The shark remains un-jumped
The Story So Far...
The introduction of a new kid is usually a last-ditch effort on the part of a series to extend the show's life, something O'Neill experienced with the addition of Seven to the Bundy household on Married with Children. It normally doesn't happen when a show is in its prime, as is the case with the birth of Fulgencio, Gloria (Sofia Vergara) and Jay's new arrival. But perhaps the show's producers see the writing on the wall with the three Dunphy kids, Hayley (Sarah Hyland), Alex (Ariel Winter) and Luke (Nolan Gould) rapidly aging out of their teen years (with Gould returning in season five looking and sounding almost as if they recast his part.) That they gave the new kid to the oldest cast member was a smart move, as it should keep Jay from sliding into stasis character-wise, while creating the most conflict, since he's the furthest from his child-raising experience. The new baby also opens opportunities to explore more of Gloria's familial background, like her fiery mother, played by Elizabeth Pena.
While the Pritchetts got their new addition, Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell did not, losing out on the adoption they were pursuing at the end of season three. That didn't stop them from making a strong case for lead role status, as their neuroses, and their effect on their daughter Lily, often stole the show. The writers seem to give the couple some of the series' best and best-crafted arguments, while giving Lily several of the season's best lines (which she manages to make funny, despite being one of the least natural child actors on TV.) The main concern with them is one that's been present since the show has started, and that's the reliance on gay stereotypes. The thing is, is this an issue because they are so omnipresent or because as a series that's somewhat pioneered the portrayal of gay couplehood n network TV, it feels so obvious? That there are plenty of gay jokes outside of the Cam-Mitchell dynamic, including a run-in with a lesbian couple (played by Wendi McClendon-Covey and Michela Watkins), Phil accidentally seducing a guy at the gym (Matthew Broderick) and Alex dating a guy of ambiguous sexuality, it can seem a bit of a comedic crutch, but it's also very funny. Perhaps it's best to leave the pearl-clutching to someone with a stake in the argument though and just enjoy the laughs.
While the show has always had a deft hand at blending comedy and emotion, when it aims for the heart it has an assassin's accuracy. There are two points in this season that exemplify this, the first being the Haley-at-college arc. It seemed like the series would follow the sitcom trope of having even the biggest screw-up kid find their path by sending her off to college, despite all evidence saying that was a task that was beyond her. In a surprising turn though, she has a spectacular flame-out. To this point, the Dunphys have managed to be successful in most of their ventures, but when Hayley becomes a major disappointment, it puts her supportive parents in a bind. It's amazing to see how their relationship is tested and how the normally cheerful Phil (Ty Burrell) deals with it, leading up to an emotional, yet hilarious episode where Hayley starts dating an older man (the impeccably-cast Jason Mantzoukas) which pushes everything to the surface.
The other high-point of the show's emotional balance is the season finale, which dives in from the start with the death of Phil's mother. This serious moment sends the crew to Florida for the funeral, giving Phil a quest from his deceased mom to set up his widowed father, while Alex goes on a quest of her own to figure out her relationship with her grandmother, thanks to a strange gift she was left. In between their journeys, Jay revisits a long-lost fling, Cameron finds kindred spirits amongst the local mahjong grannies and, in the best bit, Mitchell channels his inner "Rural Juror" and helps provide Gloria with a sweaty, Southern defense on a warrant for a prostitution charge. All their stories come together in the end in the kind of touching wrap-up the show has now mastered, even if some may feel it's a bit hacky or cloying at times. It's mostly a case of familiarity breeding contempt.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks stays on the same path as the previous releases, with the sound sitting mainly in the center channel, where the character's dialogue lives, while the side and rear speakers pick up the series' atmospheric sound and music. Once in a while, there's a bit more effort in the surrounds (normally tied to louder on-screen action, like Phil and his attempt to ride a motorcycle) but either way the sound is distortion-free and sufficiently powerful to keep the dialogue legible at all times.
It seems like something had to go in order to get commentaries, and the deleted/alternate scenes were nominated for the cut, going from the extensive collections on previous sets to just under seven minutes of excised material in this set. It's not that there's amazing content in these, but it is fun to see more of these characters, especially Phil's alternate video diaries from an awkward ride on Jay's motorcycle. While the deleted scenes are lighter, there is an extended director's cut of the season finale, though don't expect world-changing edits (just some joked that otherwise would have been cut for time.
Several featurettes are also included, starting with "An Addition to the Family" (6:30) which covers the show's new baby via clips and an interview with Vergara. It's not the most enlightening entry, but Vergara is amusing to listen to. For those interested in how the sausage is made, "A Day with Eric" (11:57) will be far more entertaining, as you follow Stonestreet as he shoots the show, from his arrival on the set to his final scene. Much longer than tbe similar piece with Burrell on last season's set, it's a chance for Stonestreet to be his funny self as he guides you through television production and introduces you to some of the people working behind the scenes.
"Modern Family Writers" (13:14) is also quite good, as the show's key writers sit down and share some of the personal moments in their lives that developed into plots for the show. That Zuker returns for this festurette only helps it become the most interesting featurette the show's produced to date. It's certainly better than "A Modern Guide to Parenting" (4:40), which is just a supercut of parenting moments from the show, with no new material.
Wrapping up the extras is a 10:26 gag reel, and it's actually got some funny bits to it, unlike previous such extras. Maybe I'm just a sucker for Julie Bowen dancing though.Your mileage may vary.
The Bottom Line