Home life · On the box

“Modern Family”, and reflections on sitcoms

As noted from time to time on this Blog, our TV viewing as a family consists mainly of sport, quiz shows and comedy series. Last week, although it was the week the children went back to school, at least two of us watched every minute of the latest series of “Who wants to be a millionaire?”, screened at 9pm from Monday to Friday. All four of us were in the living-room together on Friday night to see Donald Fear become the first million-pound winner for 14 years.

Similarly, last Saturday we all watched the opening games of the Premier League season that featured the teams we follow, Arsenal (a 3-0 win at Fulham) and Leeds United (a 4-3 defeat at Liverpool). Leeds were relegated from the top flight in 2004, six months before our first child was born, so this is the first time that they and Arsenal have played at the same level since we became parents.

The comedy shows that we have watched regularly over the last couple of years include Channel 4’s “Friday Night Dinner”, “Friends” (on Channel 5 initially, then on Netflix) and “The Big Bang Theory” (occasionally on E4, but more comprehensively on Netflix). In the last few weeks we have also started watching US sitcom “Modern Family”, a show that had completely passed us by during its 11-season run. The first episode aired in September 2009 and the series finale was in May of this year. Its absence from our schedule was down its availability here in the UK. The show was broadcast on Sky channels that we do not subscribe to. If it had been on BBC, ITV, Channel 4 (or any of its related channels) or even on Channel 5, we would have caught the odd episode at some point, but it has never been easily accessible. The first seven series are now available on Netflix (and, for good measure, on Amazon Prime) which we do subscribe to.

I was prompted to check out “Modern Family” after it was mentioned in a couple of quiz questions, and to offer an alternative comedy series after my wife and daughter started watching “The Big Bang Theory” yet again from the beginning. As this piece from USA Today tells us, Sofia Vergara (who plays Gloria in the show) has spent several years as America’s highest paid TV actress. This fact was the basis of a question on “The Chase” earlier this year. The contestant had never heard of her and got it wrong. The chaser (Jenny Ryan) answered correctly. At the time I made a mental note to check out a few clips at least, to put a name to the face, but didn’t do so. Last month Sofia Vergara was the answer to another question (on “Eggheads”), and I noticed that the show was available on Netflix, so I started at the beginning. The pilot episode got me hooked, and I watched episodes 2 and 3 immediately afterwards. Before getting too carried away, I got the rest of the family to watch the pilot so that they would know how who everyone was from the very start. My wife and daughter have paused their re-runs of “The Big Bang Theory” and “Glee” and are part-way through Series 3 of “Modern Family”.

I, on the other hand, have got rather carried away, and have just finished Series 5. I have seen over 100 episodes of the show in under three weeks, in their original running order. This is a whole new experience for me. Although I have definitely watched every series of “Friends” and “Seinfeld”, pretty much all of “Frasier” and whole series of “Roseanne”, “Cheers” and “My Name is Earl” to give a few examples, I have never started at the very beginning and worked through so many years of programming in such a short space of time. Maybe I’m taking it too fast, but the episodes are only 22 minutes long so I can watch three of them in just over an hour. That’s usually my limit at any sitting, but at weekends I have sometimes watched four before taking a break.

I am enjoying it enormously and haven’t been disappointed by a single episode. Having seen so many of them so quickly, without a scene, a visual gag or even a line of dialogue that I have come across before, I am missing the familiar feeling you get from watching a show over a period of months and years: recalling and re-watching favourite episodes and incidents, spread out over an extended period of time. I have gone back and watched, for example “Frasier’s Imaginary Friend” (s5ep1), “Out With Dad” (“Frasier” again, s7ep15), “The Limo” and “The Hamptons” (“Seinfeld”, s3ep19 and s5ep20) and “The One with the Flashback” (“Friends”, s3ep5) many, many times over the last 20 years. So far my journey, for want of a better word, through five series of “Modern Family” has compressed nearly 56 months’ worth of events (and 40 hours of TV) into 20 days, with each episode viewed just once. I did go back and watch the visual gag in “Bringing Up Baby” (s4ep1) which involves two over-sized stuffed toys on a the roof of Cameron and Mitchell’s car. Currently it’s the stand-out scene that makes me laugh just thinking about it. I’m sure that there’ll be plenty more by the time I get to “Finale Part 2” (s11ep18). At my current rate of viewing that would be before the middle of October.

UPDATE: As suggested in the last paragraph, I did carry on watching at the same rate, and saw the final episodes before the middle of October 2020. I enjoyed the series enormously, and have gone back to watch many of the episodes again. This piece, from November 2020, reflects further on sitcoms and especially on pilot episodes. 



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