the flat tire, the unspoken question, and its simple answer. {sniff} Quite sweet and touching. Great writing is knowing what to say and how to express what’s not said. That final scene was great writing.

 This whole episode unfolded clearly, vividly, and very true to the characters; it was also the first to recognize a Gay rights milestone as it happened,  and showed what same-sex marriage actually means to those involved. A classic episode in the history of television.

 The next episode, “First Day” opens at the end of summer, as school begins. We see the usual transitions and first-day jitters and those parts ring true.

 The weakest story line was Cam’s substitute teaching gig. He didn’t HAVE to teach the history class; just give them something to read, and there’s NO WAY he’d be considered as a permanent replacement for a history teacher if he had no experience. That complication screams “Contrived plot twist”, but the writers still made it work and funny, and a happy ending.

The endings are the real heart of the series. Despite its over-the-top trashiness, Desperate Housewives tied its stories together into an affectionate look at human nature at the end of each episode; Sex and the City did the same thing, and MF does too, not with sticky schmaltz but through genuine warmth and insight.

 The whole show is affectionate, using humor to illuminate, and the dialogue is smart, fast and funny. Will and Grace was more concerned with being funny, and All in the Family was just annoying. Family owes more to Roseanne, which likewise expressed honest respect for its family and characters. Modern Family just started its fifth season and the Pritchett clan deserves a much longer visit.

 Now: When will Mitch and Cam get hitched?

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