MODERN FAMILY: SEASON 3 – Blu-ray review

Like “Arrested Development” and “The Office,”“Modern Family” is shot using a lot of hand-held cameras and quick pans, pull-backs and zooms, with no laugh-track and a snappy narrative style.

Like “When Harry Met Sally,” “Modern Family breaks scenes using interviews with couples (together and individually) to give it a semi-documentary feel.

Like “Parenthood,” the focus is often on what it takes to be a good parent, though the job itself can be the world’s most frustrating (and rewarding), and voiceovers from the interviews often end the show with thoughts about parenting and family.

And like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Modern Family” is a strong ensemble comedy. How strong? All six adult actors were nominated for an Outstanding Supporting Actress/Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy in 2012, with awards going to cast members: Julie Bowen and Eric Stonestreet. And yeah, they both had exceptional seasons.

“Modern Family,” which is the brainchild of Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, is the funniest and most perceptive sitcom on TV today. It has everything: “”triples,” word play, and funny, clever writing; a terrific (and yes, hilariously funny) ensemble cast with characters you enjoy spending time with; and situations that sometimes make you laugh out loud. At the heart of it all is the writers’ perceptive understanding of human nature and family dynamics.

Forget the “nuclear family.” It was nuked long ago, with divorce and the emergence of choices over the last five decades. So “Modern Family” depicts one extended modern family made up of three separate living units that many can identify with:

Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill, “Married . . . with Children”) is a middle-aged businessman who married one of his workers–a drop-dead-gorgeous Colombian divorcee half his age named Gloria (Sofia Vergara). Their family unit is completed by Manny (Rico Rodriguez), the high-school age butterball who’s pampered by his mom but “toughened up” by Jay, who doesn’t want to see him get picked on at school. Much of the humor in segments involving their family come from the adjustments each is having to make, with the emphasis on cultural and age differences, but also, this season, a more expansive series of episodes that derive from the characters’ individual personalities—like Jay’s aging and mellowing, or Gloria’s loudness and brashness, or Manny’s determination to be cool at school offset by his profound shyness in some social situations.

In the second living unit there’s Claire (Bowen), one of Jay’s children from his previous marriage of 35 years, who’s married to Phil Dunphy (2011 Emmy winner Ty Burrell), a guy who thinks of himself as “the cool dad.” That means, of course, that she’s got to be the organized one, the practical one, and the disciplinarian, because Phil is like a big kid himself. “You can’t have two fun parents,” Claire told the kids in Season 2. “Then you have a carnival.” Phil isn’t the brightest guy in the world or the manliest, but his kids love him. The couple has three children:  Haley (Sarah Hyland), the teen who’s mortified by her dad’s attempts to be “cool,” though he’s her go-to guy when she needs him to overrule one of mom’s decisions; Alex (Ariel Winter), a younger teen girl with glasses who’s the brains of the outfit; and Luke (Nolan Gould), who’s just a little bit strange.

Finally, there’s Mitchell Pritchett (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), Jay’s gay son, and his partner Cameron Tucker (Stonestreet). They’ve adopted a Vietnamese baby named Lily who’s grown up to be quite a handful. Though Cameron denies it, he’s the flamboyant one, the “drama queen,” but they both have their moments. Cam’s testosterone gets bubbling when it’s called for, much to Mitch’s dismay—for he’s the one who keeps trying to be manly to gain his father’s full acceptance.

Season 3 finds the extended family taking trips to a dude ranch and to Disneyland, and also trying to schedule an “Express Christmas” so that they can be together in the short amount of free time that overlaps. This season Claire runs for city council, Mitch and Cam take steps to adopt a second child, Haley applies for college admission, Cameron picks up a woman in a bar (on a bet), Phil has a brush with death and learns his little girl isn’t so little anymore, and a controversial episode has Lilly saying the “F” word at a wedding in which she’s the flower girl.

“Modern Family” really gets it right. I’m married to someone 21 years my junior, I have a son who’s two years younger than my oldest grandson, I have a brother who’s gay and in a committed relationship, children married to spouses I’m still trying to get to know, and you know what? I’m not alone. I’ve met a lot of people who are in similar situations, and that’s what makes “Modern Family” click. But more than being accurate, it’s insightful. If you want to know how any family member feels in any of these roles, you can learn from this show. And by “learn” I mean laugh your ass off.

Twenty-four episodes are contained on three single-sided 50-gig discs in a standard-size blue jewel case. This season, not all of the episodes are riotously funny, but most of them certainly are.

1) “Dude Ranch.” The gang heads to Wyoming for a “City Slickers” experience.

2) “When Good Kids Go Bad.” Lily is misbehaving, and Manny is accused of stealing a classmate’s necklace.

