Modern Family (Season 1) – a DVD review

Almost painfully funny, yet alarmingly relatable despite its comedic excesses, Modern Family is a show that works because of well-drawn characters. And there are a lot of them. When I first heard that this half-hour show has ten regular characters, I was floored. How could anyone keep track of all these people? Well, it’s not that difficult. Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill of Married with Children fame) is a curmudgeonly older man. He has recently married much younger bombshell Gloria Delgado, and she and her son, ten-year-old Manny, have moved in with him. Gloria and Manny are, she tells the camera, from the murder capital of Colombia. Gloria is passionate about everything. Manny is a sensitive young soul whose need to express himself usually manifests in things Jay thinks will get him made fun of in school, such as wearing a poncho or playing a reed flute for his class.

Jay has two adult children from his first marriage, Mitchell and Claire. Mitchell and Mitchell’s boyfriend, Cameron, have been together for five years. In the pilot episode, they bring their adopted daughter Lily (a toddler) home from Vietnam. Mitchell is prickly, quick to offense, and wound very tight. Cameron is flamboyant, loving, and seeks refuge in food.

Jay’s daughter, Mitchell’s sister, Claire, has been married to Phil for sixteen years and they have three children: gorgeous Haley, bookish Alex, and odd Luke. Phil considers himself an enlightened husband and believes he can give Claire what she really wants by always doing the opposite of what she asks.

However politically correct the premise may be, the show does not come off as political. Instead, it is just a show about an extended family who actually loves each other. I found that so refreshing. These people aren’t making mean jokes at each other’s expense, as in so many comedies. They love each other and get exasperated with each other. The marriages are far from perfect, but the couples involved actually love each other. Claire lets Phil beat her in a two-mile race because she knows it will perk him up if he wins. Jay orders a limo and tells his stepson that his father sent it to keep Manny from being disappointed in his father. Of course, when annoyed with Phil, Jay  steers his motorized model plane into his face, causing a nosebleed. They’re not perfect. They’re people. And they’re actually relatable people.

I know I’m late to climb on the Modern Family bandwagon. This series has won several awards, including a Best Supporting Actor Emmy for Eric Stonestreet (Cameron), and it beat out front-runner Glee for the Best Comedy Series Emmy.

The actors are good across the board. Special mention must be given to Stonestreet, who makes Cameron stand out in every scene. When told to tone down his gayness when they take Lily to a toddler playdate, he tells Mitchell, “You’ve clipped my wings when you used to be the wind beneath them!” This line is delivered with the perfect pitch, melodrama, hurt, and indignation. Stonestreet knows how to use his face and his voice to maximum effect. Rico Rodriguez’ Manny is wise beyond his years, yet endearingly quirky, and determined to make sure everyone knows he is proud of his Colombian heritage. This kid is a real find, adding joy to every scene. Also particularly good is Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell). When elitist Mitchell is introduced to the delights of Costco, I was laughing out loud.

But the best of actors cannot overcome bad material. That is not the slightest issue here as the writing couldn’t be more spot-on. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as the show’s head writer is Frasier’s Christopher Lloyd.

The show is done documentary style, as is The Office, and it says something about how used to reality shows we Americans are that this doesn’t feel at all strange. As in the Office, it allows the characters to comment directly to the camera in a way that most shows cannot.

DVD extras include deleted scenes and several featurettes, including one on how several of the actors got started in acting. Eric Stonestreet actually started out literally working as a clown. (This was incorporated into one episode, “Fizbo.”) Modern Family season one is available for rental and of course on Netflix.

by Heather Craig

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