All in the (big, diverse, wonderful) 'Family,' on ABC

An honest and amusing look at family life

An honest and amusing look at family life in 2009, starring Julie Bowen ("Boston Legal"), Al Bundy - oops, we mean Ed O'Neill - Ty Burrell and Sofia Vergara. Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC. (Credit: ABC)

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THE SHOW "Modern Family"

WHEN | WHERE Wednesday at 9 on ABC/7

REASON TO WATCH Possibly ABC's most promising new comedy.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Out there in some blemish-free suburb, location not specified, there are three families that would seem to be as completely different as the word "different" would allow.

There's a married gay couple, Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), who have just returned from Vietnam, where they adopted a baby girl.

Then there's Jay (Ed O'Neill), an older guy who's married to much-younger Gloria (Sofia Vergara), who has a son from her previous marriage.

Finally, there are Phil (Ty Burrell) and Claire (Julie Bowen), along with their three kids who abuse and torture each other. One of the kids is a 15-year-old mortified by the sight of her father, who tries to be "cool" by dancing and singing to "High School Musical."

And here is the punch line that you've been expecting: They're all related, with Jay as the big daddy, while Claire and Mitchell are brother and sister.

BOTTOM LINE Let's get the bad stuff out in the open right away. "Family" is another one of those faux-documentary-style sitcoms pioneered by "The Office." The faux doc is the swine flu of the TV production community, having spread among NBC sitcoms and now jumping all the way over to ABC. Enough with the "let's address the camera and say something cute" style of prime-time comedy, which comes off as overly precious here.

Yet, get past that gripe and "Modern Family" is good. Better than good. Really good. O'Neil - dry and wonderful as ever - and Vergara (considerably less dry) are a winning combination. Same with Burrell-Bowen and Stonestreet-Ferguson. This "Family" is a genuine pleasure to hang with.

GRADE B+

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