I heard a lot of good things about Modern Family but always seemed to miss it when it was on, using the ‘I’ll catch it on DVD’ excuse when I was asked about it by friends and colleagues. So, when the series came up for review, I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to catch up with the series and see what the fuss was about.
The show’s greatest strength is in its writing, which is little surprise given that it’s the creation of Frasier writer Christopher Lloyd (not that one!) and Steven Levitan, whose credits include Frasier as well as The Larry Sanders Show.
The set-up is simple: a family is the subject of a documentary to be aired on Dutch TV. The family is headed up by patriarch Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill), his Columbian wife, Gloria (Sofia Vergara), and her pre-teen son, Manny (Rico Rodriguez).
Jay fights to stay young to keep up with Gloria and not be mistaken for her father while also struggling to back up Manny, as he tries to retain his national identity. Manny is the source for a lot of comedy from this part of the family, as he’s in the middle of Jay and Gloria’s sensibilities and parental methods.
The families of Jay’s grown up offspring, Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), are also subjects of the documentary, with Claire’s husband, Phil, being played brilliantly by Ty Burrell and Mitchell’s life partner, Cameron, played by Eric Stonestreet.
Claire and Phil have three kids of their own, with Claire keen not to let her children, specifically her daughters, follow in her footsteps and become out of control teens. She finds herself frequently undermined by Phil who tries way too hard to be cool and seems to be in fear of his children or his wife being better than him at absolutely anything. Watching Phil act like a borderline sociopath is cringe worthy, but very funny.
The most affable aspect of the extended family is Mitchell and Cameron, who are new parents, having adopted baby Lily from Vietnam. The dynamic between the two is the strongest in the show and their struggles and anxieties as new parents are charming and easily relatable, as anyone who has either been a parent or spent any time around first time parents can attest.
It’s so easy to endear yourself to the extended family that the mockumentary is based on, as all of the characters are well rounded and given ample screen time to develop throughout the series. Each of the families has their own dynamics and is charmingly dysfunctional in their own way. Covering multi cultural relationships, same sex marriages and adoption, Modern Family sets out to focus on a variety of situations that are commonplace today, but haven’t been widely explored by primetime sitcoms in the past.The wonderfully observed material exaggerates relatable situations, but mostly remains believable.
Going in, I have to say that I thought the humour would be a bit too broad for my tastes, what with this being primetime material, but I was pleasantly surprised. The last TV series I got through as quick as this was Arrested Development series one, which I watched in pretty much one sitting. At no point did watching this seem a chore, as each episode has a distinct theme and still manages to fit together in the overall narrative arc of the series as a whole.
Some of the material is fairly up to date with references and topics discussed, so it remains to be seen how that material will date. However, the key themes the show is based on will resonate for years to come. The fact that this was the most successful comedy at the most recent Emmy Awards is testament to its quality.
The show also features some great cameos, Fred Willard as Phil’s dad being the highlight. Other names include Elizabeth Banks, Ed Norton (doing a smashing English accent), and Minnie Driver, who all interact wonderfully with the existing cast.
Sure, it’s a bit overly sentimental at times and there are elements that are similar to other sitcoms, such as Arrested Development, Outnumbered and The Office, but the show brings enough to the table to make it seem fresh. It’s a very perceptive, charming and funny series featuring excellent writing and performances that should appeal to a wide audience.
If you haven’t seen the series, I would highly recommend picking up this set or putting it on your rental list. I can’t wait to get stuck in to series two.
There’s a decent array of extras here, with each of the four discs having its own selection of Deleted Family Interviews and Deleted Scenes that are relevant to the episodes included on the particular disc. There are some moments of comedy gold, even if there is some crossover in the material.
Disc four contains the same extras as the other discs, but also includes a number of other extras. One of my favourites is Real Modern Family Moments which shows that a lot of the situations, even some of the more outrageous ones, were inspired by events in the production team’s lives. It clocks in at around ten minutes and left me wanting more.
Before Modern Family looks at what the cast were doing before being involved in the series and how they got started in acting. Fizbo The Clown looks at how Eric Stonestreet used to perform as a clown when he was younger and how the character was integrated into the show.
Making Modern Family: Family Portrait takes a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the series finale, which is one of the highlights of the season. The last extra is Modern Family Hawaii, which is very similar to the previous extra, but takes a look at the penultimate episode of the series.
Modern Family Season 1 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.