Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 30, 2015)
One of TV’s best-regarded – and highest-rated - comedies, Modern Family brings us back for its sixth season on DVD. To recap the show’s premise, the series revolves around the Pritchett family. Patriarch Jay (Ed O’Neill) married much, much younger Colombian sexpot Gloria (Sofia Vergara) as his second wife and took on her son Manny (Rico Rodriguez) as his stepchild.
The show also follows the lives of Jay’s two kids. Daughter Claire (Julie Bowen) leads the more conventional existence. She’s been married to Phil (Ty Burrell) for decades and has three kids: 20-something girl Haley (Sarah Hyland), late-teen girl Alex (Ariel Winter) and mid-teen boy Luke (Nolan Gould).
Finally, Mitchell (Jesse Typer Ferguson) lives with his husband Cameron (Eric Stonestreet). At the series’ start, they adopted Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) from Vietnam. Family follows various events and interactions in the characters’ lives, with an emphasis. I’ll look at all 24 episodes in broadcast order. The plot synopses come straight from the discs’ menus.
The Long Honeymoon: “Alex is away on a humanitarian trip and the rest of the family is getting along swimmingly, but when Alex comes home, there is an immediate shift in mood.”
Because I didn’t get a review copy of Season Five, “Honeymoon” became my first experience with Modern Family in two years. The show immediately reminded me of one thing: good God, do I hate Cam! He’s the least self-aware and most narcissistic, passive-aggressive character I can imagine. I have no clue how Mitchell can stand to be around him for five minutes, much less want to marry him.
Hopefully I’ll re-acclimate to Cam before long. Other than his irritating tendencies, “Honeymoon” provides a pretty good show. The Pritchett theme is goofy but fun, and Gloria’s decision to de-glam herself amuses. Lose that idiot Cam and this is a solid episode.
Do Not Push: “The Dunphy clan is off to visit the Caltech campus, which Claire thinks is perfect for Alex as it is one of the most prestigious in the country… and also happens to be only 45 minutes from home!”
Six years in, and both Gould and Rodriguez still can’t act - especially Gould. The Dunphy side of things works pretty well, though, particularly when Phil and two of the kids endure an experiment. The Cam/Mitch segment once again becomes a drag, though.
The Cold: “Mitch caught a cold on his honeymoon and it’s been working its way through the family. As Phil is editing Mitch and Cam’s wedding video, he discovers the identity of Patient Zero and will stop at nothing to make sure no one finds out the truth!”
“Cold” offers the best-balanced episode so far. Each of the various beats works well and offers pretty good comedy – especially when we see Phil try to alter the wedding video.
Marco Polo: “The Dunphys move into a cramped hotel room while their house is getting treated for mold and Phil sees this as an opportunity to spend some quality time together, but Claire and the kids are less than enthused.”
“Polo” turns into a somewhat mediocre episode. It follows some trite stories and a few that stretch credulity. We still find some good laughs but overall, it’s a weaker show than usual.
Won’t You Be Our Neighbor: “Phil is selling the house next door and he and Claire are excited by the prospect of having wonderful new neighbors, but that quickly turns into panic when a loud and obnoxious couple comes to look at the house.”
“Neighbor” manages to rebound some after the lackluster “Polo”. The new neighbors are goofy but amusing, and the rest of the show follows that path. I wouldn’t call it a great episode but it’s mostly solid.
Halloween 3: Awesomeland: “Even though Halloween is Claire’s holiday, she allows Phil to take over this year so instead of her usual fright-fest theme, he decides to turn the house into Awesomeland!”
It’s a Halloween miracle – Cam gives us a funny storyline! His inability to find “Waldo” seems goofy, but it’s pretty amusing. Other aspects combine to help make this a winning show.
Queer Eyes, Full Hearts: “Phil and Claire don’t know if they should be happy or concerned that Haley and Andy are spending a lot of time together. However, they soon find things are not what they appear.”
“Hearts” brings us a fairly average show. Nothing about it flops, but nothing about it thrives, either.
Three Turkeys: “Phil is cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year with Luke as his sous chef, but Claire has no confidence in them and prepares a secret turkey of her own as backup.”
Not that Modern Family ever offered the most reality-based series, but “Turkeys” goes a little too kooky-bananas. It seems more like a standard wacky sitcom than I’d like, so while it comes with a few laughs, it feels iffy.
Strangers in the Night: “When Alex tells Phil and Claire that she has a serious boyfriend that no one in the family has ever seen or actually spoken to, they worry she’s made him up.”
A storyline about Alex’s apparent lack of appeal to the opposite sex might make more sense if Winter hadn’t grown up to be really attractive. Despite that stretch of credulity, the Alex part offers the episode’s best laughs – predictable laughs but good laughs anyway. The other segments fare less well, especially when Cam and Mitch get a super-expensive new couch; that section wastes guest Kristen Johnson and goes nowhere.
Haley’s 21st Birthday: “It’s Haley’s 21st birthday, and Claire – who is determined to treat her like an adult – takes Haley to a bar along with Gloria, Mitch and Cam.”
“Birthday” echoes “Strangers” in that its most cliché element – Jay’s tough guy car negotiations – becomes its funniest. The scenes at the bar don’t flop but they’re fairly forgettable.
