Much like Stewie Griffin, Manny is hilarious because of juxtaposition. A child acting like an overly mature adult is almost always funny, and Manny drinking coffee like an adult and giving out sage advice is entertaining. But he is at his best when his “old soul” persona is applied to situations that are normal for the average child.
Most children Manny’s age are just starting to find girls appealing, but their method of flirting or showing their affection is still juvenile. When I was in grade school, I would intentionally steal things from the girl I liked at recess and force her to chase me around.
My classmates’ versions of flirting included constantly messing up girls’ hair or poking fun at them for no apparent reason. Why any girl ever liked us I have no idea.
But Manny is quite different. He already is a full-blown romantic, writing poetry and pining after young women. He reflects the kind of hopeless romantic that has been shown in countless shows and movies, but never in a 12-year-old package.
It’s even funnier because he is paired with Jay, who is an old man trying to act younger. Manny regularly acts wiser and more mature than his elderly stepfather, and even acts as a kind of therapist for Jay at times.
Now that Manny’s status as a 40-year-old in a child’s body has been established, jokes just flow naturally. Other characters say things to him that are normal for any conversation with a child, but Manny’s reactions are anything but normal.
For example, when Jay wants him to go away and asks if he has somewhere to go play, Manny responds, “When do I ever play?” There is a similar joke in almost every episode, and they almost always work brilliantly.
It’s like the other characters still occasionally forget about Manny’s personality and treat him like a normal child, allowing him to immediately respond in a way that proves he isn’t.
It helps that Modern Family managed to find such a gifted young actor as Rico Rodriguez. In fact, the casting director should be commended for finding incredibly skilled young actors for all of the child roles. Nolan Gould (Luke), Ariel Winter (Alex) and Sarah Hyland (Haley) also are regularly impressive, but Rodriguez tends to steal the show.
Rodriguez has an amazing ability to deliver lines as if he has years of experience and knows exactly what he’s talking about. I’d be willing to bet the writers originally planned for his role to be a bit smaller, but they continue to give him more to do because he has performed so well.
It should be interesting to watch Rodriguez’s career from here. Male child actors tend to have more trouble carrying their career into adulthood since they basically have to disappear for all of their years of puberty. It’s hard to give a good performance when your voice is constantly cracking.
But for now we can just enjoy Rodriguez’s breakout performance as Manny. And since Modern Family is one of the most successful comedies launched in recent memory, he and his cohorts should be on the air for quite some time.
Programming Note: Modern Family can be seen at 9/8c Wednesdays on ABC.
TV’s Top 10 Characters:
10 – Stewie Griffin
9 – Sterling Archer
8 – Chuck Bartowski
7 – Manny Delgado
6 – Dexter Morgan
5 – Barney Stinson
4 – Don Draper
3 – Abed Nadir
2 – Phil Dunphy
1 – Ron Swanson
Honorable Mention – April 1