Father Knows Jack: 'Modern Family's' Ty Burrell
Credit: Photograph by Emily Shur
'Modern Family,' which is reaping 12.3 million viewers per episode and won an Emmy last year for Outstanding Comedy Series, relies on a deep bench of funny people and rapid-fire punchline-slinging, but also, crucially, on its squareness. "It's like one of those warm, old-fashioned, laugh-track sitcoms," Burrell says, "written really precisely and put in this different format." In Burrell's hands, Phil Dunphy is an amalgam of two gold-plated comedic types: the overgrown man-child – one who drops hip-hop malapropisms and learns all the 'High School Musical' dance steps in a quixotic quest to be the cool dad – and the pushover patriarch, in thrall to his wife and regularly outsmarted by his wiseass offspring. He is a new breed of dorky dad, anxious about losing touch with his kids (those Bieber-fevered creatures who communicate inscrutably in LOLspeak), still resisting his own maturity, and failing hilariously at both. Burrell insists Dunphy isn't dumb so much as a practitioner of a sort of zen obliviousness: "His brain is like one of those long stretches in a Terrence Malick film," he explains. "Just grain waving back and forth, a slight breeze, some footsteps off in the distance, and that's it. For a neurotic like me, playing him is almost therapeutic."