What’s immediately apparent about new US sitcom Modern Family, fresh from an Emmy win for Outstanding Comedy Series, is that it is outstanding.
Its brilliance is there in the perfect ensemble cast, the sharpness of the writing (which won another Emmy) and the wonderfully drawn characters who make up the many branches of the Pritchett-Dunphy family tree.
There’s patriarch Jay (Married With Children’s Ed O’Neill) and stunning second wife Gloria (Sofía Vergara), nearly 30 years his junior, plus her 11-year-old, Manny (Rico Rodriguez).
That makes Manny stepbrother to Jay’s other kids, both well into their thirties: daughter Claire (Julie Bowen), who has two kids with husband Phil (Ty Burrell), and gay son Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), who has just adopted a baby from Vietnam with his partner, Cameron (Eric Stonestreet).
The episodes are gentle slices of life, in an environment that’s loving without getting sappy, where arguments arise but are settled in short order. Conflict comes through Phil and Claire’s diverging parenting methods, Jay not being entirely comfortable with Mitchell’s lifestyle and Phil’s furtive glances at Gloria’s cleavage.
Phil thinks he’s cool when he’s painfully lame, while sensible Claire holds the whole thing together, communicating her exasperation with glances to the camera.
Modern Family is shot in a subtle mockumentary style; the effort to emulate The Office can sometimes feel unnecessary, given that it plays for the most part like a standard narrative sitcom without a studio audience, but then scenes will cut to characters talking straight to camera for belly-laugh asides.
The most fun tends to come from Stonestreet (another Emmy winner), whether he’s holding adopted daughter Lily aloft, soundtracked by ‘Circle Of Life’ on the stereo, or dressing up as Fizbo the ass-kicking clown (who gets a featurette all to himself).
Most of the added value comes in the hour or so of deleted and alternate scenes; the passable gag reel is only a one-time watch.
Featurette ‘Real Modern Family Moments’ sees the producers reveal how storylines have come from personal experience, while ‘Before Modern Family’ is a welcome opportunity to scour the cast’s CVs – handy, given O’Neill is probably the only really recognisable face.
Unknowns they may be, but, along with show creators (and former Frasier writer-producers) Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, they’ve come together to create something special.
Modern Family is the best new sitcom in America, and this wellstocked package is the ideal way to discover it.