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"Modern Family" The Complete First Season DVD Review

Modern Family: The Complete First Season DVD cover art - buy from Amazon.com Modern Family: Season One (2009-10)
Show & DVD Details

Creators: Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd / Writers: Steven Levitan, Paul Corrigan, Brad Walsh, Christopher Lloyd, Bill Wrubel, Dan O'Shannon, Danny Zuker, Joe Lawson, Caroline Williams, Jerry Collins, Alex Herschlag, Vanessa McCarthy, Ilana Wernick / Directors: Jason Winer, Reginald Hudlin, Randall Einhorn, Michael Spiller, Chris Koch, Kevin Sullivan, Seth Gordon, Steven Levitan

Regular Cast: Ed O'Neill (Jay Pritchett), Sofia Vergara (Gloria Delgado-Pritchett), Julie Bowen (Claire Dunphy), Ty Burrell (Phil Dunphy), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell Pritchett), Eric Stonestreet (Cameron Tucker), Sarah Hyland (Haley Dunphy), Ariel Winter (Alex Dunphy), Nolan Gould (Luke Dunphy), Rico Rodriguez (Manny Delgado)

Recurring Characters: Reid Ewing (Dylan), Jayden & Ella Hiller (Lily Pritchett-Tucker), Fred Willard (Frank Dunphy), Suzy Nakamura (Dr. Miura), Andrew Borba (Mr. Balaban)

Notable Guest Stars: Brandy Ledford (Desiree), Shelley Long (Dede Pritchett), Mo Collins (Denise), Elizabeth Banks (Sal), Edward Norton (Izzy LaFontaine), Margo Harshman (Jungle Tanya), Brian T. Finney (Scott), Benjamin Bratt (Javier Delgado), Chazz Palminteri (Shorty), Kristen Schaal (Whitney), Minnie Driver (Valerie), David Brenner (Himself), Jackson Odell (Ted Durkas), Dale E. Turner (Jenkins), Judy Greer (Denise), Bruce Altman (Mr. Jennings), Jason Antoon (Apple Customer), Justin Kirk (Charlie Bingham), Eric Lange (Coach Stupak), Christopher Shea (Ben Dugan), Tom Wright (Security Guard), Patrick Stafford (Jeff), Kobe Bryant (Himself)

Running Time: 513 Minutes (24 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Cantonese
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned or Subtitled
Release Date: September 21, 2010; Season 1 Airdates: September 30, 2009 - May 19, 2010
Four single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s); Clear Keepcase with Cardboard Slipcover
Suggested Retail Price: $59.98; Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($69.99 SRP)

Buy Modern Family: Season One from Amazon.com: DVD • Blu-ray

"Modern Family" takes the mock documentary format employed on "The Office" and applies it to -- well, you know -- modern families. That eliminates the logistical questions that arise every time we follow the Dunder-Mifflin gang outside their workplace; the camera crews here apparently trail family members everywhere they go, even relying on car dashboard cameras. Of course, as in Scranton, little thought is given to the intentions of the unseen, unheard documentarians. It's merely a device that adds a humorous postmodern layer of commentary to the proceedings.

Created by "Frasier" writer-producers Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan, this half-hour ABC comedy focuses on three distinctive American families related by blood.

The three families of "Modern Family" -- the Pritchett-Delgados, the Dunphys, and the Pritchett-Tuckers -- appear with the show's title card in the picture frame-based opening theme sequence.

One is a traditional average clan of two parents and 2.5 kids (okay, round that up to three). They are long-married real estate agent Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) and housewife Claire (Julie Bowen, "Ed", Happy Gilmore), plus their three adolescent children: boy-crazy eldest teen Haley (Sarah Hyland), nerdy middle daughter Alex (Ariel Winter), and easily-distracted youngest Luke (Nolan Gould). They may not claim much more airtime than the others, but this nuclear unit provides the most typical and familiar support to the "family" premise by composition, volume, and personality.

The other two families offer more distinctly contemporary dynamics. Claire's younger brother Mitchell Pritchett (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) has been in a domestic partnership for five years with plump drama queen Cameron "Cam" Tucker (Eric Stonestreet). The series opens with this gay couple adopting a baby together, trendily enough, from Vietnam. Emotional diva Cam and straight-laced lawyer Mitchell supply the comic bickering of an old married couple marked by complementary contrasts.

