Modern Family is a crown jewel in ABC’s cap, not only is it widely popular but it won a host of Emmy’s including best supporting acting wins for Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen as well as Best Comedy. The show is a situational comedy focusing on three families, all with their foibles and differences from what is considered the ‘norm’. The second season of Modern Family has arrived on Blu-ray and while the package itself is great, the show, while funny, fails to live up to its potential.
Modern Family is continually promoted as a cutting edge comedy because of the different mix of families featured on the show. The divorced patriarch Jay Pritchard (Ed O’Neil) has remarried a young and very attractive Colombian woman named Gloria (Sophia Vergara) and her 12 year old son Manny (Rico Rodriguez) lives with them. His oldest child Claire (Julie Bowen) is a married stay at home Mom with three children. She has a firm hand on the family and a need to be right. Her husband Phil (Ty Burrell) is a wacky real estate agent and her children are textbook sitcom examples. The oldest is the pretty and popular Haley (Sarah Hyland), the middle child is the borderline genius (but still pretty) Alex (Ariel Winter) and the youngest is the sweet but dim Luke (Nolan Gould). Finally Jay’s other child Mitchell is gay and in a relationship with his life partner Cameron (Eric Stonestreet), they have an adopted child named Lily (Ella Hiller) that they raise together.
This is where I started to roll my eyes at Modern Family. Billed as progressive and a comedy they use nearly every stereotype in the book; the most prominent being that all the female archetypes stay home with the kids. Claire raises her three kids while Phil works, Gloria stays home with Manny while Jay works, and Cameron stays home with Lily while Mitchell works. I know that Cameron is male but the show continually positions him as the female archetype in the relationship with Mitchell occupying the male role (one episode even has all the parents calling him over to pose with the other ‘moms’). Basically the show decided to place heterosexual archetypes on a homosexual relationship, like every other mainstream television offering has done. Other standard conventions have Claire being a domineering wife while Phil just wants to have fun, Jay handing out good natured but gruff advice and Cameron having constant sulky temper tantrums.
That being said, the show, while far from being an Arrested Development, can be quite funny at times when enjoyed for what it is: a by the numbers situational comedy. Besides the characters’ relationships every episode is an island with no overarching plot. As a neat twist the show is staged as a mockumentary, with the hand-held camera work highlighting that fact. At times during the episodes characters will talk to the screen as if they are being interviewed and add some zaniness or clarity to what is happening. Generally each episode will feature one of the families and have side stories with the others and more then often they intersect. While it is somewhat unrealistic it is nice to see that these three families are quite close and they often help each other out when needed.
Being a network sitcom, there are 24 episodes and not all of them are stellar, but some of the standout episodes includ “Strangers on a Treadmill” (Claire and Mitchell offer to say negative things to each other’s partners), “Caught in the Act” (Claire and Phil are caught having sex by their kids), “Bixby’s Back” (Claire and Phil try to spice up their love life by using alter egos), and “Good Cop, Bad Dog” (Claire and Phil switch parenting roles and Mitchell tries to see Gaga while Cameron is sick). The plots are all very harmless and always resolve in a happy ending of sorts. This is not the progressive show the creators keep mentioning, but it is good fun when it works and the scenarios have a charming mix of slapstick, situational and vocal humor to be quite enjoyable.
The actors themselves all do a good job in the roles they have, the standouts for me being Ty Burell’s Phil and Julie Bowen’s Claire. Phil in particular is just a goofy guy and most of the time I found myself chuckling it was because of how he was reacting to situations. From his odd choices of phrases when hurt to how he desperately wants respect and attention from his father-in-law Jay he is a standout. Claire is great because she is someone I could see being effective in a more edgy comedy as well. She is one of the more nuanced characters, one who lets things get to her and reacts to nearly every situation in an extreme way. The other actors are fine, though I do find Gloria annoying but I think that is by design. Generally all the actors make up a good ensemble cast that delivers a funny, if not groundbreaking show.
I had an issue getting into Modern Family: The Complete Second Season because of the characterizations of the gay couple and the gender biasing of the female characters. Once I was able to put that aside there is something to enjoy here. It is not a complex show, or one that will ever be seen as a trend setter or innovator in the industry, but it can be funny and fills a need for a safe high profile situational comedy.
I was unexpectedly pleased with the transfer quality of this show. Generally Network HD broadcasts never look this good, but I am thankful they made the effort. Shot in digital this 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is sharp, clean looking and avoids the compression and scrubbing issues you see from other Network shows. Colors are vibrant and black levels are mostly perfect, they do occasionally suffer from muddiness or waver into dark blues, but generally they are spot on. Textures pop out of the screen and the overall presentation is excellent. A transfer of this quality really makes a difference when you are dealing with three varied households and a host of characters.
While not a very dynamic soundtrack the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix is very solid and perfectly suits the show. Dialogue is clean and always recognizable, music comes across very well and there is some use of the surround field to decent effect. The only thing I could hope for is more atmosphere in the soundtrack. There really isn’t any ambience occurring during the episodes, all the sound is from direct input from the cast or music, it would be nice to hear some, I don’t know, life occurring around the world. That being said the audio is excellently implemented and compliments the style of show.
The supplements on Modern Family: The Complete Second Season play it just as safe as the show itself. Instead of commentary tracks or more interesting features that could add some depth to the show we are given standard blooper and deleted scene reels. It is a shame because fans really do like to dig deeper into shows they enjoy.
- Deleted Family Interview (1080p, 3:55, 4:51, 2:04): Each disc contains additional confessional scenes that were not in the episodes.
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (1080p, 9:55, 10:46, 1:00): Each disc also contains some deleted scenes, none very memorable.
- Imagine Me Naked Music Video (1080p, 3:39): Hayley’s goofy boyfriend Dylan stars in this bad if well made music video.
- Strangers on a Treadmill Table Read (1080p, 37:36): One of my favorite episodes gets a full cast read through quite enjoyed this supplement.
- Mitch’s Flash Mob (1080p, 2:43): A look at how Mitchell’s flash mob scene was made.
- Gag Reel (1080p, 8:23): One of the longest gag reels I have ever seen. It is quite funny, but a few minutes too long.
- Modern Family Holidays (1080p, 13:02): A throwaway extra that brings us through the holiday episodes.
- Waiting for Oprah (1080p, 3:52): Not even sure why this is here, it is a documentary crew from Oprah being filmed.
- Chatting with Steve Levitan (1080p, 4:13): Executive producer/co-creator Steve Levitan is interviewed in this fairly vanilla extra.
- At Home with Modern Family (1080p, 6:11): Mitchell and Cameron’s house is given a feature tour.
The Final Word
I think it is plain that I have some issues with how a ‘progressive’ show like Modern Family portrays it’s characters, from the females to the gay couple, but the show itself can be quite funny. People who love the show will really enjoy this Blu-ray release, it looks amazing (probably better then the broadcast version) and sounds equally good. It is a shame more effort wasn’t made with the extra content, let alone building a truly “modern family’ but for what it is Modern Family: The Complete Second Season gets the job done.