The feel-good instant TV classic
The Story So Far...
The cast is the key for this series, as the large ensemble is strong throughout, led by O'Neill, who's proven he only gotten better with age, adding the heartfelt aura of a hard-shelled grandfather to the bite and timing he's displayed for decades to make Jay Pritchett one of the most likable characters on TV. He can simply look at the camera and it's hysterical. That he's paired with Sofia Vergara (as Gloaria, his wildly hot, much younger Columbian wife) and breakout youngster Rico Rodriguez (Manny, her old-soul son from a previous relationship) gives him the perfect foil for his world-weary point of view. Her foreign perspective and Manny's innocent, yet oddly mature view butt up against Jay, accentuating his comedy and helping him grow as a character, as their family solidifies with time and experience.
Jay is matched in comedy chops by his kids and their partners, who have mastered a blend of realistic connectedness and comedic chaos that makes you care about the family while laughing with or at them. The Dunphys, led by Emmy winners Bowen and Ty Burrell, are as real a family as has been seen on a sitcom in a while, as their lives are a whirlwind, and they fight like cats and dogs, but the love that keeps them together feels legitimate. Burrell is as close to a cartoon as the show gets (well, with the exception of the heavily-accented Vergara) but beneath the goofiness there's a good guy who wants to be a good husband and father, and Burrell makes that element clear. Their kids are a touch less three-dimensional, with studious Alex, dopey hottie Hayley and sweetly "special" Luke, but they serve the show well when called on, especially Nolan Gould as Luke, who, like Heather Morris on Glee, is blessed with some of the best nonsensical dialogue on TV.
The third pairing is the one that most sets the show apart from other series, and has caused the most controversy, as Mitchell and his partner Cam (Eric Stonestreet) are a gay couple who adopted Lily, a Vietnamese baby girl. Though they are played as one of the most "normal" gay couples on TV, and their family is overwhelmingly supportive of them, the duo can lean toward the stereotypical in their portrayal of gay men, especially Stonestreet's emotional bear of a homosexual, or their posse of oddly-named gay friends, including Pepper (Nathan Lane) and Longines. That said, it doesn't feel like the show makes fun of the characters for being gay, but rather makes fun of their struggles with attempting to not exemplify the stereotypes of gay men, a goal they verbally refer to at times. So when Mitchell corrects Cam's effeminate run, the joke isn't who Cam is, but rather him trying to not be himself. That doesn't mean people can't see what they want in these performances, but these are baby steps, and showing a gay couple as just as big a part of the show and just as loving as straight couples can't be a bad thing.
There's no overarching storyline to this series, as each episode focuses on issues faced by everyday families, be it the awkward way exes interact or the troubles kids have at school. With three distinctly different families to work with, there's plenty of fertile soil for the writers, so you get stories about trying to decide who to name as Lily's guardians in the event something happens to Mitchell and Cam or the Dunphy family swearing off electronics in an effort to improve their family interactions. Naturally though, for a show about three intertwined families, family occasions, especially holidays, are a frequent theme, and often result in some of the best episodes, like the great "Halloween," which has a little bit of everything. The only thing that can get too much play are stories centered on Claire's superhuman ability to get aggravated by almost anyone, a device used in
The Dunphy family tends to be a bit more screentime, due in part to there just being more of them, but you'd have a hard time finding an episode that's really mainly about them. It may seem that way at times though because the five of them are the main players when it comes to the show's trademark displays of slapstick bedlam. In "Someone to Watch Over Lily," when Mitchell and Cam drop in on the Dunphy's house to evaluate their ability to care for Lily, it's a three-ring circus of the highest order. There's some real old-school comedic acting going on in this series, as many a joke is punctuated by a silent look or a wordless moment that is just perfect, aided by the precise use of the documentary interviews (especially O'Neill's) which pace the show masterfully. Some of these dialogue-free moments and so deadpan they will have you gasping from laughing. While some accused the series of going for the easy or obvious joke in the first season, pointing out punchlines, there's a lot of background acting happening this time around, to the point where, if you're not paying attention, you'll miss serious laughs. Though, to be honest, there's probably a bunch more right around the corner.
One of the more unusual part of this series, and one that's even more unusual when you consider there were episodes built around Phil accidentally pimping his wife and daughter and a key scene that pretty clearly involved doggy-style sex, every episode ends on a high note, and one that approaches something of a Hallmark moment as one of the characters, normally Jay or Phil, unironically reflects on the great parts of family life, as illustrated in that episode. If the show didn't develop a real investment in the characters and treated them as people, these wrap-ups could come off as nearly schizophrenic, following the rest of the show. It's a delicate balancing act, injecting a level of snark into the characters while telling stories that are, in the end, highly sincere and sentimental, but Modern Family pulls it off, and the end result is a show that's not just good but feel good as well.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks are crystal clear, putting the dialogue in the center channel, where it's strong and distortion-free, while the side and rear speaker get some occasional action from a few impressive off-screen sounds and emphasized music. For the most part, it's your standard sitcom mix though, so you can't expect a whole lot.
A host of behind-the-scenes featurettes make up the bulk of the extras, starting with "Mitch's Flash Mob" (2:51) a look at the dance scene, with Stonestreet and Ferguson. You don't learn a lot, but you get to hear some of the actors' thoughts about the scene. "Waiting for Oprah" (3:52) is a bit more fun because it's more background, as you see some of the cast prepare for an on-set interview with the former daytime queen, and they let their personalities out a bit. If you want to find out more about the sets of the show, "At Home with Modern Family" (6:11) gives you a tour of the three households with intros from the "homeowners."
There are some interview pieces available as well, with a short chat with series co-creator Steve Levitan (4:13) and a retrospective of the special occasions the show's celebrated, "Modern Family Holidays", as clips from the shows are presented with intros from the writers. Like the Flash Mob piece, these could have been more informative, rather than recaps.
The remaining three featurettes are the stars of the show. There's a music video for Dylan's song "Imagine Me Naked," which is as ridiculous as the title, and an 8:23 gag reel. Too much of the gag reel is actual footage of the wacky stuff that happens on the show, but the cut footage is great, especially when Vergara is involved. How they complete the filming of an episode with her involved is a grand mystery.
But the biggest extra is a 37-minute table read of the episode "Strangers on a Treadmill", hosted by Levitan. Recorded before the episode was shot, apparently at an event for the TV academy, it features the entire main cast, and includes bits that got cut in the end. It's a fun, loose time, and shows the strength of the writing, which shines without the bells and whistles of the show's final presentation.
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