“Finding Fizbo” is the kind of episode title that sends a shiver down one’s spine. That reaction might not totally be fair, as Fizbo is a relatively harmless fictional character, but there’s something about a show in its eighth season still rolling out bit characters well past their expiration date that just can’t help but induce a feeling of helplessness. Fizbo is fine, but is Fizbo still necessary and can Modern Family find a way to bring him back that doesn’t feel like the show just revisiting a past character because what else is there to do at this point? I mean, Fizbo all but disappeared when Mitchell accidentally gave the costume away, but now he’s back just weeks later. We’ve barely had time to grieve!

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To Modern Family’s credit, “Finding Fizbo” actually uses the specter of the forgotten Fizbo to tell a pretty heartwarming story about Cam and Mitchell. The episode as a whole isn’t exactly the best the show has to offer, but its various storylines do manage to hit enough high notes that the few duds don’t really matter too much. It all begins with Cam finding out that someone has been going around town scaring children while wearing Cam’s old Fizbo costume paired with a terrifying mask. That’s bad news for Cam, who can’t believe someone would ruin the good name of his alter ego, but it’s also devastating for Mitchell, as the news is delivered on the night that he’s set to win his first-ever sports trophy with Cam, their bowling team the Britney Spares only one win away from taking home the big prize.

What’s interesting here is the way the episode hits on the idea of how important these seemingly trivial things are to Cam and Mitchell. The former can’t let go of the idea of a masked man degrading his precious, joyous creation, and Mitchell can’t help but feel that he’s about to be robbed of an important milestone. “Finding Fizbo” doesn’t ever get to the chaotic level it could with this story, as Cam and Mitchell come together pretty quickly to focus both on catching the Faux Fizbo and winning the league championship, but it does deliver a few funny moments and a climax that sees the partners supporting each other. From Cam politely asking a woman to close her car door during a frantic chase, to Mitchell making sure their team can’t win before he stands up for Cam against the Britney Spares traitor, the storyline more than justifies reviving the fallen Fizbo.

Another obnoxious Manny storyline vaguely ties into the idea of accomplishment and image, as this week he’s forcing the women in his life—Gloria, Claire, Haley, and Alex—to do a read-through of his latest play. The play itself is a thinly veiled look at those very women, both an indictment of their flaws while also imagining a strange future for some of them. Haley is the pretty but dim character; Alex an old spinster; Gloria is the grieving widow; and Claire the heartless, unfeeling sister. As horrible as it is for Manny to poach the lives of those around him and not even bother to hide it in any creative way, “Finding Fizbo” does use the play to shed a little light on a few characters who’ve been underserved as of late.

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For Haley and Alex, that means reminding us that they’re actually sisters and that maybe they can connect as adults. They’re no longer the competing siblings, so why not try to shift their dynamic to something a little healthier? That means that while Alex is embarrassed by her relationship with Ben, and refuses to talk about it with anyone, Haley is there to give her some sage advice: she doesn’t know this guy she’s dating, but she knows that Alex has always felt undeserving of romance and sexuality. So, Haley tells her to stop with that self-destructive behavior and, if the guy is treating her well and doesn’t ride a scooter, revel in the moment. Now, the Ben thing is kind of weird in general because there’s been no real exploration of the relationship, but this moment still feels like a step in the right direction. It’d be nice to see these kids actually grow; yes, I’m looking at you Manny.

Less solid than those storylines is Phil’s escapade this week, which sees him organizing an excruciatingly uncool bachelor party for his Dad, who’s that much closer to marrying Lorraine, Phil’s childhood babysitter. With that said, ol’ Frank probably wanted something so uncool, but that doesn’t stop Jay and Ray, Lorraine’s son, from hijacking the event and leaving Phil to play UNO alone in the hotel room, making it the most literal game of UNO ever played. “Finding Fizbo” shoots for a heartfelt resolution with Phil telling his father that he’s just scared of everything changing, but it doesn’t ring true. It’s too much of a generic, broad strokes approach to the father-son relationship.

Still, “Finding Fizbo” is a perfectly serviceable, often funny episode. It’s the kind of middle-of-the-road episode that has largely defined this season. For an aging sitcom that’s still relying on the magic of Fizbo, that’s not so bad.

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Stray observations

  • Claire does drink a lot of wine, not that I’m judging.
  • Phil’s story about his parents buying him a bunk bed because he wanted a brother when he was a kid is hilarious and creepy. Phil’s response to getting no response from his imaginary brother? “Marty’s in a mood again.”
  • Mitchell: “Do all the names have to be puns?” Martin: “Yes, it’s like hair salons.”
  • Ray: “What’s Uno?” Frank: “Sort of a thinking man’s Crazy Eights.”
  • “Close your door ma’am, we’re in pursuit.”

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