3) “Phil on Wire.” Phil and Luke become obsessed with trying to walk a tightrope; meanwhile, Jay pays more attention to his dog than Gloria and Cam goes on a fast.

4) “Door to Door” Claire petitions the city to put a stop sign at a dangerous intersection.

5) “Hit and Run.” Cam and Mitch are involved in a hit-and-run accident, and Claire considers running for city council.

6) “Go Bullfrogs!” Phil takes Haley on a college visit; meanwhile, Jay and Gloria wonder whether it’s time to talk birds and bees with Manny.

7) “Treehouse.” Gloria wants Jay to take her salsa dancing; Phil is determined to make a treehouse for Luke; and Cam picks up a woman on a bet.

8) “After the Fire.” When a neighbor’s house burns down, Claire organizes a donation drive; Phil tries to get advice from Jay.

9) “Punkin Chunkin.” Mitch doesn’t believe one of Cam’s stories, and Jay thinks Gloria isn’t honest enough with Manny.

10) “Express Christmas.” Christmas in less than 24 hours? Not even at an all-night diner.

11) “Lifetime Supply.” Phil’s doctor puts a scare into him, and Jay and Manny’s biological father (Benjamin Bratt) compete at the racetrack to win Manny’s respect.

12) “Egg Drop.” Manny and Luke’s school project turns into a family competition.

13) “Little Bo Bleep.” Lily says the F-word at a wedding in which she’s the flower girl.

14) “Me? Jealous?” Phil’s business partner is hitting on Claire right in front of him, only he can’t see it.

15) “Aunt Mommy.” Claire has too much to drink at a party and it ends up costing her.

16) “Virgin Territory.” Phil finds out his daughter’s secret, and Jay learns that Mitch ruined  his biggest golf triumph; meanwhile, Gloria discovers a secret of Claire’s.

17) “Leap Day.” Mitch’s attempt to make Cam’s birthday special takes a downturn when a spat breaks out at a boat they rented and it’s on to Plan C.

18) “Send out the Clowns.” Cam’s former clown partner surfaces, causing tension between him and Mitch.

19) “Election Day.” Claire has tooth problems that make doing interviews difficult, and the family ends up doing anything but help her campaign that last important day.

20) “The Last Walt.” Luke’s aged friend dies, Cam’s father comes to visit, and Phil tries to bond with Alex.

21) “Planes, Trains and Cars.” Lily loses her favorite stuffed animal on the subway; Phil buys a sports car without telling his wife; Jay tries to bring his trophy wife to a high school reunion.

22) “Disneyland.” The family has a House of Mouse experience.

23) “Tableau Vivant.” Alex has to stage a living picture for an art assignment, but her family isn’t exactly the easiest to work with.

24) “Baby on Board.” Gloria’s Spanish comes in handy when Cam and Mitch find themselves with an adoption possibility; meanwhile, Manny and Jay help Lily get ready for her dance recital, and Alex goes to her first prom.

When a show is so strong that you know it’s going to get repeat play, the way to go is Blu-ray. The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer (24 mbps) leaves no artifacts and the picture looks great in 1080p:  bold colors, strong edges, and a pleasing amount of detail. While the pilot is a little grainier than the rest of the episodes, overall it’s a decent picture. The series is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen.

The audio is also accomplished, with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 delivering clear and precise dialogue. The bass could be a little more resonant, though, and the sound mixers could have done more with the effects speakers. But for a dialogue-driven show, it probably isn’t as crucial. Subtitles are in English SDH, Spanish, and French.

Each disc features six to nine minutes of deleted/alternate scenes, plus one to three featurettes. On Disc 1 there’s a 10-minute extra showing the cast behind the scenes to film the dude ranch episode at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. There’s also a five-minute “Day on the Set with Ty” in which the actor takes us on a walk-through. Finally, there’s a three-minute clip of the kids goofing off together in Jackson Hole.

Disc Two features “A Modern Family Christmas,” which is six minutes of behind-the-scenes footage from the Christmas episode; “Driving Lessons,” an under three-minute video showing Luke and Manny getting some coaching on driving the car they’re going to steal in an episode. And “Ed O’Neill Gets a Star” is a 17-minute featurette about O’Neill getting his Hollywood Walk of Fame star.

Disc Three has a nine-minute gag reel and a three-minute behind-the-scenes look at the Disney episode. All of the features are entertaining enough, but they go by too quickly.

Bottom Line:
“Modern Family” is to the 2000s what “Leave It to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best” were to the 1950s:  a show that captures the feel of the times and finds its humor in situations that are as true as can be. It’s the best comedy on TV today, and it has three Outstanding Comedy Emmys to prove it.