Modern Family Season 4 Review: The Fall of a Once Great Comedy

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Comedies don’t usually get to this level of disappointment until about season six or seven. Modern Family seems to have rushed the process to its fourth season.

The comedy turned to cliches and easy jabs for laughs. The show became boring, tired, and recycled. Modern Family‘s fall from grace seems to have come from the fear of doing anything new or interesting, a fear that certainly wasn’t there in the first and second season.

Let’s talk about where the characters went this season.

The Dunphys actually had some solid arcs this season, even if some of them were shoehorned into episodes. Claire, after losing the election last season, needs to find a new outlet for her skills. She eventually gets a job for her dad’s company in the outstanding episode My Hero, one of only a handful of great entries this season. But then it was dropped for the last two episodes. That’s understandable for the finale but it would have been a nice touch to somehow show what she’s doing with her job.

Alex and Luke continue to grow. Luke started liking girls this season, which had some fun moments throughout the season. Alex continues her quest to find herself, something executed very nicely in the pivotal finale concerning her grandmother’s death. But there was a new dynamic this season that you only see with a pair of older sisters, Alex and Haley appear to be civil now. Watching them grow from family rivals to pals has been fun and oddly real.

But Haley’s overall season arc was disappointing from the start. She starts out in college and after only seven episodes, she gets kicked out and is back home. After all that fuss last season about whether she would get in, this was cheap. Clearly they just wanted her to be in the show. I wonder if the much more intelligent Alex will get the same treatment in a few seasons.

Phil didn’t really have a notable arc this season. He has a new rival at work, but that was the extent of his overarching story this year. He doesn’t necessarily need one, he’s a good father, a good husband, and a successful real estate agent, but it might be nice to give him something meatier to chew on.

Mitch and Cam seem to have completely abandoned their quest for a new baby. Instead they flip a house with Phil and Claire, which culminated in the hilarious ensemble episode Flip Flop. But not much else really happened with them this season. Lily is growing up, giving them a significant role as parents.

Jay has taken back his role as the wise family leader, while Manny may not have had one memorable moment this whole season. Gloria, on the other hand, went through the first half of the season pregnant. Which was obnoxious and terrible. It was as if the crew pointed at Sofia Vergara on set and said “Yell in a funny accent!” It was unbearable.

But the best episode of the season came from this story, Party Crasher, the surprise baby birth episode. I have to commend the writers and ABC for allowing this to be a surprise and not overly publicizing it. The other networks would hardly allow that to happen (it’s amazing Michael’s cameo in the Office finale was not outed by NBC itself).

Some other standout episodes included the aforementioned Flip Flop and My Hero, along with two special holiday episodes Open House of Horrors and New Year’s Eve. These five showed that the show still has some life to it. But five out of 24 is hardly reason to keep watching.

From the premiere, Bringing Up Baby, something was clearly off. The character progression wasn’t universally solid or worth watching. The humor didn’t leave that sting it used to. It all felt very safe and unoriginal. Modern Family has seen better years, and if it continues down this path, it may not become the classic we all said it would be four years ago. Grade: B-

By Matt Dougherty

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