And we had started off so well! I’m trying very hard, but I don’t think I can find one thing I liked in this week’s episode. Everything that felt thought-out, cared-for, and earned in the season premiere was cast aside this week, in favor of half-formed ideas, warmed-over jokes, and what has become the cardinal Modern Family sin over the years: family members who simply don’t seem to like each other.
I think I was most invested in the poker storyline that pulled Alex, Hayley, and Luke together, but while I get the structural decision to keep all the poker scenes offscreen, I’d have loved to have jettisoned one of the subplots (either Gloria or Jay/Manny) in order to give those scenes a chance to play out. The dynamic between the Dunphy kids is one of the few things that hasn’t stagnated. There’s a desperation to Hayley’s shallowness now; Luke is less a mental case and more a functional weirdo; and Alex has kind of assumed the position of tribe leader. At least watching the three of them operate around each other is giving me something new(ish), which is more than I can say for basically everyone else.
“Jay and Manny don’t get along” is a plot we’ve seen a billion times, and while Manny being embarrassed by Jay in public is a reversal of how this thing usually goes, it’s still the idea of the crotchety old man and the pretentious cosmopolitan youth butting heads. The inattention to detail in these scenes is pretty symptomatic of an episode that is running on automatic pilot. There’s a special screening of The Sound Of Music in the middle of the afternoon? At a mall? Attended by the usual rabble of cellphone idiots? And Manny’s big punch line at the end is "You got a problem with Poppins, you got a problem with me?" IS IT THE SOUND OF MUSIC OR IS IT MARY POPPINS, IT CANNOT BE BOTH. And don’t tell me Julie Andrews is Julie Andrews. Jay and Manny seeing Victor/Victoria together would have been a better storyline, but it’s not the same thing, now is it?
Elsewhere, Gloria thinks baby Joe is cursed with El Diablo. She brings a priest over, the kid spells out “666” in his little foam blocks, and… profit? I realize there’s nowhere for this little trifle of a subplot to go, short of stretching this show’s reality to Paranormal Activity places, but the lack of energy in the writing is just so apparent. If you can’t wring some good/weird/interesting laughs out of a devil-baby storyline…
Claire and Phil. Claire nags Phil. Phil is caught up with work—and with the Moochin’ War Widows who he’s decided this week are his bread and butter. It seems his particular brand of attentiveness and soft-pedal sales tactics are really roping in such guest stars as Amy Yasbeck and Diane Farr. This of course riles Claire up, particularly on a day when she has to head to the office and needs Phil to do X, Y, and Z. This honestly reads like the bones of a parody sketch. Like, what are the three things you know about Phil and Claire even if you barely watch this show? Phil is a doofus, Claire is a nag, and she ends up yelling at him about it while he cowers. The supermarket showdown between all of Phil’s ladies, wherein Claire saves the day by using her secret powers of passive-aggression, offer the illusion of story movement (Claire’s cooler than we expect her to be while Phil learns a valuable lesson about spreading himself too thin) while really just delivering Claire Lecture #079.
Finally, Mitch and Cam. I almost don’t want to talk about them so I can linger for a little bit longer on what a sweet proposal that was last week. Alas, things settle into the most predictable rut. Cameron assumes the sole duties of wedding planner, and his tendency to go overboard is put on groaning display through the plot device of Lily’s dead-though-not-dead cat. The pet funeral for Larry the Cat’s nonexistent wife is supposed to be this lavish disaster that exemplifies Cam’s unbridled id, but again, except for a couple of decent gags (I’m thinking of the bagpipe guy and the late-arriving gospel choir), everything feels vague and slapped together. We never really get a sense that the funeral was all that blinged-out. Meanwhile, Mitchell is apparently a full-blown germaphobe? I stepped away from this show for a while, so maybe I missed that part. Anyway, but the time his obsessive control/cleanliness issues got him stuck in his office’s air ducts (seriously, don’t ask; I can’t believe they did an air-ducts bit either), even the dull-but-hot intern could spell out the thematic lesson Mitch had to learn about letting go and giving up some control.
So, yeah, that’s all of it, right? Five storylines in 30 minutes, one of which was even passably enjoyable. It is really not my intention to use this show as a punching bag, and I eagerly await a return to last week’s form of middlebrow decency. But, as Gloria might say, AAAYYYY this week.
- All of the promisingly weird/interesting stuff this week was crammed into the pre-credits bit, particularly Cam playing up the creep factor on calling Mitchell “my intended,” as well as his freakily pragmatic musings about how he wouldn’t be able to replace dead Mitch like he would a dead cat, because “Where would I find another gay Mitchell with your markings?”
- Lord strike me dead, I did laugh at the way Sofia Vergara pronounced “Gymboree.” (Also at Gloria mistaking Death Wish for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.)
- Okay, so Claire stepped on a rake and it whacked her in the face, like she was Elmer Fudd (or I guess Sideshow Bob, more specifically)—BUT that actually happened to me as a kid, so DON’T LAUGH IT HAPPENS.