Winner of six Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Comedy Series, Modern Family is a refreshingly hilarious look at what it means to be a family in today’s hectic, unpredictable world. While fledgling fathers Cameron and Mitchell struggle with learning the ropes of parenthood, long-time parents Claire and Phil try to keep the spice in their marriage amid the chaos of raising three challenging children. Meanwhile, family patriarch, Jay, has more than his hands full with his sexy, spirited wife, Gloria, and her precocious son. Still, no matter the size, shape or situation, family always comes first in this laugh-out-loud, critically acclaimed hit.
It's hard to predict whether Modern Family will end up being one of those iconic sitcoms that sticks around for six or seven seasons, maintaining the same immaculate formulation of pace and first-class execution before it realizes that it needs to quit while it's still on top. Sometimes young cast members are a problem for shows like this; their growing up doesn't always reflect kindly on the maturing concept. But in the case of Modern Family it's pretty easy to imagine the child actors continuing their roles into and out of child- and teenager-hood while the concept remains intact, giving the crack writing staff increasingly diverse opportunities to explore the dynamics of the typical dysfunctions of an atypical modern family. With a slew of Emmys under its belt, the show has settled into a delightfully familiar formula of checking in on stories unfolding in three separate households, with an underlying theme providing an amusing connection and "interview" segments bolstering the mock-documentary conceit. To its credit, Modern Family's use of the sitcom style that originated with the original UK version of The Office remains a clever device without being overly gimmicky. Phil and Claire Dunphy (Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen) and their kids Haley, Alex, and Luke (Sarah Hyland, Ariel Winter, Nolan Gould) seem to be the most normal, but in this world they are anything but. Claire's brother Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and his partner Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) are more lovey-dovey than ever as they continue to raise their adopted daughter and navigate the minefield of personal and familial interaction. Prickly patriarch Jay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill), Claire and Mitchell's dad, seems to have mellowed somewhat as he basks in or is bewildered by the devotion of his trophy-ish young Colombian wife Gloria (Sofía Vergara) and the odd behavior of her precocious pubescent son Manny (Rico Rodriguez). As in season one, famous-face guest stars abound, with the plotlines and dialogue complementing each other in skillful consort. The snappy tone provokes bursts of hilarity that punctuate the consistently funny thematic structure running throughout each episode.
There's an increasing emphasis on modern in the Modern Family frame of reference as technology factors into the conceptual arc of the series. The family members not only have dynamic interaction with each other, they also share multilayered relationships with their cell phones, laptops, and social networking activities. That their encounters with technology are ubiquitous and often integral to individual gags or the impetus to plot threads is yet another way the show connects with its audience. For all the zaniness, there's also a deft aura of reality that knows how to keep the extended clan a genuinely identifiable nuclear unit that faces many of the same situations as a real modern family. Following up the nice batch of extras included on the season-one set, the varied package of features here provides some terrific added value. There's the standard gag reel of outtakes, etc., as well as a compilation of deleted scenes on each disc. It's fun to watch the different takes and extended versions of confessional and interview line-reads from cast members, especially the expertly timed variations and riffs from Ty Burrell. The featurettes are a mixed bag. They include a real-time table read of the episode "Strangers on a Treadmill," taped in front of an audience; a behind-the-scenes tour of the house sets with the show's production designer; an interview segment with cocreator Steve Levitan; an analysis of how the show makes special use of holidays to drive an episode; and an on-set visit from an Oprah Winfrey Show crew (if not from Oprah herself). The presentation bodes well for future season sets, which will likely include more backstage elements along with many more episodes of what has quickly become a classic of modern TV. --Ted Fry