The TV Room: Modern Family Season 6, by David Bax
In the new, post-Sopranos (and now post-Mad Men) world of television, there’s much more awareness on the part of the public of individual seasons of shows. It’s not just about the contracts of the cast and crew anymore. Seasons are how shows are grouped on Netflix and they’re how series are currently consumed. As a result, we have expectations based on them. What’s the story of this season? How does this season fit into the whole story? That may be a tad unfair to more classical-minded shows like Modern Family but it also makes it easier for us the viewers to point out a series’ faults.
If Modern Family‘s sixth season had a unifying theme, it would have to have been about growing and aging. Alex is going off to college. Manny and Luke have started dating (not each other, of course, though wouldn’t that have been something?). Hayley celebrated a birthday by getting drunk with her mom. Jay tried to recapture the charisma of his 1980s self. But it’s doubtful all this was an intentional throughline. More likely, it’s simply the result of the show having been on long enough that most of its characters are visibly older.
That’s not to imply that the performers have lost a step. It’s not even to imply that an episode needs thematic depth to be good. No, when the show’s writers allow their talented cast to bounce off one another and keep the pace skipping along, an episode can be as light as a feather and as fresh and funny as ever. Episodes like the one where Phil enlist Luke and Manny to protect Gloria from a leering drone or the one where they celebrate Jay’s birthday or, hell, even the one where everyone’s on Facetime are so good as to appear to have written themselves.
But those only account for a small portion of episodes. Just as many of them, if not more, were lackluster this season. Modern Family is rarely bad but, these days, it’s often just okay. It can be effortless in the worst sense of the word.
At least the aforementioned aging of the cast provides markers to differentiate one season from the next. The writers are forced to write stories about Luke getting older because Nolan Gould is getting older (though Rico Rodriguez seems to be aging barely at all). And any version of the story that doesn’t involve Alex going to college would be a disservice to both the character and the actor.
Despite these necessary moves in the right direction,though, Modern Family has essentially sought to maintain the status quo. Plenty of long-running sitcoms have resisted change but some have done it well. Even the “no learning” Seinfeld managed to distinguish its seasons with story arcs. Modern Family is too dedicated to staying the same to even do that.