Published Oct 24, 2013When the fourth season of funnier-than-average, pseudo-progressive family sitcom Modern Family opens, it immediately threatens to jump the shark by announcing Gloria's (Sofia Vergara) pregnancy. Historically, any long-running, successful comedy or drama that introduces the lazily heteronormative conceit of breeding is doing so to inspire a new wave of storylines to compensate for a lifeless writers' room. Fortunately, as evidenced by the entirely contrary inability of Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) to adopt a second child, thus inspiring a conversation with daughter Lily about getting a cat, this isn't the case.
While Sofia and Phil (Ed O'Neill) fail at parenting classes, Claire (Julie Bowen) and Phil (Ty Burrell) cope with losing oldest daughter Haley (Sarah Hyland) to college. Storylines about Claire buying her daughter condoms to help her avoid STDs keep the comedy inspired, as does a trajectory gag wherein Gloria refuses to dress like a pregnant woman, wearing form-fitting attire and midriff-baring tops while shopping with son Manny (Rico Rodriguez).
The fluidity of relationship dynamics and the difficulty in forging new bonds during adulthood serve as thematic backdrops for most of the season. Claire, after learning that returning to the workforce following several years off is difficult, decides to start flipping houses with brother-in-law Cameron. This establishes a previously unexplored character connection, allowing for Phil to attempt to find new friends of his own, eventually inviting over an acquaintance he meets at a gym (Matthew Broderick), who assumes it's a date ("My wife is fully supportive of me having fun with other guys!").
There's also a new dynamic unfolding in the Dunphy house, as Alex (Ariel Winter) starts to shed some of her tomboy tendencies and Luke (Nolan Gould) begins developing a romantic awareness of the opposite sex. This allows the three siblings to bond on a more intimate level (Haley proves to be better at something than her academically superior younger sister by helping her with dating) and establishes more of an appreciation for parental necessity.
Still, despite the well-executed deepening of the many relationships throughout the series, the strongest moments of Modern Family stem from a persistent focus on seemingly banal events. Gloria's decision to buy a microphone so she can sing to her unborn baby proves hilarious, as does the entire family's attempt to prove that Alex's new boyfriend is gay. Other scenarios about accidentally giving someone else's baby a crappy haircut and trying to curb a child's tendency to hurl sarcastic, scathing commentary at strangers also provide some memorable moments.
Modern Family, despite featuring asexual (deliberately non-threatening) homosexuals, still has a tendency to focus on extremely traditionalist material, contradicting its title and central thesis, but the comedy continues to be strong. Obviously, some of the spark has dissipated over the years, making for an occasional laugh-free episode, but it's still hitting more than it misses, which is quite impressive.
The Blu-Ray set includes some surprisingly dry commentary tracks, along with an exceedingly unflattering "Day with Eric" supplement, where the actor begrudgingly takes us around the set to experience his day, proving mainly that he's a bit of a humourless douche. There's also the usual gag reel and deleted scenes, along with an extra outlining why they made the decision to make Gloria's character have a baby. It all adds very little to the viewing experience, but pads the set effectively enough. (Fox)