It’s pretty inevitable that after eight years on the air, the freshness and zip in the writing and performing would have abated somewhat in any television show, and sadly that also applies to ABC’s Modern Family, still the network’s highest rated comedy series but one that is no longer the ratings powerhouse it once was.
The Production: 3.5/5
It’s pretty inevitable that after eight years on the air, the freshness and zip in the writing and performing would have abated somewhat in any television show, and sadly that also applies to ABC’s Modern Family, still the network’s highest rated comedy series but one that is no longer the ratings powerhouse it once was. In telling the continuing adventures of the Pritchett and Dunphy families, what was once so hilarious and unique often now relies on predictable comedy tropes and repetition. That isn’t to say there aren’t big laughs to be had in the eighth season; there are, but they come fewer and farther between the assorted chuckles, smiles, or flat out duds.
It’s graduation year for Manny Delgado (Rico Rodriguez) and Luke Dunphy (Nolan Gould), so there is continual drama between the two boys: both run for student council president and then spend their senior year not only pursuing girls but also with different focuses: Manny in preparing for college (with every university where he applied offering him admission) and Luke in getting turned down by every college where he applied but feathering his nest by working at his grandfather’s club and earning huge tips from the privileged elites. Hayley Dunphy (Sarah Hyland) is fired from her job as a designer’s assistant and joins with her friends in a new business doing publicity for clubs and events on social media. She also begins a season-long relationship with local weatherman Rainer Shine (Nathan Fillion) though it’s clear it’s not going to be long lasting. Alex Dunphy (Ariel Winter) begins the year suffering with mono forcing her to take a leave of absence from Cal Tech and during her recuperation takes a job as a barista at a local coffee shop and beginning a new relationship with her mother’s personal assistant Ben (Joe Mande) before heading back to college.
Some of the adults venture into continuing storylines, too. Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill) has fully retired from his closet company turning the reins of the business over to daughter Claire (Julie Bowen) which leaves him more opportunities to interact with patented impatience with son-in-law Phil (Ty Burrell), son Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), and son-in-law Cameron Tucker (Eric Stonestreet). Jay and Phil embark on a business venture together: first in planning a new office complex called Dunphy Tower but after a succession of construction snafus, the dream turns into a parking lot (one of the season’s strongest episodes thanks to the sassy performance by lot attendant Niecy Nash). Cam and Mitch continue to plague one another with their neediness and insecurity while daughter Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) stands on the sidelines commenting drolly.
This season, four holidays were celebrated: Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, and Valentine’s Day, but despite the presence of Phil’s alter ego Clive Bixby in the Valentine’s Day program, none of them measured up to holiday celebration episodes from previous seasons. Phil’s father Frank (Fred Willard) begins a new relationship with Phil’s old baby sitter (Faith Prince) culminating in a later season wedding episode. In fact, the show went a little guest star happy this season. In addition to appearances by the aforementioned Nathan Fillion, Niecy Nash, Fred Willard, and Faith Prince, special guests this season also included Peyton Manning, Benjamin Bratt, Elizabeth Banks, Kelsey Grammer, Victor Garber, Oliver Platt, Dot-Marie Jones, Will Sasson, Jane Krakowski, Shelley Long, Charles Barkley, and DeAndre Jordan.
Here are the twenty-two episodes contained on three DVD discs in this eighth season case:
1 – A Tale of Three Cities (a particularly disappointing season premiere episode)
2 – A Stereotypical Day
3 – Blindsided
4 – Weathering Heights
5 – Halloween 4: The Revenge of Rod Skyhook
6 – Grab It! (the season’s best episode with three first-rate narratives)
7 – Thanksgiving Jamboree
8 – The Alliance
9 – Snow Ball
10 – Ringmaster Keifth
11 – Sarge & Pea
12 – Do You Believe in Magic?
13 – Do It Yourself
14 – Heavy Is the Head
15 – Finding Fizbo
16 – Basketball!
17 – Pig Moon Rising
18 – Five Minutes (the weakest of the season’s episodes)
19 – Frank’s Wedding
20 – All Things Being Equal
21 – Alone Time
22 – The Graduates (a sweet and funny graduation episode for Manny and Luke)
3D Rating: NA
The transfers retain the widescreen television aspect ratio of 1.78:1 from network broadcasts, and they are anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. The episode transfers offer surprisingly superb sharpness for standard definition and color that is solid and consistently maintained. Contrast is likewise continuously well applied resulting in better than decent transfers nearly matching the 720p quality of the broadcast material especially if viewed on a good upscaling player. I noticed moiré in the Fox logos at the start of each disc but none whatsoever in any of the individual episodes. Each episode is divided into 5 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix mirrors the broadcast quality of the program. It offers a solid encode for the show’s most important element: dialogue. It’s placed firmly in the center channel and has been expertly recorded. Occasionally, there are some fleeting uses of the fronts and rears for ambient sounds: music and voices in the school dance sequence in episode #9, a vehicle speeding past, and the like. Apart from the main title music, a background score is not really present in the series unless the characters enter a location which has piped-in music.
Special Features: 2/5
Deleted and Alternate Scenes (6:01): arranged in montage form with no chapter stops
Gag Reel (6:52)
Despite the erosion in ratings, ABC still offered Modern Family a two-year renewal at the end of this season guaranteeing two more years of hijinks in the Pritchett and Dunphy clans. While Fox continues to disappoint by releasing this series only on DVD, a good upconverting player makes this year’s DVD transfers a grudgingly acceptable compromise to no Blu-ray release.