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Series


I believe my thoughts on the second season of ABC’s Modern Family still hold true for the majority of this third season. It’s still an uncommonly strong show that makes great use of middling and ultra-popular sitcom tropes. Measuring this season against the previous two proves difficult, as the show has a rare consistency that sort of slides the three seasons into one mega-series in my mind. For the sake of time, I’m going to focus briefly on a handful of the 24 episodes available on this three disc collection and offer a link to that previous review for deeper analysis.

Modern Family: Season 2
Episode 1: Dude Ranch
The series’ three families open the season with a trip to the Lost Creek Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where they attempt to bond via horseback riding, cattle herding, and skeet shooting, led by a cowboy named Hank (Tim Blake Nelson). This isn’t the season’s strongest episode, thanks to redundancies, but quickly quashes some of the most tired plotlines early, specifically Clair’s (Julie Bowen) borderline cruel disapproval of Haley’s (Sarah Hyland) on-again/off-again boyfriend Dylan Homes (Reid Ewing). I appreciate this episode most for making Mitchell’s (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) prissiness genuinely funny and pairing him with little Luke (Nolan Gould). Odd pairings almost always work in the show’s favour.

Episode 3: Phil on a Wire
Phil watches James Marsh’s Man on a Wire and become obsessed with the idea of becoming a tightrope walker. Meanwhile, the eerie bond between Jay and Stella the dog continues to unnerve Gloria (Sofía Vergara), Claire tries to teach the girls a lesson in compromise, and Mitchell decides to support Cam’s juice fast. This is the first genuinely great and genuinely touching episode of the season, due mostly to Phil’s underlying B-story. I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point Phil (Ty Burrell) became my favourite Modern Family character. I’m not sure if I actually identify with his bright-eyed childishness or just wish I did.

Episode 7: Tree House
This is a textbook three-story episode, though the writers don’t really do much to interlock or cross the narratives. After seeing how much fun friends Shorty (Chazz Palminteri) and Bonnie (Jennifer Tilly, who is looking good) are having salsa dancing, Gloria harangs Jay, who is too self-conscious to take her out with them. Meanwhile, Cameron bets Mitchell and friends that he can successfully pick up a woman at a bar (Leslie Mann) and Phil tries, in vain, to builds a tree house for Luke. Note: this is only the second episode in the season to feature a black character – Kevin Hart (that’s four all-star cameos in one episode!) is introduced as the Dunphy’s neighbour, Andre, who actually shows up again in Plains, Trains and Cars.

Modern Family: Season 2
Episode 10: Express Christmas
Modern sitcom Christmas episodes are always a weird balance of genuine sentiment and tongue-in-cheek references to that sentiment. Express Christmas is an effective use of genre conventions, and is, in the end, both genuinely touching and mock-touching at the same time. Here the extended family realizes that they won’t all be in town for the coming Christmas, inspiring Phil to invent ‘Express Christmas’ where everyone will quickly gather all necessities for a family celebration in a matter of hours.  From here, the episode separates the cast into unlikely pairs, which, again, is basically a series trademark and a consistent source of unlikely laughs. Scene after scene of the destruction of precious, irreplaceable items is a little too painful, however.

Episode 15: Aunt Mommy
This episode has the courage to deal in a unique aspect of the supposed ‘modern family’ that doesn’t quite fit the Disney/ABC status quo – pseudo-incest. After a night of overindulging in alcohol, Claire, Phil, Mitchell, and Cameron make a weird, though sort of logical, child-rearing choice – Claire will donate the egg and carry Cameron’s baby. This way the new child will genuinely have both Pritchett and Tucker DNA. The writers do a good job embracing both the freakshow nature of the decision while not selling the sentiment short, ultimately having their cake and eating it too. I’m hopeful that this represents the show’s future willingness to deal in less politically correct arenas.

Episode 16: Virgin Territory
Ignoring the dull and predictable B-story concerning Mitchell and Jay awkwardly interacting following a golf snafu, this episode stands apart with a really cute A-plot concerning Alex accidentally revealing to Phil that Haley is no longer a virgin on a trip to the American Girl store (or the Modern Family universe equivalent) to repair Lily’s doll. The obvious subtext is the joke here and it really works. Meanwhile, Luke and Manny jealously set a trap for Lily, which Cameron springs and injures himself. Or so it seems. In reality, Cameron fakes the injury as an excuse to snoop around the Dunphy household to find Tupperware he swears Clair has borrowed and never returned. This additional subplot continues the theme of characters with ridiculous pride.

