Desperate Housewives aside, ABC has a shoddy track record with comedy in recent years, which makes Modern Family feel like an anomaly. The network's new family sitcom is funny and smart, and mostly original, definitely not what you'd expect to follow in the line of ascension after According to Jim.

Desperate Housewives aside, ABC has a shoddy track record with comedy in recent years, which makes Modern Family feel like an anomaly. The network's new family sitcom is funny and smart, and mostly original, definitely not what you'd expect to follow in the line of ascension after According to Jim.

Three couples connected by blood portray different facets of today's American family. Elder Pritchett Jay (Ed O'Neill) has a Colombian trophy wife (Sofia Vergara) and a young stepson whose Latin lover mind has the jump on his pre-pubescent body.

Daughter Claire (Julie Bowen) is a harried disciplinarian while husband Phil (Ty Burrell) embarrasses himself playing "cool dad" to their two kids. Son Mitchell Pritchett (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) has just returned from Vietnam with Cameron (Eric Stonestreet), his partner of five years, and their newly adopted baby.

Series creators Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd adopt the loose mockumentary style of The Office to tackle the family version of its squirm-generating situations, from the usual intergenerational conflicts to the singular experience of watching Cameron use The Lion King's soundtrack to introduce the baby to the rest of the family.

At first there's some contrivance in the mix of characters, but solid writing and perfect casting take the show to a different level, where comic exaggeration results in something uniquely authentic.