February 13, 2012 12:00 PM

>ABC’s Modern Family and NBC’s Parenthood always feel like home

When NBC’s hourlong drama Parenthood premiered in 2010, a season after Modern Family established itself on ABC as the brightest, most contemporary sitcom in prime time, it seemed old and already in need of remodeling. But a couple of years have brought the two shows closer to a consoling parity—at any rate, I find them both soothing in this election year, when politicians keep telling us the middle class is going to wind up like the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath. As long as these people go about their lives, we’re okie dokie. Yes?

Parenthood has evolved nicely, moving around its large cast of characters with slow, gentle agility as they deal with everything from aging and longing to money concerns and special-needs children. Lauren Graham, as a single mom, sets the tone for many of the performances: a stuttering, slightly mannered “naturalism” that nonetheless comes close enough to a real domestic tone that it works. The show has a benign wooliness.

Modern Family, on the other hand, has lost some of its shine. The laughs come less frequently, although I can’t pinpoint any reason other than that it’s all become, well, familiar. The show still has a light precision in identifying key moments in family life—not only the recent episode in which toddler Lily kept uttering a certain four-letter word, but the way it depicts growing children seeing their parents as fallible. These themes aren’t modern; they’re classic. BOTH SHOWS: []

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