The kids are growing up
The Story So Far...
Though it's been a part of the show for a few years now--ever since Haley (Sarah Hyland) first left for and then returned from college--the looming adulthood of the Dunphy kids has come to full bloom now, as this season centered around Luke (Nolan Gould) and his final year of high school (along with that of his uncle Manny [Rico Rodriguez].) With the kids growing up (yet somehow still constantly homebound), Phil (Ty Burrell), Claire (Julie Bowen) and Gloria (Sophia Vergara) are dealing with the emotions of watching their children becoming adults (while Jay [Ed O'Neill] is in more of a been-there, done-that mode.) Now that the only kids are Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitch's (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) Lily and Gloria and Jay's toddler Joe--the two least intriguing characters and least natural actors on the show--one wonders where the show goes in season nine.
Looking at the character arcs in season eight--including Haley's career explorations and romantic entanglements (with an older weatherman played by Nathan Fillion), Alex's struggles at school and Jay and Phil going into business together--it feels like a lot of familiar ground is covered, which is not surprising. If you're not going to completely reinvent the show, and there's no natural plot-motivated way to change things up, eventually family life has a way of repeating itself. As such, we get the return of characters from previous seasons, like Elizabeth Banks' party girl Sal, Matt Besser's depressed neighbor Jerry and Stephanie Beatriz' revenge-driven Sonia, as well as Phil and Claire's sexy Valentine's Day alter-egos. In fact, one episode even returns to the episode-ending moralizing of earlier seasons (which makes it clear how that feature is not missed at all.) However, the show remains tightly written, with intertwining plots and clever wordplay, so even the same-old is worth watching.
Once is a while, the show will break out an episode that reminds you of why it boasts so many awards and eight seasons of television. One, which sees Gloria, Phil and Cam form a secret alliance, is great fun and has a late-game twist that reveals some very smart writing, while another follows Cam and Mitch--high on sleeping pills--as they try to navigate a rescheduled flight, to great enjoyment. Fillion is a positive addition as a guest star, as are the increased appearances by Joe Mande as Claire's assistant Ben, while Niecy Nash, Jane Krakowski and Vanessa Bayer pop by to bring more laughs to the show. All told, in its eighth season, the show is still better than most sitcoms, but it's not going to be one that fans turn to for repeat viewings.
The story with the Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks is the same as it's been, as the jazzy theme song is the most noteable audio demonstration, while dialogue is the key for the rest of the episodes, with the center channel getting the bulk of the responsibilities, while the surrounds provide some support in crowd scenes or the rare musical accompaniment. A solid, if unspectacular presentation that does what's necessary.
Then there's a 6:52 gag reel, not unlike the piece for season seven. This well-edited featurette blends best-of clips, dancing and bits of silliness to create a feel-good look back this this set of episodes.
The Bottom Line