What seemed in early fall a rare outbreak of inspired television writing has in recent months become something rarer—not an epidemic, exactly, but a season impressively stocked with creations drenched in wit and enterprise, all unmistakably reflective of a drive toward formula busting. These things are, of course, always relative. In television these days, one quality hit a season—especially in the impossibly snare-infested comedy genre—seems a lot; two is like breaking the bank.
Yet we’re now finishing a television year that has seen both the emergence of ABC’s uproarious“Modern Family” and its less dazzling but wonderfully mordant lead-in, “The Middle,” about another kind of modern family—a brew of consistent charm and character with a bracing hint of nightmarish reality underlying its sitcom fun. Add to these the most unexpected gem of all—NBC’s “Community,” a satire set in the unlikely precincts of a community college. Its creator, Dan Harmon, was, by his own account, inspired by the semester he once spent at one in pursuit of an effort to strengthen ties with his girlfriend. That relationship didn’t work out in the end, but, happily, the same can’t be said of this whip-smart series about an improbably compelling band of adults taking classes at a sunny academic hell called Greendale Community College.
These were comedies that lit out for new territory and that delivered, at least, persuasive approximations thereof. Of none was this truer than that creation of old “Frasier” hands Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, “Modern Family”—a hugely ambitious, hilarious and royally self-assured enterprise involving three family-connected couples. So seductive are each of these portraits, it’s become clear as the series runs on, that the show’s only problem is finding a way to fit all of them, and their delectable situations, into a satisfying share of what is, after all, only a half-hour format.
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