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With a Golden Globe and a third consecutive Emmy for Outstanding Comedy series, multiple-year Emmy wins for cast members Julie Bowen, Eric Stonestreet, and Ty Burrell (Claire Dunphy, Cameron Tucker, Phil Dunphy), as well as trophies for writing, directing, and technical achievements in its corner (not to mention numerous kudos from guild and critics groups), Modern Family is squarely on track for the TV sitcom hall of fame. A less glamorous indicator of its own self-assuredness is a contract dispute between ABC and the ensemble cast for more per-episode money that briefly held up the production schedule of the fourth season. But in this season-three set, the series' firm footing is readily apparent without any hints of the bogged-down sense that sometimes befalls a show's writing staff or its swelled-head stars when they get too comfortable on their laurels. That said, some of the ingenuity and off-center originality that made its comic sense so truly hilarious occasionally falls into established routines of structural technique. But overall, the wackiness and absurdist, based-in-reality farce of an exploded nuclear family facing the contemporary world through the perspective of easily relatable family situations remains on solid ground. The impeccable timing of the dialogue is spot on, whether the pleasantly thin plots concern a teenage pool party, a bid by Claire to join the town council, Mitchell and Cam's (Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Stonestreet) efforts to adopt another child, a family trip to Disneyland (nice tie-in, ABC), or a creaky Jay making attempts to capitalize on Gloria's (Sof�a Vergara) considerable stature as a trophy wife (she's happy to oblige). Ty Burrell's precision delivery and physical comedy skills remain especially noteworthy as the airheaded yet sensible Phil Dunphy continues to refine the comic shtick that Burrell's character believes makes him the world's coolest dad and sexiest husband. As hard as he tries, Claire and Phil's three kids Haley, Alex, and Luke (Sarah Hyland, Ariel Winter, Nolan Gould) aren't always buying it. And Rico Rodriguez as the uptight, older-than-his-13-years Manny continues to steal many of scenes, whether he's chaperoning a gang of high school seniors or acting the connoisseur of a five-star resort. The show continues to feature a lively clutch of high-wattage guest stars who pop up unexpectedly, including Tim Blake Nelson, Jennifer Tilly, Greg Kinnear, Bobby Cannavale, Ellen Barkin, Ernie Hudson, and Leslie Mann. Barry Corbin appears as a foil for Jay as Cam's crusty rancher father, and David Cross brings his maniacal leer and subversive energy to a few episodes as Claire's nemesis in local government.
Like the other season sets, volume three contains a bunch of interesting extras, with behind-the-scenes looks at the company's trip to Disneyland and the Wyoming dude ranch that is the backdrop for the double-episode season premiere. There's a walk-around day-in-the-life segment with Ty Burrell that continues to open up the set and creative process for us, as well as a similar bit that focuses on the Modern Family kids. As in the other sets, there's lots of extended "interview" footage of the characters' confessionals into the fourth wall, deleted and extended material, and the requisite gag reel that's best appreciated by devoted fans. But then when it comes to Modern Family, even the most casual viewers quickly develop a taste for the funny, fast-paced show that continues to be a highlight of the current TV spectrum. --Ted Fry