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Featured TV on DVD Review: Modern Family: Season Three

September 18th, 2012

Modern Family: Season Three - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Modern Family became an instant favorite after season one, and in my mind, season two was even better. Can it maintain its high quality level? Will it drop off a bit? Is it possible it could get better?

The Show

Let's start with a recap. Modern Family looks at three modern families, starting with Jay Pritchett, who is married to his second wife, Gloria, and has a young step son, Manny. His daughter from his first wife, Claire is married to Phil and they have three kids: Haley, Alex, and Luke. His son from his first marriage, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) isn't married, but I think that's only because it's not legal where they live. He's in a committed relationship with his boyfriend, Cameron Tucker, and they've adopted a Vietnamese girl, Lily (who was recast this season and is now played by Aubrey Anderson-Emmons). The show isn't a typical sitcom, as it uses a lot of what could be described as gimmicks as part of the narrative (talking head interview segments that break the fourth wall, lots of flashbacks, unreliable storytelling, etc.). During the first two seasons, these segments were the show's great source of humor, but it is a little high concept, and high concept elements tend to reduce the longevity of a show.

Normally I would go over the season episode by episode calling attention to all of the highlight episodes. However, there are two problems doing this. Firstly, there are usually three or four plots per episode. Let's take one episode at random, Punkin Chunkin. It's a Thanksgiving episode, so it has that story. Phil thinks Claire crushed his dreams. Alex distracted Haley while Haley was driving and she dented the car. Jay thinks Gloria protects Manny from criticism too much. And Mitchell thinks Cameron's 'Punkin Chunkin' story is made up. That seems crazy busy, but that's pretty typical. The second reason it is hard to talk about the highlight episodes is that they are all highlight episodes.

Sometimes an episode is a highlight for sentimental reasons. Dude Ranch has Alex's first kiss. Lily acts up in When Good Kids Go Bad and the Pritchett family has a breakthrough over the source of their neurosis. Jay's puppy, Stella, breaks the fourth wall in Phil on Wire. Seriously, the dog steals the scene. David Cross has back-to-back guest shots in Door to Door and Hit and Run. Phil tries to bond with Haley at his old alma mata in Go Bullfrogs! and in the meantime, Claire tries for a wild night out. Also, Chazz Palminteri and Jennifer Tilly have guest shots. After the Fire is the only episode on the first disc that is not excellent. It's good, but the weakest of the bunch. I already mentioned Punkin Chunkin above.

Disc two starts with Express Christmas, which is when the family learns at the last minute that it will be the final day all of them will be together till after Christmas, so they split up to organize one in hours. This is a good episode, because the characters team up in ways they normally don't, so we get a change in chemistry. Benjamin Bratt has a guest appearance as Manny's father while Philip Baker Hall has a guest appearance as Walter, Luke's 80-year old friend. Manny and Luke have to do an Egg Drop for school, and Jay and Claire both help their children and get into a major competition with each other. David Cross returns in Little Bo Bleep. Claire is trying to defeat him in a local election, but the TV debate goes poorly. Greg Kinnear earned an Emmy nod for his guest role in Me? Jealous? Claire is the potential titular Aunt Mommy after she agrees to donate an egg to Mitchell and Cameron's second child. However, when she agreed, she, Phil, Mitchell, and Cameron were all drunk and when they all sober up, they are all against it, but don't want to disappoint the other side. Meanwhile, Manny gets injured after Jay encourages him to play football. Virgin Territory has some really good father - daughter moments when Alex accidentally reveals Haley's secret to Phil. It's Leap Day, which is Cameron's Birthday. This year he's turning 40 / 10 and he kind of freaks out. Send Out the Clowns starts with a clown's funeral. I'm not a big fan of clowns, and this one had too many.

It's Election Day for Claire and last minute campaigning goes horribly wrong. In The Last Walt, Luke's 80-year old friend, Walt, passes away. Luke takes it really well. Unnervingly well. Meanwhile, Phil is tasked with carrying out Walt's last wish and decides to take Alex along for a little father - daughter bonding. In Planes, Trains and Cars Phil has a mid-life crisis and buys an early 1980s Porsche, with a whale tail. My favorite car. I watched the entire episode to see if they would mispronounce Porsche, because apparently I have O.C.D. I don't think they even said the word Porsche once. The family goes to Disneyland. It's a very busy episode, but nearly every part of this episode is hilarious. On a side note, every so often when I was a kid, my family would discuss going to Disneyland on vacation, and I would sink it each time. The thought of waiting 45 minutes for a three-minute ride was ridiculous to me, even as a child. Like Alex, I think I skipped the childhood portion of my youth. I've made up for that by remaining immature since then. In Tableau Vivant, Phil has to fire Mitchell from the part-time job. Also, Alex has a major art assignment and needs her family to be part of it, and she freaks out, because her art teacher doesn't like her. (On a side note, her jab at her gym teacher is the second best line in the season.) The season finale is Baby on Board. In it, Mitchell and Cameron go to meet their surrogate, who is a hospital ready to give birth, but complications arise. Also, Alex goes to junior prom. (On a side note, her comment about being stubble is the best line in the season.)

Of the 24 episode in this season, all but two of them are excellent. Even the weakest episodes this season have serious replay value. Modern Family: Season Three is arguably even better than season one and two. The writing is fantastic and the cast have amazing chemistry together. Even Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, who is only four years old, has some great lines. Of the six adult cast members, six of them earned Emmy nominations for Best Supporting Actors this year. This is the second year in a row this has happened, while the first season they earned five nominations. I'm not happy with this result, because they clearly deserve nods for Best Leading Actors. If they weren't in the supporting category, I think Ariel Winter would have earned a nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

The Extras

Extras on the first disc begin with more than six minutes of deleted / extended / alternative scenes. Destination: Wyoming is a ten-minute featurette on the making of the season premiere. A Day on the Set with Ty is a six-minute making of / behind-the-scenes featurette. Adventures of the Modern Family Kids is a four-minute featurette on the kids having fun while in Wyoming. Disc two starts with nine more minutes of deleted scenes. There is a six minute behind-the-scenes for A Modern Family Christmas. Driving Lessons is a three-minute look at the making of a scene where Luke and Manny drive. There's a 17-minute featurette of Ed O'Neil's Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony. When I heard about this happening, my first thought was, 'Why did it take this long?' The final disc has seven more minutes of deleted / extended / alternative scenes. There is a three-minute featurette on the Modern Family Goes to Disneyland Report. Finally, there are nine minutes of outtakes. Sadly, there are no audio commentary tracks.

Modern Family is one of the best looking sitcoms on Blu-ray. The detail level is high, the colors are vivid, and the blacks are deep. Granted, it can't compare to a first-run release, but it would be unfair to compare the two, given the average budget. The audio is very clear, but complicated. It's mostly front and center, but there are no problems with fidelity and the bass is not entirely absent.

Finally, the Blu-ray only costs $5 or 20% more than the DVD.

The Verdict

My only complaint about Modern Family: Season Three is the lack of audio commentary tracks. I would like to hear the cast talk about the show more. That said, both the DVD and the Blu-ray are easily worth a purchase. In fact, the latter is a contender for Pick of the Week.

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