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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Modern Family makes some strange, unfunny storytelling decisions

Illustration for article titled Modern Family makes some strange, unfunny storytelling decisions
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For the most part, I enjoy when Modern Family has a voiceover at the end that puts a bow on the themes of the episode. I know that it’s kind of hacky and can be a crutch for the show, but there’s something about the earnest nature of it that gets me just about every time. Typically, the voiceover is used not just as a recap, but to also draw a bit of attention to the insights contained throughout the episode. Sometimes though, that voiceover just draws attention to the fact that little in the episode is really connected. “The More You Ignore Me” ends with Jay Pritchett musing on the power of tough love, on how being told he wasn’t good enough inspired him to work hard and succeed. It’s set over a montage of the entire family finding their own inspiration, but it’s hardly connected to the messy plots that come before it.

The biggest problem with “The More You Ignore Me” is that there’s just not a lot of heart. There’s the beats and dialogue that would suggest a more heartfelt episode, but the show never really follows through on its more intriguing and deeply-felt threads. Take, for instance, the incident that starts the episode. Phil gets a call from the police saying that Luke has been arrested for driving without a license. It’s another instance of Luke moving away from childhood/adolescence and into that rebellious teenager phase, but rather than engage with the implications of that, the story quickly shifts and becomes about Phil’s self-perception, and specifically his manliness. The consequences of Luke’s actions are never really considered, other than they lead to Luke getting a bad boy reputation with a girl he likes, and I’m sure I’m not alone in my apathy towards the romantic life of Luke Dunphy. The shift in plot is frustrating because the whole “Phil doesn’t know if he’s enough of a MAN” story has been told numerous times on Modern Family, so why do it again, especially when there are so many opportunities to go in a different direction with Luke being arrested?


Most of “The More You Ignore Me” suffers from such uninspired storytelling though. While the “Luke get’s arrested” plot at least had a hilarious running gag, with Phil refusing to call Luke by his name and instead referring to him by a number of ‘L’ names, the plotline that sees Dylan and Haley run into Beth and Andy at the movies hardly boasts anything worth talking about. The “will they or won’t they” plot between Andy and Haley has already seem to run its course, which is troubling considering that the show seems poised to stretch it out, as Beth and Andy decide they’re going to invite Haley and Dylan to their wedding. If there’s a light in the darkness of this storyline though it’s that Haley breaks up with Dylan. With any luck it’s for good this time, as his presence as Haley’s boyfriend has felt like a retread of past plots and emotional beats. When Haley tells Dylan that they aren’t moving forward and need to separate, it could serve as a commentary on the show’s fumbling of Haley’s character post-Andy.

While Cam, Mitchell, Gloria, and Jay don’t get much better material, there’s at least an energy to their twisted competition this week that lends itself well to Modern Family‘s more chaotic type of comedy. The plot starts out harmless enough, with Jay working on a video that will be shown at a gala where he’s receiving a Titans Of Industry award, and Cam getting frustrated about his famous sauce not selling at the local farmer’s market. It all quickly devolves into competition and chaos though, with Cam ruining Gloria’s famous recipe passed down for generations in her family, and Mitchell struggling with whether to accept a job offer at a big firm or start his own.

It’s in this part of the episode that the capping voiceover really rings true. While Jay’s dismissal of his family’s ability to do just about anything is written off as typical, emotionally closed off Jay, it reveals itself to be part of a larger scheme to motivate and encourage the ones he loves. By telling Mitchell that it takes a certain kind of person to open his own firm, the implication being that Mitchell isn’t that kind of person, he pushes him towards independence and away from fear. The same goes for Gloria. After she figures out the ruined recipe, thanks to some well-timed triggers, she’s pressured by Cam to start selling it at the farmer’s market. She’s hesitant, but Jay’s apathy lights a fire under her and pushes her towards doing her own thing alongside Cam. It’s a nice touch in an episode that otherwise lacks a lot of nuance, that instead tries to create comedy out of thin air. Modern Family is always at its best when its humor is grounded in character development and deeper emotions like insecurity and fear. Most of the episode avoids such comedy, despite the opportunity being there in the plotlines, and that leaves “The More You Ignore Me” feeling rather empty, both on a comedic and emotional level.

Stray observations

  • “Now you’re just throwing out words from To Kill A Mockingbird.
  • Phil sprinkling wine on his neck to get Claire’s scent was pretty hilarious.
  • Phil once taught a tumbling class to inmates. The more you know.
  • Claire isn’t that worried about Alex being potentially rebellious: “this girl has two patents!”

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