Breakout TV comedies rarely keep their momentum going after a few seasons. The problem is that shows either try to introduce new elements to keep the story "fresh" – which usually means something clichéd like a marriage or pregnancy – or the show gets stuck in a rut because the audience knows the characters too well. 'Modern Family' has both these problems.
The fourth season has rolled around, and while still funny, the writers seem to be struggling to try to find a way to build on the show's initial success. Right off the bat the show introduces a new wrinkle hoping to liven things up a bit. Gloria (Sofía Vergara) is pregnant. One of the first signs that a comedy is struggling for storylines is throwing a pregnancy into the mix. Kudos to the show, however, for not drawing out the pregnancy through the entire season.
That isn't the biggest problem with the fourth season though. The character development of a couple of mainstays has become almost unbearable. In the third season Claire (Julie Bowen) began to become an unlikable shrew. Sure, she was always a neurotic mess, but the way she belittles Phil (Ty Burrell) and her kids every chance she gets, is extremely tiresome now. The same goes for her brother Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) who finds every opportunity to berate Cam (Eric Stonestreet) with increasingly means sarcasm. Both Mitchell and Claire keep the fourth season of the show from being as delightfully funny as it was in earlier years.
Thankfully, the other characters are there to pick up the slack. First and foremost, Luke's (Nolan Gould) transition from dimwitted preteen to devious mischief genius is one of the best aspects of season four. I couldn't stop laughing during "Fulgencio" when Phil and Luke concoct a devious plan to get back at people that wronged them, 'Godfather' style. Another fun development is how sassy Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) is becoming. Her ongoing secret feud with Luke is one of the funnier inside jokes to watch out for.
As the fourth season moves along it's easy to see that 'Modern Family' is content with keeping the status quo, besides the introduction of a new baby. There are a few continuing storylines, like Claire and Cam buying a fixer-upper to flip, but most of the episodes are nicely contained with their own arcs. Too easily episodes fall prey to the 'Modern Family' tropes, like the schmaltz-filled voice-over endings where one character spells out whatever moral lesson we're supposed to take away. And, just to make sure they're not being too cutely poignant, a last second sarcastic barb is thrown in at the end for good measure.
I still found myself laughing hysterically at a few episodes this season. "Fulgencio" is definitely one of the highlights. Other hilarious episodes include "The Butler's Escape" where Phil tries to convince Luke not to give up on magic; "Diamond in the Rough" which features a microphone wired directly to Gloria's womb, and Gloria singing – yikes!; and the season finale "Goodnight Gracie" where the whole family takes a patented 'Modern Family' trip – this time to Florida – to say goodbye to Phil's recently deceased mom. That episode actually packs some emotional sentimentality, which is welcome.
Yeah, it's not as great as the first or second seasons, but the fourth season is still one of the funnier shows on network television. There's nothing wrong with continuing with what's comfortable, but let's hope that 'Modern Family' can find some new ground to tread while being true to its characters.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a 3-disc set from 20th Century Fox. Each disc is a 50GB Blu-ray. There are 24 episodes in this season each disc contains eight episodes. The discs are housed in a standard keepcase, each with their own storage hub. On the inside of the front cover is a simple list of episode titles, which discs they're on, and what special features are on what disc. The case indicates that this is a Region A release.
This is a 3-disc set from 20th Century Fox. Each disc is a 50GB Blu-ray. There are 24 episodes in this season, with each disc containing eight episodes. The discs are housed in a standard keepcase, each with their own storage hub. On the inside of the front cover is a simple list of episode titles, which discs they're on, and what special features are on what disc. The case indicates that this is a Region A release.
There aren't any nits to pick, really. This is a very solid transfer. Close-ups feature great facial details like facial hair, freckles, and age lines. The plaid textures of Cam's extravagant shirts really shine. Black areas are nice and deep. The entire image is free from any sort of unsightly noise. Contrast is spot-on. If you've purchased seasons one, two, and three, then you know exactly what to expect from four. A richly detailed image with vibrant colors, and little to nothing wrong with it.
I feel like I should just copy-and-paste my review from season three here. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is surprisingly immersive for a dialogue-heavy single-camera sitcom. Even though nearly all of the show is centered around the spoken word, the surrounding ambient noise isn't left out at all.
Rear channels get a nice bit of audio during scenes that feature busy restaurants, clamoring gymnastic competitions, and a rocking roller skating rink. Directionality works seamlessly for car sounds, screaming kids out of frame, and bursting fireworks. Of course the dialogue coming out of the center and front channels is crystal clear. The one very minor gripe I have with these releases is that the theme song is so damned loud compared to the sound mix for the rest of the show. It always catches me off guard with how brash it is.
Season four might be slightly off its game as Claire's uptight bitchiness takes over from time to time and drags otherwise funny episodes down a notch or two, but there's still a ton to love about this show. It's clever, witty, and full of outlandishly fun characters. Fox has put out another solid Blu-ray release for this season. Recommended for just about anyone who enjoys laughing.