I recently compared No Ordinary Family to Heroes and wanted to do another blog entry comparing another current hit to a recent predecessor.
If you don't count shows on the WB that catered to tweens or minority niche shows (George Lopez, Bernie Mac Show, Everybody Hates Chris), Arrested Development is the first major hit family sitcom since the days of the Cosby Show, Home Improvement, and TGIF.
However, Arrested Development was a parody of family sitcoms.
Sitcoms are celebrations of the family. Arrested Development follows that external framework of family celebration but the theme of the show is it's just a facade.
The idea that "family is important" was just something that Michael Bluth would toss around as a lesson to his son, but he would violate that golden rule quite often, because he would often want to skip town, betray his brother, or turn his dad in. The whole premise of the show, in fact, was that Michael Bluth was moving back home with his son and making a personal sacrifice because his family needed him and he in turn wanted to help the family, so it makes it all the more hilarious that he regularly doubts his commitment to his current life's purpose in practically every other episode.
George echoes that same "The family is most important" sentiment and, ironically, abides by it more, but he's pretty twisted about his motives and he outright doesn't care about Buster* Ironically, Lucille really never cares for anyone besides Buster in a way that isn't self-serving and downright diabolical.
Occasionally, the show has a third act reminiscent of TGIF sitcoms (Full House, Step by Step, etc.) where the characters come together and learn a lesson but unlike those shows, the third act is subverted just before the closing credits that serves to undo any progress the family made.
Modern Family has none of that. It mines comedy out of the absurd quirks of the family and mines drama of the forces that tear the family apart, but the comedy doesn't suggest that the family is worthless and the negative vibes in the family are always overcome (or at least ameliorated) by episode's end.
Arrested Development was a hit show about a family but Modern Family truly has revived the sitcom from the corniness it was engulfed in when it was last thriving.
*I know Buster's probably not his biological son, but we don't know that at the start of the show and he's still a ridiculously neglectful surrogate dad. He talks about how much of a waste Buster is while he's 3 feet away from him.