MODERN FAMILY Sky1 Thursday, 8pm HIM & HER BBC3 Monday, 10.30pm THE APPRENTICE BBC1 Wednesday, 9pm
NO MATTER how sophisticated comedy gets – and just in the last few years we've had post-modern comedy, ironic comedy, comedy without jokes, and the unintentional consequence of all this refinement, comedy without laughs – I think I'll always have a soft spot for the slapstick of Norman Wisdom. He was the star of the first film I ever saw in a cinema and I was lucky enough to meet him twice, both interviews featuring heavy use of his famous falling-down routine.
So when season two of current fave rave from America Modern Family opened with Phil tipping half the contents of his garage on himself, I took the scene to be an unwitting but generous tribute to the great clown, who died last week.
Modern Family is fun for all the family with something for everyone. It straddles the genres of crash-bang-wallop and mockumentary far more successfully than Phil, the self-styled "cool dad", straddles his son's skateboard. Obviously, the talking-to-the-camera techniques were borrowed from The Office, but Modern Family is a warmer show than the Wernham Hogg odyssey and sometimes it's funnier, too. Did I like warm shows before my own family came along? Possibly not. Altogether now: "Ahh."
Recently Modern Family won three Emmys, including one for Eric Stonestreet as Cameron – a deserved individual gong, but Stonestreet has the benefit of a character who wears too-tight shirts and maximises the melodrama in an avoidable decor clash or a collapsed meringue, and who would if he could sing every line. The quieter characters such as Jay are just as impressive, as in this exchange last week:
Mitchell, Cam's boyfriend, whose enthusiasm for DIY far outstrips his talent: "Hey Dad, remember how much fun we had when we built that bookshelf together?"
Jay (to camera): "That was my Vietnam. And I was in Vietnam."
You can love shows almost too much. They return laden with awards and increased expectations and don't seem to have anywhere to go so they gather everyone round the fire and try to wing it on familiarity and sentimentality. The most sentimental character in Modern Family is Phil; he can't pass the photos of his kids on the staircase without his bottom lip wobbling.
Last week, welling up at the nostalgia induced by his old station wagon, he threatened to drive the show over the edge, but in the end only the car tumbled down the cliff. Some of the kids' old keepsakes were rescued in the nick of time, including the jar in which Luke once trapped sunlight. I'd like to say that Modern Family traps sunlight but don't want to be accused of being a sap.
The best British comedy right now is Him & Her, which couldn't be more different from Modern Family. You imagine the latter being devised in the classic American way, with a team of crack writers being locked in a room, fed pizzas pushed under the door and only let out once they'd delivered scripts as tight as Gloria the Colombian trophy-wife's dresses.
Him & Her, on the other hand, looks like it's come out of the BBC3 glooper which produces programmes for feckless twentysomethings who don't actually watch TV. But while its central characters are two feckless twentysomethings who for five episodes now have not left their mingin' cowp of a flat (tomorrow's the last one and I don't expect the situation to change), Stefan Golaszewski's romcom is, in these surroundings, a jam and fluff-covered gem featuring charming performances from Russell Tovey and Sarah Solemani as Steve and Becky.
Despite their differences, Him & Her and ModernFamily had things in common last week beyond their quality. In both, a character brought a girl home, prompting consternation. Parents fussed over daughters and Steve proved just as useless as Mitchell with a hammer in his hand. He was meeting Becky's parents for the first time. "I'm a people person," he said afterwards. "No you're not," said Becks, shutting the door on the world again.
Phil from Modern Family is in sales. "You can insult my hair, my voice, my balance-board exercises, but don't insult my selling," he said. Too bad he's not in the new series of The Apprentice but there look to be plenty of compensations.
"There's absolutely nothing mediocre about me ... My first word wasn't 'Mummy' it was money... It's sink or swim and I don't do life-jackets." The usual boasts, then, from the usual assortment of would-be entrepreneurs, who are already drunk and deranged on the promise of power from the merest glimpse of Lord Sugar through the frosted-glass doors of his office.
Now that I remember, the life-jackets quip was one of his lordship's, but coming from him, clichs can sound like the first rules of business. Actually, that's rubbish: they sound like clichs. One of the pleasures of The Apprentice, though, is trying to spot the chip off the old block, the one who will most remind Sugar of his younger self, boiling beetroot way up East.
• This article was first published in the Scotland on Sunday on October 10, 2010