Ensemble cast comedies really can’t be beat. So many sitcoms run out of steam because they have too simple a cast that, while initially very amusing, reveals itself to be short on diversity in its characters. Look at some of the best, longest lasting comedies on television and more often than not they have a main cast of four or more. M*A*S*H. Taxi. Cheers. Gilligan’s Island. Friends. That 70’s Show. Seinfeld. The list goes on and on, and so does the tradition, because as a general rule, the more characters you develop, the more stories you can tell and the more comedy you can deliver. At a conservative count, Modern Family has a main cast of six, if you only count the adults, but to be fair, the kids add their fair share of the laughs, so it’s really a lead cast of 10. The writers have a gold mine of personalities to work with, and so it makes perfect sense that in the show’s second season, Modern Family only managed to improve over its already tremendous freshman season.
The second season tackles many different parenting woes ranging from babies with biting issues, selling the old car, husbands who have no idea why they’re entrenched in a multi-day fight with their wives (technically, that’s redundant, we should just say “husbands” because it’s all of them), the embarrassing things spouses are too afraid to criticize about one another, increasingly electronic-obsessed families, awkward relationships with the in-laws, choosing godparents, graduations, more bungled Valentine’s day plans, and unnecessarily large to-dos over birthday celebrations. The topics are generic enough to apply to just about any family nowadays, but the jabs the spouses and children take at one another are so incisive that you can’t help but laugh and remember similar examples in your own life. The writing on the show walks a fine line between sarcastic and sentimental, but it rarely falters and the end result is a show that’s highly entertaining and affecting all at once.
The writing for Modern Family is good, but the cast is superb. Starting from the top, Ed O’Neill continues to remind American audiences why Married…with Children became a late night syndication staple for the 90s: his comedic timing is spot on, and his portrayal of an older man with a sense of duty to his family in the face of his desire to act like the retired person he is comes across with the perfect tone. He’s not bitter, but he’s not exactly excited either. Sofia Vergara often steals the show as she receives a lot of the simpler bits as the younger, saucy Colombian wife whose constant mangling of the English language serves as an easy source for comedy, and her precocious son Manny, played by Rico Rodriguez, often has the responsibility of acting as the straight man to the two more crazed thirds of the family.
Perhaps the best duo on the show are Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell as Claire and Phil Dunphy, the young couple with children whose personalities vary wildly between the bookworm and the kid who eats glue. The writing for the Dunphy family often hits home harder and with bigger belly laughs as the miscommunication between Claire and Phil is really unmatched anywhere else, and the comedy is a fair balance between verbal and visual sarcasm (in the eyes). Burrell deserves numerous awards for his portrayal as the “cool” dad, because there’s not a single scene he doesn’t nail and his performances only seem to get better.
Finally, there’s Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet), a gay couple raising their adopted Asian daughter, struggling with the challenges of new parents while also straining to find balance between the theatrics of Cameron and the comparatively straight-laced, business-minded composure of Mitchell. Some of the show’s wittiest dialogue comes from the exchanges in this couple and the writers seemed to make a conscious effort to dial up the quality of their back and forth exchanges in the second season. Though the Dunphy family might be the most rounded in terms of comedy, Mitchell and Cameron get some of the most elaborate punchline build-ups where the payoff is usually terrific.
Following in proper sitcom form, there isn’t so much an overarching story being told from one season to the next as there are specific moments in a family’s history; Modern Family seeks out those genuine family memories that anyone who grew up in the United States can relate to during those years where moments of simultaneous youthful exuberance and disdain encounter the jaded but sometimes all too enthusiastic posturing of parents. If there was ever a television show that attested to the fact that parenting is just a crap shoot where adults attempt to not make the same mistakes their parents did, it’s Modern Family. Of course, the show couldn’t revel in those moments were it not for its cast being composed of a mix of generational, cultural, and social norms. But because it has those three focal points all at the same crossroads, it gets to blend together situations that would probably feel forced in any other setting, and the result is a highly pleasing sitcom with a broad range of characters, each of whom has their own set of foibles and quirks.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
Just like the first season set, the second season on Blu-ray offers plenty of supplementary featurettes. There are plenty of sit-downs with the show’s creator Steve Levitan and the cast for table reads, simple interviews, and deleted scenes, but where the extras truly deliver is in the content like the music video for “Imagine Me Naked”, the ballad by Haley’s (Sarah Hyland) boyfriend Dylan (Reid Ewing), or a flash mob led by Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Finally, a featurette covers how the show handles celebrating holidays in its episodes, whether it’s Christmas, Halloween, etc.
"Modern Family: The Complete Second Season" is on sale September 20, 2011 and is not rated. Comedy, Drama. Directed by Jason Winer, Michael Spiller. Written by Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd. Starring Ed ONeill, Eric Stonestreet, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Julie Bowen, Sofia Vergara, Ty Burrell.