Episode 23: Tableau Vivant
Watching the season all in a row, it is clear that the writers were definitely in a rut in terms of story and character development, but Tableau Vivant is another good example of weaknesses turning into strengths, as yet another series of accelerating arguments explode into yet another blow-out and still manages to be funny. There’s an expert quality to the turning of the screws, no matter how expected and redundant. The whole thing is also rather cheekily punctuated by the bickering family unit reenacting Norman Rockwell's famous Thanksgiving painting ‘Freedom from Want’ for Alex’s art final. That’s the kind of subversive thing I hope to see more of next season.

Modern Family: Season 2

Video


There isn’t a whole lot of difference between this third season and the second season Blu-ray I already reviewed, which is, of course, not surprising. Modern Family is reportedly shot using both Sony CineAlta and Arri Alexa digital HD cameras, both of which make for a consistent 1080p, 1.78:1 Blu-ray image. Everything is still largely shot using bright, soft lighting rigs that pretty accurately evoke natural sunlight with just enough oomph to let the audience know they’re watching something ‘fun.’ The characters do take a trip to a dude ranch and Disneyland this season, which offers up a bit of differentiation in terms of basic visual make-up, but for the most part even these new locations are more of the same. The image’s utter clarity is its most outstanding trait, including sharp, lifelike textures, intricate wardrobe patterns, and busy backgrounds. Episode 11 even pokes a little fun at the broad difference between SD and HD video when Phil flashes back to his stint on an early ‘90s game show. The faux-vintage footage features heavy blooming and strobing effects. The palette this season appears ever so slightly warmer in general, leaning a bit more towards red and pink base hues rather than yellows. These warm hues often cut quite sharply against the richer greens and blues. This eclectic palette remains pure and clean. Some of the night shots, especially those in moving cars (which may have been filmed while the actors are actually being moved throughout the city, rather than on sets), feature some issues with edge enhancement and some flattened chunks of grain (I’m thinking some DNR was used). Edge enhancement also appears to have been minimized, compared to the previous season’s release.

Modern Family: Season 2

Audio


And once again, Modern Family does little to extend beyond the basic aural expectations of an average television sitcom and mostly embraces its mockumentary concept in terms of sound design. The majority of sound comes directly from the front center channel as if it has been captured by the handheld camera’s microphone (which it probably was). A few instances stand apart from the average and give the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track a reason to employ the extra channels. Express Christmas features a bunch of subtle, realistic ambient noise while Claire and Haley shop in Target, as does the largely outdoor-set Dude Ranch. Election Day features a subplot involving Cam and Mitchell driving around town with a loudspeaker on their car that creates a solid directional echo effect. Disneyland is probably the most aurally busy episode overall, featuring all the swirling sound one would expect of the Disney theme park, including a particularly aggressive series of roller coaster scenes brimming with LFE rumble and directional movement. Besides the main title theme and any music that happens to play on-screen where the characters can react to it (there’s a cute kitchen tango between Cam and Gloria in Me? Jealous?), there isn’t really any score to the series, even during the establishing shots.

Modern Family: Season 2

Extras


The extras this time around are pretty paltry for a full season release, but perfectly entertaining. Disc one starts things off with a deleted/extended scenes reel (6:30, HD), Destination Wyoming behind the scenes featurette (9:40, HD), A Day on the Set with Ty (5:40, HD) featuring Ty Burrell running us through his workday (on an episode directed by Brian Cranston, of all people), and The Adventures of the Modern Family Kids (3:40, HD). Disc two continues with another deleted scenes reel (9:00, HD), A Modern Family Christmas behind the scenes featurette (6:00, HD), Driving Lessons behind the scenes featurette (3:00, HD), and footage of Ed O’Neill getting a star on Hollywood Boulevard (16:50, HD). Disc three ends things with yet another deleted/extended scenes reel (7:10, HD), Modern Family Goes to Disneyland Resort featurette (3:10, HD) with the cast and crew, and a gag reel (9:00, HD).

Modern Family: Season 2

Overall


Modern Family soldiers on as one of the most consistently amusing shows on television. It’s not as unique, touching, or hilarious as Parks and Rec or Community, but it’s great proof that sometimes the oldest tricks in the book still work and that family-friendly entertainment isn’t a comedic vacuum. This season three Blu-ray release follows almost every expectation set by the previous season’s release, including a strong, sharp picture, a solid, understated DTS-HD MA soundtrack, and a pleasant, but short series of behind the scenes extras.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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