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I swore I'd never watch an ABC comedy again after I hadn't watched ABC comedies for years and years, and then they canceled Better Off Ted, the best thing since Arrested Development. But here they go again, putting out Modern Family, a show that makes me laugh several times a minute. Only this one is popular amongst viewers, and with award ceremonies. You've probably been watching all season, and if not, you probably aren't worth its time.
Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd (not Uncle Fester) have created a show so ingenious it could easily become terrible in years to come. Per capita, the greatest cast currently on television makes each half hour seem too short, and the calamity that dictates this family's discoordination only becomes more hilarious as the season continues. Someone should tell The Office that zany plots can still retain realism and make people laugh. Yeah, that's a rip on a show that has easily become more terrible in the past six years. Modern Family is also a single-camera show with documentary-style talking-head interviews. Unlike The Office, there's no pretense to this style, so I can't even complain about continuity, just a cheap gimmick.
Here's a quick synopsis of how this family comes together. The oldest, and more respectable, patriarch is Jay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill), recently married to Gloria (Sofia Vergara), a sass-tasty decades-younger Columbian with a ridiculously precocious preteen son named Manny (Rico Rodriguez). Jay has two kids. His anal-retentive daughter Claire (Julie Bowen) is married to the belligerently naive Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell). They have three kids: Luke (Nolan Gould), the innocently dimwit son; Haley (Sarah Hyland), the older horny daughter; and Alex (Ariel Winter), the sarcastic brainy daughter. Haley ends up dating Dylan (Reid Ewing), who looks like Russell Brand with all of the ignorance and none of the drug use. Son Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) is the self-assumed black sheep because he's gay. He and his partner, Cam Tucker (Eric Stonestreet), have adopted Vietnamese baby Lily (Phil wonders aloud if she'll be able to pronounce her own name. Awesome.)
I'll admit, the first few episodes adhere too tightly to the family theme, mostly in dialogue and scene selection. Every episode deals with the family's mistakes towards reaching a solution as a family unit, I know this. But the first few end with a wraparound speech from one character or another about how families stick together through thick and thin and all that; pretty generic lines spoken over ironic visuals. And it's because we're meant to believe that the families are converging for the first time in years. It becomes a lot more natural as the season progresses, and is replaced by more awkwardly comedic endings in later episodes. Kudos.
And I'll be damned if every episode isn't as funny, or funnier, than any dysfunctional fam-centric sitcom in years. Just name one, I don't care. (I think The Simpsons had an unusually strong season this year, so I'll allow that to fall in second place.) It all develops from the believably textured relationships that are cross-woven between these people. Jay loves Gloria, but clearly isn't aware of anything in Columbian culture, and is much too old to relate to an adolescent son beyond generic male bonding. Especially when Manny's idolized father, played with enjoyable arrogance by Benjamin Bratt, comes into the picture. I love Ed O'Neill. I cannot believe that Al and Peg Bundy are on my favorite comedy and drama on television, respectively. What the fuck is that about, David Faustino?
There's a similarly genuine love between Claire and Phil that features an equally amusing disconnect: Claire is an adult and Phil is a child. Whether he's treasure hunting with Luke, having puppy love for Gloria, or stealing bikes in order to teach a lesson, Phil clearly isn't running on all cylinders. But his motivations are pure, and he wants what is best for his family, so he's more a sap than a bad father. Although realistically, he commits a couple of heinous acts that fathers and husbands should probably avoid. And while Phil and Luke work on the same wavelength, Claire and Haley are almost the same person, a generation apart. Haley works all season to get her driver's license, driving the family crazy in the meantime. Alex, aside from her witty insults, doesn't have many plotlines to showcase her character, but that could change.
The spinoff-ready Cam and Mitchell are a delight every time they pop on the screen. I'll be honest here: a lot of gay characters in sitcoms are dreadful revolving doors of stereotypes, and they get on my nerves more so than any dullards on the same show. This isn't to say Cam and Mitchell are wholly original, but they're layered with idiosyncrasies. Mitchell is the uptight workaholic lawyer with a soft spot, always given a hard time by Jay, who is constantly underwhelmed by his son's sexual preference. Cam is the stocky ex-football player who loves to dance, particularly when he can spank his own behind while doing so; also, he's Fizbo the Clown. Both men are loving parents to Lily, and want only the best for her, easily making them the most sympathetic characters.
Through the joyously long 24-episode season, all kinds of stories are told. Manny finds his calling as a fencing master. Jay's first wife DeDe (Shelley Long) comes to apologize for ruining Jay and Gloria's wedding, only to ruin things even more. Jay and Cam touch asses in a gym locker room, prompting nightmares within Jay. Mitchell relives his past as a figure skater. Claire spends an entire day trying to track down an iPad for Phil's birthday. Wait a second, these plots sound decisively boring. Fear not. Modern Family takes even the most trodden plot devices and makes them fresh with intelligent scripts and engaging performances. You'll think that a Christmas, Valentine's Day, or family-vacation episode is going to reek, but that isn't the case here.
Season 2 is now underway, so don't waste another second watching whatever else plays on Wednesday nights. And pick up this DVD set for hours of replayable awesomeness.
This four-disc set has quality extras, because almost all of them are amusing, but I could have done with a few commentaries. I'm greedy when it comes to funny things. I could listen to Ty Burrell riff for days, and I say that without lust in my eyes.
Every episode has deleted, extended, or alternate scenes. There are far fewer deleted scenes than ones that have a single line inserted or changed. Still, it's funnier than a lot of what makes it on the air for other shows. Most episodes also have deleted interview footage. These are completely different for the most part, and are mostly Ty Burrell going off on tangents, which equals awesome.
"Real Modern Family Moments" is a great extra that has the show's writers telling the stories that inspired a large amount of the plots that make up many of the show's sillier moments. "Before Modern Family" is each of the actors explaining what they were doing...before Modern Family, go figure. I really enjoyed it, as the cast has had differing levels of fame, and we get to see screen tests and behind-the-scenes footage. Really good stuff.
Two episodes, "Family Portrait" and "Hawaii," get short making-of featurettes. "Family Portrait" takes you from table reads to filming, and "Hawaii" has everyone talking about Hawaii. There's a short about Eric Stonestreet's actual past as "Fizbo the Clown." Finally, there's a five-minute gag reel that should have been longer. All in all, a good set for a great show. I'll wear these discs out before too long, and there's nothing nerdy about that.
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