Modern Family: Season 4
Sometimes I just understand what passes for a thought process with the executives in charge of television programming. Sure, occasionally a show will catch on slowly, too slow to garner the all- important ratings like a little science fiction series back in the sixties called ‘Star Trek’. Then there are shows that are sabotaged by those executive by broadcasting the episodes out of order or constantly moving the time slot. Another Sci-Fi show comes to mind here, ‘Firefly’. What absolutely boggles the mind is for a network to cancel a highly rated and critically acclaimed series like ‘Modern Family’ despite some well publicized legal disputes. The season examined here, number four, and would be the last shown on Fox. Fortunately basic cable intervened and this amazingly funny series will live on, at least for a fifth season. Although some necessary changes were inserted in the situations driving this sit-com, it retained the smart wit and quick pacing that made it a success in the first place.
The definition of what constitutes a family has been hotly debated of late like most aspects of human society the family unit has evolved over time, adapting to alterations in the prevalent moral climate of the times. While many hold to the mother, father and children paradigm as the traditional standard this is actually not the case. In most cultures the family is extended to include in-laws, grandparents and other relations. With divorce extremely commonplace the blended step relations have been added into the mix. ‘Modern Family’ does what sit-coms have traditionally done; keep up with the times. In this instance the patriarch is Jay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill). Three familiar units are all connected through Jay. First there is second family; new wife, Gloria (Sofía Vergara), hailing from South America and her very precocious son Manny (Rico Rodriguez). Then there are the families of Jay’s two adult children from his first wife; Claire (Julie Bowen) and her younger brother, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). Claire is married to real estate broker Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) and together they have three children in descending order of birth; Haley (Sarah Hyland), Alex (Ariel Winter) and Luke (Nolan Gould). Mitchell is in a monogamous relationship with his domestic partner Cameron Tucker (Eric Stonestreet) with their daughter adopted from Vietnam, Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons). Collectively they do adequately represent a modern family.
One thing that real families have in common that was not always properly depicted in sit-coms is the situations and relationships change as a matter of course over time. Season four nicely reflected this aspect of life. Haley and Alex were always at odds due to their diametrically opposite personalities. Haley was a party girl unable to take most things seriously. Alex, on the other hand, was an obsessively good student living by the rules. In the last season with Alex well in the midst of puberty the dynamic changed with the sisters finding more in common including boys. Haley goes off to college where her predilections for having a goof time led to problems with the law and expulsion from school. This returned Haley back home having to face the consequences of her actions. Meanwhile over at Jay’s home Gloria has some big news; she is pregnant and Jay will have to return to something he thought was behind him, infancy. Not to be left out Mitchell and Cameron have to face something we all did as parents; watching their child go off to school. This is the first step in the inexorable independence from the parents. Emotionally ill equip to cope with separation anxiety the couple find they are force to adjust to a new reality. One aspect of this show, among many, that is exceptional is the propensity displayed by the writers to concise story arcs. They diligently avoid stretching out a set of circumstances until well after the comic potential has been played out. The pregnancy is resolved before the season finally in time for a cultural clash over the name when Gloria’s mother (Elizabeth Peña), comes up from Columbia. This happens at the midpoint of the season clearing the way for a less predictable season conclusion. The dynamic between Haley was far too rich in potential to squander by separating them. The arrest for underage drinking and Haley’s return to the parental home happens in episode seven leaving ample time to get back on track. This didn’t seem like the usual plot contrivance; Haley, as the sister who would rather party than study just would work realistically in a college atmosphere without resorting to relying on an unrealistic ‘Animal House’ motif. Bring Haley back opened the season up with a common conundrum facing eighteen year olds, what to do with their post high school life. This allows the periodical daughter to present her parents with a new set of issues including dating a significantly older man.
With all the changes necessary to somewhat ground the series as relatable they never lost sight of the elements that have always been the heart of the show. Claire’s hyper competitive nature and Cam’s need to prove himself puts them into business trying to flip a house. Mitchel and Cam have been considering extending their family and it is heightened by the new addition in the senior Pritchett household. The natural camaraderie between boys in their early teens is manifested with Manny and Luke. The novel twist here is rather than siblings or cousins Manny is Luke’s uncle. Luke is simplistic in his view of the world, much like his father. In contrast Manny acts too refined for his age with his morning cappuccino and thoughts of ‘wooing a teenage girl with a love poem’. Cam’s flamboyant love of the theater resurfaces when he directs Luke and Manny’s school production of ‘Phantom of the Opera’. There is also a now traditional reappearance of Phil and Clare’s Valentine’s Day alter egos of Clive Bixby and Juliana. As expected but still funny it fails in epic proportions. The always popular Halloween themed episode again demonstrates the sharp, insightful humor exemplified by this show.
This is a dream cast for an ensemble series. There is chemistry manifested on several levels. The performers relate to each other ideally within the immediate family setting but then each of the three units gather together with a type of comedy that could only arise out of a group of people that fundamentally love each other but as happens in real families generate friction when in close proximity to each other. The reason for this is actually quite simple. The group consists of highly talented individuals that generate an exception example of synergy in every episode. We may have to reprogram our DVRs to accommodate the change in channel but season five has already begun.
A Day With Eric