Complete First Season
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Reviewed by Will Harris
kay, I admit it: of the sitcoms that premiered in the fall of 2009, “Modern Family” is the funniest. You’d never have caught me saying that back when the season began, when I was being a proper TV critic and refusing to concede my original assurance that “Community” had taken home the victory – and, as you’ll see elsewhere, it’s not as though I’m saying that it’s anything less than hilarious. Still, when you look at the two series side by side, there’s no question that only one came out of the box with a fully-formed vision of what it wanted to be – a family comedy that appealed to a multi-demographic audience while never feeling obliged to dumb it down – and stayed strong all the way through the season.
Congratulations, “Modern Family.” You win. I hope you people are proud of yourselves.
Well, of course they’re proud of themselves: their show is hilarious, and all the writers had to do was think back to the funny things their own families have done. That’s not a statement intended to uncut their accomplishments but, rather, to underline why the show so quickly appealed to so many people: it offers up the sort of things that we’ve seen in our lives and gives us a chance to laugh at seeing those things happen to someone else for a change.
“Modern Family” is divided into three interconnected families. First, there are the Dunphys: Phil, Claire, and their kids Haley, Alex, and Luke. Phil’s a realtor, Claire’s a stay-at-home mom, and their relationship works because they’re opposites: she’s anal-retentive and he’s a big, goofy man-child whose only goal in life to impress and entertain everyone he meets. Haley’s their oldest child and isn’t what you’d call the brightest tool in the shed, and her little brother Luke has been known to share some of those tendencies, but in the middle lies Alex, a bespectacled and brilliant cutie who wields sarcasm as a weapon and loves to use her superior intellect to mop the floor with her siblings whenever the opportunity arises. From there, you’ve got Cam Tucker and Mitchell Pritchett, a gay couple who’ve just adopted a little Vietnamese girl named Lily. Again, a case of opposites: Mitchell’s mild-mannered, Cam’s consistently flamboyant. Mitchell and Claire are siblings. Their father is Jay Pritchett, who’s just gotten remarried, this time to a Columbian goddess named Gloria. Gloria has a son from her first marriage: Manny, a kid who’s 11 but talks like he’s 35, making him something less than a catch in middle.
Put all these people together, as creators / executive producers Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd have done, and you’ve got yourself a “Modern Family”… and, of course, a great sitcom.
Trying to pin down a single favorite episode would be a fool’s game, as there are half a dozen or more installments which earn more laughs than you’d readily want to count, but some of the unquestioned highlights include “Fizbo,” where Phil and Claire’s attempts to throw Luke a memorable birthday party succeed, though not quite in the manner they’d intended; “Run for Your Wife,” which features a race between Phil and Claire and a freak-out by Cam and Mitchell over having accidentally bumped Lily’s head on the ceiling; and “Up All Night,” featuring Jay trying to deal with a visit by Manny’s dad (played by Benjamin Bratt) and Cam and Mitchell attempting to use the Ferber Method to keep Lily from crying. In addition, the Christmas and Valentine’s Day episodes are both a stitch, particularly the latter, with Phil and Claire trying to spice up their relationship, only to stumble upon Jay and Gloria while on their date.
As noted, “Modern Family” came out of the womb fully formed, and it’s done nothing but build on the already-formidable characters. You laugh at them, sure, but you love them because they’re…well, they’re you. You know how people throw around the phrase “instant classic” so often that you feel obliged to presume that it’s hyperbole? In this case, it absolutely isn’t.
Special Features: Although it’s disappointing that a show with so many cast members has released a Blu-ray set with absolutely no audio commentaries, it’s clear that the studio has still made an effort to offer as much bonus material as possible. There are numerous deleted and extended scenes and family interviews spread throughout the set, and on Disc 3, you’ll find the remainder of the special features. “Real ‘Modern Family’ Moments” puts the show’s writers on camera as they discuss some of the scenes from the show that were taken from their real lives, while “Before ‘Modern Family’” reveals what the cast members had been doing prior to taking on this gig, although it’s somewhat notable how few of them bother to cite specific series that they’d done. (Ed O’Neil is an exception, of course, namedropping “Married… with Children” without hesitation.) There are also making-of featurettes about the episodes “Hawaii” and “Family Portrait,” as well as a look into Fizbo the Clown and how he’d actually existed prior to his appearance in the show. Last but not least, there’s a gag reel.