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Published: Wednesday, 10/13/2010

A real - and funny - 'Family' affair

BY JEN CHANEY
WASHINGTON POST

The family sitcom supposedly has died on numerous occasions, at least according to the various media outlets that periodically publish stories announcing its untimely demise. Yet somehow, this tried-and-true TV genre always finds a way to reinvent itself.

Most recently, that reinvention has come in the form of Modern Family, winner of the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series. Making its first-season debut recently on DVD ($60) and Blu-ray ($70), the series features a mockumentary style - sans laugh track - that focuses on the daily insanity of domestic life within three related broods.

Modern Family captures the meaning of that term in all its contemporary forms - with parents both gay and straight, siblings both biological and step, marriages both first and second.

With its references to Spandau Ballet nostalgia and the importance of snagging an iPad as a gift for dad, the humor - which swings from slapstick to ultra dry asides, sometimes within a matter of seconds - aims directly at the Generation X moms and dads currently attempting to usher their sons and daughters into adulthood. Yet the characters span such a vast age range, from infant to grandparent, that viewers in nearly any demographic can relate. After all, who hasn't attended a party where a scorpion gets released, leading to a chain of events that causes the birthday boy to break his arm?

In all seriousness, much of what transpires on Modern Family feels real because it has been snatched directly from the lives of cast and crew, a message conveyed in some of the featurettes on the DVD and Blu-ray set. In Real Modern Family Moments, several of the show's writers share the true stories that inspired Modern Family moments; scribe and co-executive producer Brad Walsh even has the guts to admit that he and his sister figure-skated as a pairs team when they were young, a fact that wedged its way into an episode in which siblings Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Claire (Julie Bowen) revisit their own Ice Capade-y past. Family photos and home videos are even produced as proof, as they are in another featurette - Fizbo the Clown - in which Emmy winner Eric Stonestreet explains how the clown persona he created as a kid in Kansas City wound up in that aforementioned birthday party episode. (Episode's title? Fizbo.)

The special features that let us see that personal element in the Modern Family creative process make this a particularly enjoyable series to experience on disc. And learning more about the lesser known members of the cast - especially Nolan Gould, the actor who plays the dim-witted young Luke and, in real life, happens to be a member of Mensa - is fun, too.

But of course, not all the extras are winners. Loads of deleted and extended scenes appear here, but only a small handful are worth watching. And sadly, none of the episodes features commentary tracks.



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