Saturday, June 5, 2010

On the new TV genre staple: Families

What else is there to churn out in TV that's reliable, and constantly has stories? We've done crime procedurals to death. Medicine/doctor shows have had their day. Lawyers? Yawn. Oh, I know! Families!

There's something everyone can relate to. To me, it was annoying enough when Brothers & Sisters brought us too many family members, all yammering and in each other's business, constantly gossiping on the phone with each other. But there were some situations that Brothers & Sisters did well. And it is still on the air, after all.

So let's trot out that formula. 

In catching up with potential Emmy contenders, I've just sat down with two of the talked-about shows: one comedy, one drama; both about families. Maybe I was spoiled because I watched the good one first.

"Modern Family," on ABC, is a genuinely funny comedy about a typical (by today's America standards) family. The gay son, the sex-crazed daughter, the father who marries an insanely hot younger woman (what is it with men in Hollywood constantly presenting this stereotype? This doesn't happen in middle America, you know...). But I digress.

"Modern Family" (though about families, and I admit, the topic of families kinda makes me wanna throw up) has a lot of funny lines and situations. Julie Bowen, way better here than in her last ABC show ("Boston Legal") is warm and you wanna know her story. Jesse Tyler Ferguson, as her brother, is also warm and kind.

The pilot of this show made me want to see more. Ed O'Neill is the penultimate father after his long "Married with Children" run, and they had to work hard to make such a truly sexy man (IRL) look so old and frumpy for this show.

The other family show, the NBC drama "Parenthood," has an absolutely stellar cast. This is why I managed to TiVo nearly every show this season, telling myself it just had to be good. Craig T. Nelson is their father. In fact, nearly everyone in this show you've seen somewhere else on TV. For Monica Potter, it's a good thing you probably don't remember her from "Boston Legal."

For others, it's not so good. After all, how can anyone ever wipe away Nate Fisher or Lorelei Gilmore from our minds when watching Peter Krause and Lauren Graham, respectively? It's really truly hard to see Lauren parenting these two kids, when you know she should be off somewhere taking care of Rory. And we all know Nate's dead.

That said--and for me, it still hangs over every frame of this show so far--it's really great to have them both back in our living rooms, where they belong. And if it can't be Rory, Mae Whitman is feisty and compelling enough to want to watch what she does as Lorelei...AHEM, SARAH's daughter.

But, dear God, the family around the dinner table where everyone is talking at once dynamic is so played out. I'm so over it. It's bad enough we have to listen to that crap in our real lives. I don't wanna see it in my art.

I was just about ready to give up on this show, when Lauren Graham has a date (with the ubiquitous Mike O'Malley). And there, the first moments of poignancy that tug at your heartstrings. Peter Krause has a few of them later in the pilot episode too.

So, my jury is still out on this show. At least the living room scene where the brothers and sisters are yammering at each other played better than any episode of Brothers and Sisters I've ever seen. You felt the natural rapport amongst them, and the love. It was really beautiful.

Although I hate to say it, I'm going to be giving both of these shows more chances. Families. Who knew?


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