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"Modern Family" draws audiences with its originality and real-life characters, but Phil and Claire Dunphy are falling into a familiar television rut. The couple is similar to Lynette and Tom Scavo on "Desperate Housewives." Both of the women are task-orientated and often overwrought as they attend to the demands of family life. Their spouses are more child-like and seem to live in a different world with fewer responsibilities. It works for "Desperate Housewives" because the complexities of the couple's relationship unfolded over time, showing viewers the loving connection, struggles and triumphs that solidified their bond.
Initially, Phil's flippant attitude and Claire's extreme annoyance elicit easy laughs from the mockumentary audience, but over time, it becomes difficult to understand the relationship. Self-indulgent, aloof Phil seems to do nothing but annoy Claire while she wrangles him as though he is one of her children.
In season one, Gloria enthusiastically greets Phil by calling out his name. Preoccupied with her figure-flattering outfit, he thinks she wants him to feel the material and eagerly extends his hand. Disgusted, Claire promptly interjects to clarify the misunderstanding and shoos his hand from Gloria.
Fast-forward to this season and viewers see a perfect example of Phil annoying and insulting Claire for the sake of a lame joke. In "Unplugged," Claire notices her children becoming zombies thanks to various gadgets and forbids the use of technology, including cell phones, computers and video games. Alex asks how she will complete her homework without a computer. Claire tells her to do it the same way she did homework as a girl. Phil immediately makes a joke about a stone tablet and chisel.
In the recent episode "Chirp," Hayley thinks Claire is talking about herself when she tells a story about a miserable woman who married the wrong man. Although Hayley is typically a bit clueless, it is understandable that she thinks her mother is lamenting her own unhappy marriage to a doofus.
A few brief interactions in "Chirp" and "Halloween" show a closer look at the give and take between Phil and Claire, making it easy to see why they are great together. Hopefully, future episodes will maintain their unique personalities and continue to reveal more about them as a couple. Otherwise, these two are dangerously close to becoming a modern version of Fred and Ethel Mertz from "I Love Lucy."
"Modern Family" airs Wednesdays at 8 pm ET on ABC.