Fox // 2009 // 518 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Chris Claro (Retired) // September 27th, 2010
You can pick your nose, but you can't pick your family.
We've heard the plaint countless times: the sitcom is dead. The form that has been a television mainstay as long as there's been television has heard more eulogies than an Irish pub. Despite the greatly exaggerated rumors of its death, a new show always parachutes in with a pair of defibrillator paddles and jolts the genre back to consciousness. Whether it's The Cosby Show, Friends, or Everybody Loves Raymond, some hero sitcom saves the day, seeing that yet another series makes it to the magic 100-episode mark to live on forever in syndication.
The latest in the long line of TV comedies that go above and beyond is Modern Family. Traditional but subversive, sentimental but snarky, funny but really funny, Modern Family is a shining example of a sitcom that forgoes gimmickry and cynicism in favor of a truly sincere -- and hilarious -- exploration of what it means to be a family in the 21st century.
The episodes that comprise Modern Family: the Complete First Season are:
• "The Bicycle Thief"
• "Come Fly with Me"
• "The Incident"
• "Coal Digger"
• "Run for Your Wife"
• "En Garde"
• "Great Expectations"
• "Undeck the Halls"
• "Up All Night"
• "Not in My House"
• "Fifteen Percent"
• "Moon Landing"
• "My Funky Valentine"
• "Truth Be Told"
• "Starry Night"
• "Game Changer"
• "Travels with Scout"
• "Airport 2010"
• "Family Portrait"
With its characters engaged in second marriages, raising stepchildren, same-sex unions, and overseas adoption, Modern Family cloaks its traditional sitcom origins in post-millennial trappings. Mining laughs from the clueless dad, the uptight mom, the Latina sexpot, and the all-knowing adolescent, Modern Family, on paper, is far from revolutionary, or even evolutionary, as it dances away from the edge of daring to reinforce the values that have been the bedrock of family TV comedy for 60 years. But in the first 24 episodes of their Emmy-winning hit, creators Steven Levitan (Just Shoot Me) and Christopher Lloyd (Frasier), achieve a sterling balance between the traditional and the contemporary, at once maintaining and upending what's expected of a sitcom.
Centered on three families that comprise one large one, Modern Family is about Jay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill, Married with Children), the well-to-do paterfamilias, blissful with his voluptuous, much-younger second wife, Gloria (Sofia Vergara, The Knights of Prosperity). Jay's well-meaning but high-strung daughter, Claire (Julie Bowen, Lost), is married to Phil (Ty Burrell, Back to You), committed husband, father, and doofus. And Claire's brother, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson, The Class), is happily partnered, domestically, with the multi-talented Cameron (Eric Stonestreet, CSI).
With its handheld cinematography and documentary-style interview cutaways, Modern Family harks back to nothing so much as the seminal reality show, An American Family, the groundbreaking PBS series from 1973 that made cultural icons of the Loud family. A truly modern family, the Louds contended with revelations about their son's sexuality and their own crumbling marriage in front of the entire country. No such drama invades the Modern Family universe, one in which delicate, intimate situations reveal micro truths about relationships: a fencing competition unearths hidden sibling resentments, a night of stargazing leads to father/son/stepson revelations, a step-grandma helps a girl gain a better understanding of her mother.
Each of the Family members is distinct, defined by his or her quirks, but also aware of them and how those traits are viewed by others. Jay, for example, could easily be a cliché of the self-made man, living out his dotage with his bombshell wife in a fabulous modern house. Instead, Lloyd and Levitan deepen the character by making Jay both refreshingly non-judgmental about his son's sexuality and aware of the mistakes he made parenting Claire and Mitchell, a deficit he hopes to have a chance to rectify with Gloria's son.
Burrell's Phil, the self-proclaimed "cool dad" -- "LOL? Laugh out loud. OMG? Oh, my God. WTF? Why the face?" -- carries on the sitcom tradition of one-beat-behind fathers, but the writers have imbued Phil with a singular poignancy, as if he's still working to fit in the way he did in high school. If he's attempting to bond with his father-in-law flying model airplanes, or overcoming his fear of the dark to embolden his son, Phil's ambition to be the best he can usually outweighs his ability.
Stonestreet stops just short of making the hyper-dramatic Cam a caricature, and he plays off Ferguson's uptight Mitchell with a mix of affection and exasperation. As Gloria, Vergara undercuts the suspicion that Bowen's Claire has about her intentions with a wisdom and self-awareness that makes it clear that she's not just with Jay because of his deep pockets.
For such a young show, Modern Family: the Complete First Season boasts a wealth of well-known faces in guest appearances. Elizabeth Banks (Zack and Miri Make a Porno), Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting), Justin Kirk (Weeds), and Edward Norton (Leaves of Grass) all turn up in Season One and mesh beautifully with the regular cast.
That cast is aided immeasurably by the hilarious and deceptively intricate scripts of Modern Family. With three plot strands weaving their way to a gentle epiphany -- which is invariably undercut by a joke -- the writers create tiny little dioramas of comedy, threading their scripts with a melange of character humor and slapstick.
As befits a show that is as glossy and slick as Modern Family -- Phil and Claire appear to have Restoration Hardware on retainer providing their furniture -- the DVD transfer is beautiful. As the show is shot on film, not digitally, it has a warmth that is often missing from much of contemporary television and the texture of the source material really shines through in this set.
Though the extras on Modern Family: the Complete First Season are plentiful, with a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted and extended scenes, and a gag reel, there are no commentary tracks on any of the episodes. It's a curious decision by Fox and a disappointment for fans who would enjoy some insight into the production process of the series.
If there's one flaw with Modern Family, it's that it may hew just a little too close to what works. Yes, situation comedy is, by its nature, formulaic. And although the entire Modern Family cast and crew issue top-drawer comedy week after week, there are times -- particularly when watching multiple episodes -- that the formula creaks just a little bit, and the sentiment/snark parrying gets a tad repetitive. Still, a minor quibble with an otherwise outstanding show.
Modern Family is the most memorable sitcom since Everybody Loves Raymond. If you missed any or all of season one, buy this box. If you caught every episode of season one, buy this box.
Review content copyright © 2010 Chris Claro; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 518 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Official Site