There are some tropes in comedies that are just reliable, no matter how many times they’re used to get a laugh. Maybe it’s because they’re familiar, or maybe it’s because they’re inherently funny on some sort of subconscious level, but either way, there are certain comedic situations that manage to induce a laugh every time they’re used. Now, comedy is subjective, so your enjoyment of tonight’s episode of Modern Family may not be the same as mine, but I have to say that “The Party” largely works because of one reliable trope: adult characters being completely baked and paranoid.

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Seriously, whenever a TV show or a movie has a squeaky-clean character light up a joint or take a bong hit, there’s something in my brain chemistry that gets excited. I don’t know if it’s the obvious contrast in the uptight guy suddenly chilling, or the suit rebelling for a moment, but there’s something about cookie-cutter sitcom characters getting high that checks off all my comedic-appeal boxes. “The Party” starts off looking like an episode that’ll go off the rails with too many disparate subplots, but things turn around for the better rather quickly. After a fire alarm goes off at the Dunphy house, where Luke and Manny are secretly throwing a party despite being in charge of babysitting Lily, Claire and Gloria return from their spa getaway to check up on things. Phil and Mitchell do the same, leaving the screening of their beloved sci-fi movie to see if everything is okay at home.

The episode does a good job of bringing the disparate storyline together into something much more chaotic and worthwhile, and the best part is that when Phil and Mitchell come back to the house, they’re high as can be after eating two pot gummies before the movie. Weed stories certainly have the potential to be underwhelming and familiar, but Modern Family avoids that by perfectly choosing which characters will be high. Both Mitchell and Phil, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ty Burrell, have these kind of clean images that barely mask some sort of wackiness underneath. Phil is the more outrageous of the two, but they’re both uptight in their owns ways, and seeing them in full-on paranoia mode is delightful.

I don’t know if this is the funniest episode of the season, but it certainly comes close, especially in a season that’s been lacking in both laughs and drama. Part of the reason “The Party” succeeds is because it’s so low-stakes. There’s that typical, reliable Modern Family chaos, but unlike so many episodes this season the setup and follow through isn’t silly or outlandish. Instead, “The Party” takes a simple premise—parents are worried their teenage children are throwing a party—and finds some good comedic moments in the familiarity. There’s Phil laughing at Luke’s rapping voicemail message only moments after Claire has criticized it. There’s Mitchell saying he doesn’t want to be high in front of Claire, a specific and certainly relatable punchline considering how high-strung Claire is. There’s smaller moments, like Mitchell calling Phil “Phillip” or the repetition of “our crime” when Mitchell and Phil are talking about being high. Burrell and Ferguson get to be loose, and it pays off again and again. When they find the party guests hidden in Luke’s bedroom, Phil closes the door and says “there are two ways we can play this” before the show cuts to commercial. It’s a perfect cut, the climax to their stoned shenanigans.

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I don’t know if it’s just some leftover goodwill from that subplot, but there’s something low-key charming about Cam and Jay’s night out as well. They’re watching the fight at a bar and trying to find ways to suppress the awkwardness that always seems to exist between them. Their relative lack of social skills around one another has always been strange because they’re more alike than anyone else on the show. So, seeing them bond over making gross “guy” jokes and gambling with two dudes at the bar is charming in its own way. It’s character progression that seems routed in something real, in actual character traits and motivations. Who knows if Modern Family will follow through with that in future episodes, but for now it’s nice to see some emotional depth in what’s otherwise a rather inconsequential subplot.

“The Party” feels inconsequential as a whole. There’s no big moment, no over-the-top premise, and no forced emotional revelation at the end of the episode. Instead, “The Party” is a familiar and rather typical sitcom episode. That’s okay though. Sometimes Modern Family goes too big, too preposterous, and it doesn’t work. “The Party” works because it’s a low-stakes affair. And because Phil and Mitchell being high is funny as hell.

Stray observations

  • I love that Phil wore that stupid head gear the whole time.
  • “There’s nothing more relaxing than a bowl of green apples.”
  • Phil’s conditions for trying pot gummies are surprisingly easy to meet: “No kids. I’m wearing velcro shoes.”
  • I don’t know why exactly, but I laughed at the bro taking a bite of both Manny and Luke’s slices of pizza at the same time. Also, I need to try that.
  • “Someone’s going down for this. You think it’ll be the white kid?”

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