The Emmy-winning comedy Modern Family appears to be another cog in the left’s commitment to changing the face of the traditional family unit.
The show’s three-clan structure features a gay couple and their adopted child, and for four years conservative viewers could have expected the show’s characters to leap atop a soap box for a very special message or two.
A very funny thing happened along the way. Yes, the existence of Cam and Mitchell (played by Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson) certainly had a positive impact on how the country views gay couples. The show has mostly resisted overtly political content in lieu of arguably the best comedy writing on television today. In fact, Modern Family extols old-fashioned virtues in a very current fashion, promoting monogamy, self-reliance and the power of an intact family unit.
The show’s fourth season, now available on Blu-ray, finds the series introducing a new baby to the cast. It’s a hoary TV device typically reserved for creatively spent comedies. Not Modern Family. The arrival of Joe to the home of Jay (Ed O’Neill) and Gloria (Sofia Vergara) has only added to the warm and witty ensemble. What GOP-friendly audiences will undoubtedly applaud is the flawed romance between Phil (Ty Burrell) and Claire (Julie Bowen) as well as how they raise their three children.
Heck, Phil is the show’s go-to entrepreneur, always finding new ways to hawk his real estate business.
Phil and Claire pound lessons like the value of a good education, sharing, teamwork and loving your siblings into their offspring. Jay may be the resident curmudgeon, but even he bespeaks the values of rugged individualism when he’s not mentally dueling with Gloria and his step son (an old school romantic and role model played by Rico Rodriguez).
He’s also the butt of everyone’s joke, but when given a smart lie he points to the sky a la Babe Ruth and swats it out of the park. Here he marvels at what his wife can accomplish when given a chance, a line husbands may (secretly) applaud.
“That’s the thing about marriage … you fall in love with this extraordinary person and, over time, they begin to seem ordinary [perfectly timed pause] I think it’s all the nagging,” he says.
The fourth season’s hit to miss ratio is remarkably strong. Even sub-par episodes like the Halloween saga boasts highlights that make it worth one’s while, like when the Type A-plus Claire gives Phil the scare of his life.
The Yard Sale episode finds Phil once more grappling with cultural norms involving masculinity, yet when the his daughter starts hanging out with a much, much older man Phil looks ready to tear the gentleman’s heart from his chest. Burrell, a comic marvel in a uniformly brilliant cast, makes both sides of Phil convincing.
As for Cam and Mitch, the duo both epitomizes and shake free from gay cliches. They’re not idealized by any stretch, and the actors give those flaws some very real dimensions. The characters are also quick to stereotype others, an amusing through line well executed in the fourth season.
The show keeps trendy guest star appearances to a minimum, unlike the laborious final seasons of Will & Grace. Elizabeth Banks appears during the season as a very reluctant bride, reminding us of how beautifully bonkers she can be when given a comic persona not unlike her character in The 40 Year Old Virgin.
The conservative sucker punches are thankfully rare in season four, although O’Neill’s character let one rip when he complained about his pregnant wife’s snoring.
Could that change during the current season, which opened with the engagement of Cam and Mitchell? The wedding story promises to run through much of 2013, and the show’s creative team might be tempted to turn each week’s installment into a culture war bon mot.
If the last four years are any indication, the answer is more likely “no” than on most other TV comedies.
The Blu-ray package includes the obligatory gag reel, commentary tracks on Goodnight Gracie, Party Crasher and Fulgencio and deleted and alternative scenes.