Sofia Vergara of "Modern Family", left, and Jane Lynch of...

Sofia Vergara of "Modern Family", left, and Jane Lynch of "Glee." Credit: ABC (Vergara), Fox (Lynch)

In this corner, a dazzling musical newcomer with heart, passion, soul and - not to mention - Sue Sylvester. In that corner, a smart, sweet, sleek family sitcom that has taken the age-old TV conventions and turned them into something remarkably, well, modern.

"Glee" vs. "Modern Family."

It's too bad one of them has to lose Sunday night at the 62nd Annual Prime-Time Emmy Awards. Not many people come to the Emmys telecast expecting a good, clean battle between two well-equipped contenders with memorable first seasons and now shouldering great expectations for their second.

But, really, who should win? Ask a Gleek and you'll get a baleful look, questioning both your sanity and intelligence. Ask a "Modern Family" fanatic - still looking for their own moniker ("MoFan?") - and you'll get the same. It's not that Gleeks and MoFans dislike each other, they just don't agree. Arguments must be settled, and that's what we'll do here: Six factors explaining why these are the shows of the moment, capped with a final - dare we say - irrefutable assessment.

First, a cautionary note. "Glee" and "Modern Family" are the shows with all the buzz, but the Emmys have a wonderful way of confounding buzz. There are four other excellent nominees, including champ "30 Rock." No one can count them out, and shouldn't.

1. THE CAST 

"Modern Family" is built around reasonably seasoned television actors, and even Sarah Hyland and Ariel Winter, who play the Dunphy kids, seem to have worked in front of a camera virtually their entire lives. Presiding over all is Ed O'Neill, one of TV's finer comic and dramatic actors. By contrast, "Glee" has just one key cast member closely associated with the tube - Jane Lynch. Most of the rest are TV newcomers and Broadway stars, such as Matthew Morrison. Simply put, "Glee" has greater reverence for Broadway actors - Lea Michele, John Lloyd Young ("Jersey Boys"), Jonathan Groff ("Spring Awakening"), Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth. "Modern Family" is pure TV.

EDGE A toss-up.

2. THE CHARACTERS 

From the cast come the characters. Great comic TV characters are multidimensional - Steve Carell's Michael Scott of "The Office" is a regular onion, with three or even four layers. They are also recognizable. You see something of the Truth in them. "Glee's" standout is Lynch's Sylvester - within whom all of us see a long-forgotten gym teacher with a querulous, smoldering heart who (really) just wanted us to capture the damn flag. But she has big dreams and guts and smarts. She has a facility with the English language and a particular flair for comebacks. On "Modern Family," everyone is carefully constructed to resemble a real human with outsize comic flaws - including Manny Delgado (Rico Rodriguez), who struggles with both his weight and a stepfather (O'Neill's Jay Pritchett) who just wants to turn the boy into a junior version of him.

EDGE "Modern Family"

3. THE DIALOGUE

"Modern Family" was created by TV vets Christopher Lloyd and Steve Levitan who also wrote a handful of episodes, although most were written by others (Danny Zucker, Dan O'Shannon, et al). "Glee" is penned by just three - producers Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan and Brad Falchuk. You'd think fewer writers means more consistency of "voice" - and you'd be correct. But with all its writers, "Family" still gets high scores on consistency, too. Ty Burrell's Phil Dunphy always seems to say exactly the right thing for his character. Take that time he called someone on the phone. Viewers figured he was talking to a friend. Then, this: "Beautiful morning, isn't it? Shame you have to work. Anyway . . . I'd like to order a large pepperoni."

EDGE "Modern Family"

4. THE FUNNY

The award category is "comedy," so the title should go to "funniest," correct? No. It should go to the best show that happens to be a comedy. There's a distinction here. All of tonight's nominees are "funny" - "Curb Your Enthusiasm," in fact, is hilarious and so are "The Office" and "30 Rock." "Glee" can be, and often is, conventionally funny but it tends to dodge the joke or punch line in favor of the emo moment. Every "Family" episode is an elaborately constructed 21-minute-long joke. A mid-January episode, "Not in My House,"written by Caroline Williams (formerly of "The Office") was spun around a "dog butler" and a picture of a topless woman sent to Phil's computer by a troublemaking colleague. It was discovered (of course) by wife Claire (Julie Bowen). One of the most inspired half-hours of comedy on TV last season had this line: "That was hardly porn," Phil says of the picture. "It was a topless woman on a tractor. You know what they call that in Europe? A cereal commercial."

EDGE "Modern Family"

5. THE CONCEPT

No TV show comes out of a vacuum. A show is something of a distant mirror reflecting the mood of the moment. The mood of the currently perilous economic moment seems to be nesting, which in TV terms means comfort food. "Modern Family" is nothing more than a sharply crafted formulation of the family sitcom. There are newfangled elements from "The Office" and "Arrested Development" stitched into the formula, but most episodes end with the comfiest, coziest of TV conventions - an affirmation that we are a loving family, however different our component parts are. (You can almost hear echoes of John-Boy Walton saying goodnight to everyone.) "Glee" has TV antecedents, too - a bit of "Fame" here, some "Saved by the Bell" there, and a whole lotta "High School Musical" all over the place. But those comparisons are ultimately trivial. This is one of the most original TV series in years, with themed musical episodes and Broadway tie-ins. There's really never been anything quite like it.

EDGE "Glee"

6. THE MUSIC

Any comedy can win tonight, and with these six, any of them might. But "Glee" and "Modern Family" have raised the bar. "30 Rock" is no longer the show to beat. These two are. That said, the winner is "Glee." Music makes the great difference here. "Glee" has taken pop standards from Madonna to Burt Bacharach and turned them into something unique and memorable. In the end, this battle may not be fair because - as you may have noticed - music doesn't play much of a role in "Modern Family," does it? But music tips the balance in favor of a "Glee" victory tonight over "Modern Family." A victory over the other four? We'll see.

Top Stories