What would you get if you took the earnestness of The Cosby Show's Huxtables, crossed it with the wackiness of the Bluths of Arrested Development and peppered in the family neuroses of Everybody Loves Raymond's Barones? Probably something that looks pretty similar to Modern Family's clan, the Pritchetts. The hilarious new ABC comedy revolves around three nuclear families: Patriarch Jay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill) and his second wife, Gloria (Sofia Vergara), the gorgeous and much-younger Columbian woman who's made Jay a 60-something stepdad; Jay's daughter ,Claire (Julie Bowen), and her husband, Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell), the goofy self-proclaimed "cool dad," and their three kids; and Jay's son Mitch, (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), and his boyfriend, Cam (Eric Stonestreet), who just adopted a Vietnamese baby, Lily. They are, in every sense, a modern family—from the fact that Lily has two daddies to the Dunphy kids' obsession with technology ("Why are you guys yelling at us when we're way upstairs?" asks 15-year-old Hailey. "Just text me").
In a comedy landscape dominated by shows like The Office and 30 Rock, plenty of critics thought family sitcoms might no longer have a place on television. "Not only is it a family show, but it really wears its heart on its sleeve," Burrell says. "I was worried, in a sitcom world that is so driven by a sort of ironic detachment, that people wouldn't think it was cool enough. Kind of like that kid in school that is too sweet and gets picked on."
But Burrell needn't worry, the show took off running. In its first season, it's already been nominated for a Best Comedy Golden Globe and the cast was nominated for the Best Ensemble Screen Actor's Guild award. "As a group, we're so thrilled to be nominated for the SAG in particular because I think from the beginning we felt like it was a true ensemble show, and that's not very common," Burrell says. "Most shows are built around one or two people and then there are a lot of great parts supporting them, but we took note early on how evenly this was spread out."
If there's anyone in this collaborative show who has been singled out for his performance, it's probably Burrell. His character is said to be loosely based on co-creator Steven Levitan, though Burrell says he has more in common with Phil than he'd care to admit. "I share way too many of Phil's traits," he says. "The tough challenge would be to find out what I don't share with Phil. ??? I'm not a dad. It might start and end there."
Not surprisingly, Burrell says he's having the time of his life. "Comedy is why I got into acting in the first place. It's my first love. I ended up, just by way of making a living, doing lots of classical theater and film and playing a lot of bad guys along the way to pay the bills, but I've always dreamed that maybe I could get back to comedy. Definitely the sitcoms I've been on [Back to You, Out of Practice] have given me that," he says. "I think what's new to me is having people actually watch this one."