Rounding out the core cast is Claire and Mitchell's father, Jay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill, "Married...With Children"), recently remarried to young, attractive Colombian immigrant Gloria (Sofํa Vergara) and treating her precocious pre-teen son Manny (Rico Rodriguez) like his own.

Phil (Ty Burrell) is the only Dunphy to stay enthusiastic during the family's Christmas Eve webcam talk with his father. The clashing tones of partners Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) is a regular feature of their interviews.

Clearly, "Modern Family" can't take much credit for its design; it transparently transposes the duplicated format of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's British show onto suburban American households.
But there is inspiration in the execution, which reveals that the dry, droll stylings can work very well in a setting where television used to favor broadly-piled scenarios captured by vocal studio laughter and a multitude of cameras. "Modern Family" recently won the Emmy award for Outstanding Comedy Series, a category that has traditionally shunned family shows.

The double-edged sword of such an honor is that "Modern Family" now has to live up to the reputation of being the funniest show on television. Not only that, but if it doesn't secure similar recognition in subsequent seasons, it will seem like a disappointing early peaker that couldn't sustain its initial brilliance. I would disagree that it is the most hysterical program being made today and refrain from calling it genius, but it is just about impossible to deny that "Modern Family" is a witty, winning feel-good comedy.

From the understated to the broad, the show steadily amuses while devoting sometimes parallel, rarely overlapping storylines to each of the three families in every episode. A little bit of heart is injected with all the humor, typically in a neat summation that borders on cheesy but doesn't wander far into sentimentality.

The series is noteworthy for providing some of American television's most underrepresented types. I'm referring less to gays than to Latinos and the overweight. "Modern Family" offers positive depictions of all three minorities (granted, overweight may be close to a statistical majority) and without crippling itself comedically. This aspect no doubt factors into the show's immense critical acclaim and I wonder if such social progressivism (tactful though it may be) makes the show play better with the two coasts that run the industry than mainstream America.

Far more people tune into CBS' old-fashioned sitcoms "Two and a Half Men" and "The Big Bang Theory." Nevertheless, ranked 37th overall for the 2009-10 season with an average of 9.4 million viewers, "Modern Family" put up stronger numbers than many exalted contemporaries ("The Office", "Family Guy", "30 Rock"), as comedies continues to trail dramas and reality shows in the ratings. "Modern Family" was the sixth most-watched scripted series at ABC last year and the network's highest-rated half-hour program.

Jay (Ed O'Neill) is more sensibly identified as a senior mall walker than as the new husband of Gloria (Sofia Vergara). Phil, Gloria, Alex, and Manny are ill-prepared for their impromptu Staples Center audience with Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant in the Season 1 finale.

A purely ensemble show, "Modern Family" nonetheless has won individual recognition for much of its cast. In fact, of the show's six regular adults, only top-billed Ed O'Neill failed to receive an Emmy nomination. Even defying the realistic scenario of vote-splitting, Eric Stonestreet picked up the Supporting Actor award over male castmates Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ty Burrell, while "Glee" scene-stealer Jane Lynch predictably beat out Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara in the Supporting Actress category.

While the entire cast lends something to the mix (the adults, it must be said, more than the children), two standouts provided the most regular amusement for me. Foremost is Ty Burrell, who is absolutely channeling Michael Scott, translating the inept boss' management sensibilities to fatherhood. Burrell is a hoot as the "cool dad" who's anything but; he even looks like Steve Carell and is nearly as funny as him.
The second bright spot is the overlooked Ed O'Neill. As humorously understated as the Bill Murray of late, O'Neill makes this a perfect comeback vehicle for himself. Without linking it to Al Bundy, he takes a part that could be abrasive (rich, fat, lightly bigoted old guy with a trophy wife) and makes it one of the show's most sympathetic characters.

Another trait worth mentioning is that "Modern Family" attracts big name guest stars like no live-action comedy since "Arrested Development" (with the possible exception of "30 Rock"). Major movie stars (Edward Norton, Elizabeth Banks, Chazz Palminteri), in-demand funny people (Fred Willard, Kristen Schaal, Judy Greer), and familiar talents who have been inexplicably drifting into obscurity (Shelley Long, Minnie Driver) all give their best, smoothly blending with the show's tone no matter how far it may be from what they're used to. I hope the renown gained from the Emmy victories helps the series maintain its solid approach to guest appearances, rather than tempting the writers to shoehorn more suddenly accessible famous people in.

