Family Portrait by James Parker
The Atlantic, November 2011
Life is short, but sitcom is shorter. And Modern Family—currently enjoying its third season—is a bit of a master class in pace and brevity. So brassily succinct is the theme tune (11 seconds) that at the WGA ceremony, it had to be played three times before any of the writers could make it to the stage. The title is bald and declarative, in the modern manner. (The Cosby Show, if they made it today, would be called Black Family; Cheers, perhaps, Men Drinking.) And the writing is vorsprung durch technik: hectically compressed but dramatically elegant, prodigal in its zingers and snorters but austere in its construction. One feels one should be taking notes.
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Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, a former senior editor at The Atlantic, is now a senior editor at Smithsonian magazine.