The Day We Almost Died: “While driving to get breakfast, the Dunphys – including Manny – have a near-death experience, which causes everyone to re-evaluate their lives.”
“Died” offers an unusual structure, as it delivers parallel stories prompted by the same event. These mostly work pretty well, though some go better than others – in particular, Phil’s empowerment soars. All together these add up to a strong episode.
The Big Guns: “Claire is furious about neighbors Ronnie and Amber’s eyesore of a boat on their front lawn, and it soon becomes an all-out war when Phil calls in the ‘big guns’ as backup to give them a taste of their own medicine.”
As much as I hate Cam and his love of clowning, “Guns” takes a violent turn that I like. Really, it’s because I loathe Cam that this thread works. Any show where Cam gets beaten repeatedly is a good one in my book.
Rash Decisions: “Gloria and the doctors suspect that Joe might be allergic to Stella, which leaves Jay in a very tough predicament.”
Tough predicament? The dog has priority and seniority – give up the baby! “Decisions” goes for a semi-sentimental theme, as it deals with connections and attachment. It’s a reasonably amusing show, though it gets too sappy at times.
Valentine’s Day 4: Twisted Sister: “It’s Valentine’s Day, which means the return of ‘Juliana’ and ‘Clive’. However, things gets worrisome when Claire begins to sense that Phil may be more interested in ‘Juliana’ than her!”
I’ve not been wild about prior Valentine’s episodes, but “Sister” offers pretty good amusement. This occurs mostly due to the goofy thread with Phil and Claire. Other segments seem less strong, but they’re decent.
Fight or Flight: “After a long reunion weekend with Phil’s old cheer buddies, Claire jumps at the chance to snag the only first class ticket left on the return flight home, leaving Phil in coach, and both have completely opposite experiences.”
Hmm – wasn’t that a Seinfeld episode? “Flight” twists the gags from Seinfeld, which makes sense, as I’m sure those behind Modern Family knew how derivative those scenes could be. The other threads entertain as well and make this an above average program.
Connection Lost: “Claire’s computer becomes the hub of all the family’s activities when she gets stuck at the airport and is desperate to reach Haley after a big fight.”
“Lost” goes with an unusual format, as it shows all the action from the perspective of Claire’s laptop screen. That feels gimmicky, but it doesn’t harpoon the program. It comes with a semi-dopey premise but still amuses.
Closet? You’ll Love It!: “Jay and Claire scramble to shoot a Pritchett Closets commercial in response to their competitor’s new and catchy ad, but there might be some creative differences between father and daughter.”
“Closet” comes with a smattering of laughs, but it lacks much real punch. Part of the problem comes from the sappy Andy/Haley narrative, but not much else about the show zings.
Spring Break: “Spring Break has Claire doing some spring cleaning, while Phil struggles with not being a spring chicken anymore, exemplified by the fact that Luke now outperforms him at seemingly everything.”
I hoped S6 would rebound after the lackluster “Closet”, but “Break” continues to sag. Not that it’s a terrible show, but it doesn’t give us a ton of laughs or much real entertainment. It’s mediocre.
Grill, Interrupted: “Jay’s birthday brings everyone together and Phil is quite pleased with himself for choosing a super-cool gift for Jay: a high-tech outdoor grill.”
Outside of some sappiness – largely due to the tedious Andy/Haley soap opera – “Grill” works fairly well. It overcomes some cliché elements to mostly satisfy.
Knock ‘Em Down: “Jay agrees to sub in on Cam’s bowling team for the finals, but Cam was not fully upfront about it being an all-gay league, which puts Jay in a precarious position.”
As much as I hate Cam, the bowling storyline becomes a winner, largely via a fun guest spot from Oliver Platt. The other segments don’t come across as well, but they don’t falter either, so this ends up as a solid show.
Integrity: “Gloria tries to help Haley stand up for herself ay work, and Claire tries to bribe Luke’s principal to give him one of the student awards.”
“Integrity” splinters more than usual and pursues a lot of storylines. It also tries a little too hard to follow the theme implied in its title. Nonetheless, the mix of subjects means the weaker ones – mainly Cam/Mitch’s desire for a new kid – don’t harm it too much, so the show usually succeeds.
Patriot Games: “Gloria is studying for her upcoming US citizenship test, and a visit from Javier throws her off her game.”
Despite the potential for many schmaltzy moments, “Games” has enough comedy to keep us with it. Even when Alex’s battle to be valedictorian ends in a cutesy manner, it comes across well.
Crying Out Loud: “The family is determined to make Alex celebrate her Senior Ditch Day and Phil, Luke and Haley forcefully take her out but end up at an unexpected detour.”
While amusing at times, “Loud” falters because of some predictable elements. Too many of the “twists” become predictable and sappiness ensues. We still get decent comedy, but the cheesiness harms the show.
American Skyper: “The whole family is at Jay and Gloria’s for Alex’s graduation party – except for Phil, who has ingeniously figured out a way to be there via Skype and a robotic vessel after unexpectedly being detained in Seattle on a business trip.”
With the season at its end, “Skyper” lards on the schmaltz. The robot concept feels like a silly gimmick and some of the gags make little sense, such as Jay’s inability to understand Spanish – wasn’t he taking lessons earlier in the year? Some entertainment results, but “Skyper” concludes things on a lackluster note.