A day before ABC's second season premiere of "Modern Family", Fox brought the show's The Complete First Season to DVD and Blu-ray. Episode synopses follow with my ten favorites marked by a red star ().

Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) try not to stand out at Lily's day care center. While teaching his son a lesson about bicycle responsibility, Phil (Ty Burrell) runs into a locked-out neighbor (Brandy Ledford) in need of his help.

Disc 1

1. Pilot (22:57) (Originally aired September 23, 2009)
Cameron and Mitchell break the news of their baby to their family.

2. Run for Your Wife (20:46) (Originally aired September 30, 2009)
Jay discourages Manny wearing a poncho on the first day of school. Phil challenges Claire to a race. Cameron and Mitchell panic over Lily hitting her head.

3. The Bicycle Thief (21:31) (Originally aired October 7, 2009)
Phil steals Luke's new bike to teach him a lesson. Cameron and Mitchell try to fit in at Lily's day care. Jay and Manny try to fix a fan.

Phil (Ty Burrell) gets to look but not touch as his father-in-law Jay (Ed O'Neill) enjoys one of his favorite pastimes: flying a model airplane. Dede (Shelley Long) entrusts her son Mitchell to help her right recent wrongs in "The Incident."

4. Come Fly With Me (21:10) (Originally aired October 14, 2009)
While Mitchell and Cam discover the joys of shopping at Costco, their relatives spend time with members of the other family: Phil with Jay, Alex with Gloria, and Manny with Claire.

5. The Incident (21:37) (Originally aired October 21, 2009)
Claire and Mitchell's mother (Shelley Long) visits, looking to apologize for her embarrassing behavior at Jay and Gloria's wedding.

6. Coal Digger (20:58) (Originally aired October 28, 2009)
A fight breaks out between Luke and Manny at school, and then another between their moms at a family gathering to watch football.

Claire (Julie Bowen) shares some recollections while her last-minute anniversary gift, backup Spandau Ballet singer Izzy LaFontaine (Edward Norton), performs some of Phil's "favorite" songs. Cam (Eric Stonestreet) takes the first steps towards reviving Fizbo, the clown personality as whom he'll attend Luke's birthday party.

Disc 2

7. En Garde (20:42) (Originally aired November 4, 2009)
Manny's fencing success makes Jay proud and Mitchell resentful that Claire abandoned their childhood pair figure skating dreams.

8. Great Expectations (21:29) (Originally aired November 18, 2009)
Claire has trouble matching Phil's anniversary gifts for her. While the grandkids spend a night at Jay's, Mitchell and Cam reconnect with their wild friend (guest Elizabeth Banks) who's grown jealous of Lily.

9. Fizbo (20:49) (Originally aired November 25, 2009)
The Dunphys throw Luke a lavish birthday party, complete with Cam as a clown and a comb sheath-making station.

Claire (Julie Bowen) and Phil (Ty Burrell) threaten to "Undeck the Halls" (i.e. cancel Christmas) if no Dunphy kid fesses up to the couch burn. The value of Barkley the dog butler statue is a source of dispute for Gloria (Sofia Vergara) and Jay (Ed O'Neill) in "Not in My House."

10. Undeck the Halls (21:37) (Originally aired December 9, 2009)
Phil cancels Christmas over a couch burn no kid will confess to. Mitchell and Cam invite a fired homeless mall Santa (Brian T. Finney) over for dinner. Manny wants to celebrate Christmas with Colombian traditions.

11. Up All Night (21:36) (Originally aired January 6, 2010)
Manny's father Javier (Benjamin Bratt) visits, leading him and Jay to spend time and bond. Cam refuses to let Lily cry herself to sleep. Phil deals with a kidney stone.

12. Not in My House (21:18) (Originally aired January 13, 2010)
A dog butler statue, an emotional gardener, and a picture of a naked woman create problems for the three families.

Long a Grandpa, Jay (Ed O'Neill) gets a third crack at plain old fatherhood care of Gloria's precocious romantic son Manny (Rico Rodriguez). Claire (Julie Bowen) and Phil (Ty Burrell) observe two of their three kids getting along... briefly.

Buy Modern Family: Season One from Amazon.com: DVD • Blu-ray

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Reviewed September 22, 2010.



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