Modern Family: Season 3
If some sociologist in the future wants to write a scholarly dissertation on the evolution of the American family a primary source of information would be readily available in the television archives. The student need only review the changes in situation comedies in order to chronicle the changes in the typical family’s composition and basic attitudes. The reasoning here is quite sound since the television networks have always reformatted the cast of characters in their sit-coms to reflect their target demographic, the family. In the fifties dad went off to some nebulous job while mom stayed at home with the kids and family dog. Later on single parent household started to be represented followed by the product of divorced, the mix family and joint custody, a few years ago the ABC network came up with a take on the sit-com that continued to adhere to this strategy while providing a freshly humorous presentation. The series was aptly titled ‘Modern Family’ and it quickly became one of the crown jewels in the network’s program lineup. The premise is fairly simple and quite familiar. The show follows the everyday trials and tribulations of an extended family. The core family has branched out though second marriages, children and committed, same sex relationships. Several of these aspects of a family structure would be taboo not that long ago in a serious drama. Now it is part of the tapestry of the American family and accepted well enough to drive a popular half hour comedy. Other TV series have attempted something similar but not with the panache demonstrated here. This series represents the rare convergence of writing and direction presented by an ensemble cast with amazing chemistry. One of the most obvious changes from the tradition sit-com model is a bit of a contrivance but in this instance one that works out exceedingly well. The three branches of the family are constantly followed by an unseen documentary crew recording their lives. No explanation is offered and in fact none is necessary. Besides giving a different narrative voice to the show it permits the characters to break the fourth wall allowing the audience some insight into what the characters are thinking.
The center of this multi tier family is its patriarch, Jay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill. He lives in a well appointed home with his second wife, Gloria (Sofía Vergara) and her son from a previous marriage, Manny (Rico Rodriguez). Jay’s oldest, Claire (Julie Bowen) is happily married to real estate agent Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell). Together they have three children, eldest daughter Haley (Sarah Hyland), the flighty teenager, highly intelligent middle daughter,] Alex (Ariel Winter) and mischievous son Luke (Nolan Gould). Claire’s younger brother, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) is gay and lives with his partner Cameron (Eric Stonestreet). In the first season they adopted a Vietnamese orphan, Lily. In this third season she is played by Aubrey Anderson-Emmons. There are situations and plot lines that run through the series and season with individual episodes mostly self contained. The structure does reasonably reflect family life with the major issues playing our next to the daily crisis management we all face.
The season opener takes the entire family on vacation to a dude ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The setting provides an excellent excuse for some hysterically funny skits that birder on the surreal. Cameron was raised on a farm and feels in his element but the uptight Mitchell is hysterical to watch. All the women folk quickly become enamored of a cowboy named Hank (Tim Blake Nelson), forcing the Jay to call him out, western style. The first major plot line is Cameron and Mitchell deciding to expand their family with another adoption but being uncertain of how Lily will react. Naturally their tendency to over think a situation begins to feed upon itself.
The next story line is Claire wanting to get a stop sign placed on a bust intersection. The textbook obsessive and over achiever prepares an elaborate presentation. Unfortunately, it is summarily dismissed by a new recurring character councilman Duane Bailey (David Cross). Later in the season Claire seek her revenge by running against the usually unopposed politician. In the previous two seasons Alex as viewed by Haley as the embarrassing younger sister. Now that they are both teens in high school they are moving to become friends and frequently co-conspirators in plans best kept from their parents. The usual studious Alex has discovered boys, a subject that Haley is well versed. Haley has her own troubles brewing; she has not been accepted into college. Close in age Luke is friends with his uncle by marriage Manny. Luke is always up to some trouble while Manny is overly concerned with proper etiquette. On many ways Phil’s childish tendency make him closer in attitude to his son. Luke and Manny is a mini ‘Odd Couple’.
Many sit-coms featuring families tend to fall apart as the kids grow up. This series not only adapted well it flourished. The writers kept up with the changes perfectly incorporating into the stories, the changes in the family dynamics are natural a completely relatable to the audience. After three years fans feel they know these people and thanks to tight, intelligent writing and a cast with amazing comic delivery, we do know them. There have been reports that contract disputes delayed the filming of the fourth season. If the executives over at ABC are smart they will bump the salaries; this is the biggest hit sit-com in over twenty years. The series is smart, funny and imaginative. Unfortunately such factors may be conducive to critical acclaim and even loyal fans it is traditionally not sufficient to ensure its well deserved longevity. Three years with a fourth on its way is cause to be guardedly optimistic in its survival. It is rare for me to become an ardent fan so rapidly but this show had me convinced of its excellence after only a single episode; an opinion that has been steadfast for three years now.
Deleted And Alternate Scenes