Awards Season

The Real Reason Why It's A Shame Ed O'Neill Wasn't Nominated For An Emmy

Ed O'Neill in Modern Family

hide captionEd O'Neill was the only adult cast member not nominated for Modern Family, and that is a real shame.

Mario Perez/ABC

A full day has passed since the announcement of this year's Emmy nominations, and the various people who talk about such things (including us!) have been spending that time searching for themes and patterns. That's what people do whenever we're faced with a large amount of raw data. It's called science.

One of the more commented-upon topics — after "Boy, Glee sure got a whole bunch of nominations, huh?" — was that Ed O'Neill was the lone shutout amongst the adult cast members of Modern Family. I'll admit that I was as surprised as anyone; while Married... With Children wasn't exactly Frasier in terms of cultural esteem, there's always been a conservative bias to the Emmys that typically works in the favor of folks who've gutted it out in the industry for ages and managed to catch a wave of renewed vigor and success. That's how you end up with the words “Emmy winner William Shatner.”

What really shocked me about the snub, though, was that it came so closely upon the heels of a revelation I recently had about Modern Family while happily sitting through the summer reruns, and it was this: there is not one weak link in the show's entire cast. Not amongst the adults, not amongst the children and certainly not Ed O'Neill, who plays Jay with the deceptively light touch of a consummate pro. That is, when you think about it, a minor miracle.

Just look at the ways that, given the material, the casting could have gone horribly wrong. Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) could have been two poles on the gay-stereotype spectrum: the uptight priss and the emotional mother hen. Phil (Ty Burrell) could have been any of a thousand interchangeable sitcom doofus-husbands, and Claire (Julie Bowen) any of a thousand put-upon sitcom wives. What saves them all is the idiosyncrasies that the actors give to their portrayals. Even the kids. Even Luke (Nolan Gould).

And then there's Gloria. Ay, dios mio, Gloria. That, right there, is a character that just begs to taken in the wrong direction as fast as her shapely legs can carry her. But Sofia Vergara is so wickedly funny that she escapes the traps of a role that shouldn't do anybody who dares to take it on any favors. It's not hard to imagine the casting people thinking, "Oh, thank God!" when they found her. And then shouting, "Oh, REALLY thank God!" when they found Rico Rodriguez to play her son, Manny. One or the other would have been needle-in-a-haystack difficult, but to find them both? At the same time? Two very specific, wire-walking roles that require not only specific demographic casting but very specific casting in relation to one another? Not an easy task, to say the least.

The alchemy that happened with the casting of Modern Family doesn't happen to every show. Or even most shows. Even a lot of the shows that I love right now have somebody in the cast who is, to some degree, a stooge. If you'll pardon the blasphemy, Chevy Chase is funny on Community, but he's not quite operating on the same frequency as everybody else. As played by Aubrey Plaza, April from Parks And Recreation has only just started to be anything other than a sullen teen. The Big Bang Theory's Johnny Galecki is often left behind like an anchor as Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco and (increasingly lately) Simon Helberg soar above him. And so on.

Modern Family, on the other hand, somehow manages to escape having even one stooge amongst its ten (!) principal cast members. Which is why it's so disappointing that the Emmy nominations have essentially, if inadvertently, given that role to O'Neill entirely by default.

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