Before Modern Family came along, a lot of TV pundits were all ready to pronounce the death of the US sitcom. Then the series came along, became a darling of the critics and found huge audiences too. It’s managed to keep up the quality through its first three seasons, so that just a few days ago it picked up five Emmys.
It’s a great show, where strong writing and good direction come together with one of the best casts ever assembled for a television show. The acting really is top notch (it’s notable that when Julie Bowen and Eric Stonestreet won their Emmys for the show, they had to beat out four of their castmates, who were nominated in the same categories) and it’s not just the adults, as the kids are all great too. Much of the time with sitcoms, you’re sort of having to forgive the younger cast members their lack of comic skill, but here they’re all great – even four-year-old Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, who plays Lily, has her moments.
The third season isn’t a giant break with what we’ve seen before, but it certainly continues the fun plots and immense heart the show has become known for. There are a few running plots, such as Claire’s (Julie Bowen’s) decision to run for the town council, her eldest daughter Hayley’s (Sarah Hyland’s) indecision over whether she should go to college (and which one to go for), and Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) trying to adopt a baby boy.
Interesting Modern Family is run by two guys, Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, who worked together for years, but in 2010 split their partnership amidst creative differences. As a result the show is essentially run as two separate units, with Levitan and Lloyd overseeing opposite episodes, but rarely working together. In conventional wisdom it’s a set-up that should spell disaster, but bizarrely it actually helps. According to a recent THR profile, the split between the co-creators occurred because, as Lloyd put it, “We had different ideas about what the things were that were making the show click.” By separating the series, it let each of them really concentrate on bringing out what they think works best, which is why some shows seem to mainly be complex farces that build to extreme levels, whilst others really reach out to the heart and tend to focus on the families and what brings them together.
Thanks to the fact all the episodes share writers and the incredible cast, it all holds together (although apparently the cast are crew say they always know whether it’s a Lloyd or Levitan episode they’re working on). It’s a show that ranges from sweet to laugh out loud hilarious and sometimes even manages to put a lump in your throat. I’ve always felt that perhaps its greatest strength is that in a world of TV show that treat the family as something that could fall apart at any second and is a source of conflict, Modern Family never forgets that no matter the squabbles, differences and peculiarities of life, most families do genuinely love each other. And with Jay’s (Ed O’Neill’s) much younger Colombian wife (Sofia Vergara), and gay couple Cam and Mitchell, it’s also well aware that families come in all shapes and sizes love.
As many have noted, Cam and Mitchell in particular have becomes an unexpectedly important part of the gay rights movement, showing the type of viewer who normally has little contact with homosexuals that they’re just normal people and not sex-obsessed fiends desperately trying to recruit kids to their ‘lifestyle’. Perhaps most impressive is that it does this without de-gaying them, which has been the usual ‘Hey, gays are just like the rest of us’ tack Hollywood has used. Indeed if they weren’t so funny and such well-rounded, complex characters, they would sometimes border on being offensive stereotypes (the show cleverly includes the characters’ own sometimes discordant relationship with their own stereotyped traits). It’s fascinating to see how many traditionally homophobic conservative Republicans in the US say Modern Family is their favourite show. It really is a show that can help change hearts and minds.
On Blu-ray it looks great. TV Blu-rays are a good advert for the fact that HD TV still isn’t the equal of the disc-based format. While Modern Family looks good on Sky 1 HD, it’s bright, sunshine-filled shots really pop on Blu-ray. The biggest difference is the range of colour, which is massively upped on Blu-ray. There are times when it almost becomes too sharp and verges of looking fake, but largely it’s great to look at.
The three-disc set includes some decent special features. A few, such as the featurette ‘Adventures Of The Modern Family Kids’, are a little pointless (it just sees the younger cast members pissing about at a mountain resort), but looks at the cast’s trip to Wyoming to shoot the Season 3 opening episode, and Ty Burrell having fun on set are well worth watching.
Overall Verdict: Modern Family is a great show. It’s that rare beast that can be enjoyed by pretty much everyone, from those simply looking for a laugh to those who want something that appeals to the heart and even those who enjoy TV that’s actually pretty smart. Season 3 is great – let’s hope they can keep the quality up in Season 4.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac