Monday, February 3, 2014

Departures And Arrivals Make For A Satisfying Fourth Season Of Modern Family.

The Good: Very funny, Decent performances, Interesting characters
The Bad: The series is becoming somewhat formulaic, Little enduring from the season.
The Basics: Modern Family Season Four is very funny, but little of it sticks with the viewer after the episodes are done.

When it comes to seasons of television, I find that one of the components that matters quite a bit to me when it comes to deciding to purchase a DVD or Blu-Ray boxed set is the season’s rewatchability (which makes quite a bit of sense). In recent years, there have been a few television series that I have enjoyed watching, but that I am not convinced have a timeless quality that makes me want to add them to my permanent collection. Few shows these days are both rewatchable and quotable to the extent that I enjoy watching them over and over again and can foresee doing so for years to come. In fact, only 30 Rock (“I want to go to there!”) and Happy Endings (“Shut your stupid whore mouth!”) come instantly to mind. While Modern Family seems like it would be a natural addition to my collection, especially given how much my wife and I love Frasier (reviewed here!), I remain on the fence about it as a part of my permanent library.

The fourth season of Modern Family is good, but it is not exceptional and while it has heartwarming moments, some of the humor is a bit more predictable than in prior seasons. The characters continue to develop, but the serialized elements in the season are understated – they focus almost entirely on Gloria’s pregnancy, the house that Cam and Claire are trying to flip, and Haley’s departure for and return from college. The season also is notably lacking in exceptional lines that make one feel like the characters and season have been defined. Instead, this feels like largely like a very typical sitcom . . . with performers who are able to get the most out of the average lines. More than in some of the prior seasons, the actors noticeably set up the punchlines, as opposed to them feeling like they come organically. On the flip side, some of the series’ stars truly make their roles look effortless. As always, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Eric Stonestreet excel at playing their parts and making the season watchable and enjoyable. But, as my wife pointed out after Burrell landed a great deadpan in the Halloween episode, “If he [Ty Burrell] wasn’t on this, I’m not sure it would be worth watching.”

Following the realization that she is pregnant, Gloria struggles to find the best time to tell Jay. When Jay is abducted for his birthday, she finds her moment and she is thrilled when he is happy about the pregnancy. With the Pritchetts planning to make way for their new baby, the Dunphys deal with the emotional departure of Haley. With their oldest daughter headed off to college, Phil and Claire try to find a new balance and that leads Claire and Cameron to team up to restore and flip a house they bought (much to the chagrin of Phil and Mitchell).

But Haley’s absence is shortlived as she gets into trouble in college and leaves after only a few weeks. When she moves back home and has to do community service, the family’s dynamic is restored. With Gloria worried about how Manny will react to having a new brother, Cam and Mitch start teaching Lily about Vietnam . . . which she resists.

In the fourth season of Modern Family, most of the humor is based on deadpan deliveries and quick turns of phrase (“You're the kind of person who can be twice as scary without wearing any makeup.”). The situations in the fourth season are not particularly loaded with inherent humor – Jay sees the woman to whom he lost his virginity while on a trip to Florida and she doesn’t remember him, Phil gets stuck under a motorcycle, Alex tries to get a picture of Haley wherein Haley looks bad – but the show is funny for the lines, though many of those are very specific to the moments they are in (as opposed to usable catchphrases).

In the fourth season of Modern Family, the main characters include:

Jay Pritchett – Who is thrilled on New Year’s Eve to play cards with Billy Dee Williams. He is continually bugged by Phil, works to parent Manny and put up with Gloria’s pregnancy (and her family’s arrival after the baby is born),

Gloria – Goes somewhat crazy while pregnant. Still, she is very concerned about how Manny will go from being an only child to having to share her affections. In fact, it is such a concern to her that she tries to keep the baby, Fulgencio, in when she goes into labor on Manny’s birthday,

Manny – Suave as always, he tries to get a dramatic lead part in the school plays. However, he finds himself upstaged by the least likely source . . . Luke! Still, Manny helps Gloria come to terms with being pregnant and has his first kiss,

Mitch Pritchett – Gets over the prior season’s adoption failure with Cam and starts making new friends, including a lesbian couple whose son has a crush on Lily. He tries to be supportive of Cam with Cam going back to work and with Cam feeling distant from Lily, but finds it tough to keep quiet when Cam and Claire fix up a house they are trying to flip. He acts as lawyer for both Haley and Gloria,

Cameron – Goes back to work, this time as a music teacher. He actually connects with his students incredibly well and he and Mitch have a fun New Year’s out together. He and Mitch turn Lily into an over-competitive gymnast and he becomes obsessed with marrying Lily when Lily maries Mitch first,

Lily – Good for the shocking one-liners, she is growing up and gets into gymnastics. She learns her mother was not a princess and that the tooth fairy does not, traditionally, leave one hundred dollar bills for teeth,

Phil Dunphy – Writes down his Phil-osophies for Haley and continues to practice magic with Luke. Despite bonding with Luke, he seems to recognize that Luke is a budding psychopath. He tries to be a part of Jay’s life and ultimately beats him up at a kid’s birthday party. He gets into a conflict with Gil Thorpe over selling the house Claire and Cam want to flip,

Claire Dunphy – She is bored and takes on the project of flipping a house with Cam, despite them having very different visions on how to accomplish that. She feels vindicated when Haley realizes how hard it is to get respect from the family,

Haley – Goes to college and gets expelled when she falls on a police officer while fleeing a party drunk. She returns home and is distressed to have to share a room with Alex again. She plays the Tooth Fairy and helps Alex learn to flirt,

Alex – She begins to strike out on her own. While everyone is convinced her boyfriend is gay, she believes he is not. She develops a talent for music as part of a small band and helps Haley take care of Luke one night while their parents are out,

And Luke – Goes on his first date, not realizing that Phil and the girl’s mom were doing all the chatting online. He makes a transition from set painter to opera singer in the school play. He re-established order in everyone’s life through acts of revenge when Phil steps into Claire’s shoes and messes things up for all of the family members.

Ultimately, Modern Family Season Four is funny and thoroughly enjoyable when one is watching it, but it is not a season I found myself contemplating at all when it was done. The episodes are amusing and the characters are fun, but it’s hardly a timeless show and the fourth season of Modern Family treads closer to the average than the extraordinary.

For other shows from the 2012 – 2013 season, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Big Bang Theory - Season Six
30 Rock - Season Seven
Revolution - Season 1
Parenthood - Season 4
Veep - Season 1
Game Of Thrones - Season 3
New Girl - Season 2
Happy Endings - Season 3
The Walking Dead - Season 3
Arrested Development - Season 4
House Of Cards - Season 1
True Blood - Season 5


For other television reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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