In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit I was geared up to hate “Queer Eyes, Full Hearts” for no other reason than the too-cute-by-half title, which even I found wanting despite my woefully lax wordplay standards. What a pleasant surprise then, to find that behind the dowdy title is a downright fetching Modern Family episode, which is all the more surprising because it comes—unlike the most successful episodes—in three neatly divided segments with no family overlap. This could be a strategy for the show to finally win at the expectations game. Give every episode a groaner of a title, and pair it with an episode like “Queer Eyes” to gallop over the title’s low bar.

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The Friday Night Lights riff wasn’t the only foreboding sign from the title; there was also its promise to revisit Cam’s career as a high school football coach, a well Modern Family has tapped quite a bit even though the water line was never that high to begin with. Admirably, “Queer Eyes” finds a novel, clever way of deploying Cam’s coaching career, with a local news anchor alighting to Cam’s unique story as an openly gay football coach, while Mitch tries to get attention for his current case with failed attempts to make sweatshop labor sound like sexy 10 o’clock news.

The Tucker-Pritchetts generally take the silver medal in a Modern Family episode with a trio of single-family stories. Their relationship yields livelier material than anything Jay and Gloria can usually muster, but Mitch and Cam stories usually come with a bitchy tone that, if not carefully monitored, throws Modern Family’s balance of sweetness and acidity out of wack. “Queer Eyes” is different, in large part because it represents a bit of a role reversal, with Mitch melting down and getting frazzled over trifling concerns while Cam stands in silent judgment as the one in control of his feelings. This is becoming something of an overarching theme for the couple, as this is the first time we’ve seen Cam comfortable with his career and his role in the family, while Mitch is still flailing from his string of losses. That he’s a superfan of Anne Gibbs only makes matters worse, and it amplifies Cam’s hamminess, which was far more satisfying than it should have been.

Giving credit where it isn’t usually due, Jay and Gloria held their own this week with a story that didn’t bring any new layers to the relationship—there simply might not be anymore layers to reveal—but crackled with spicy lines and some choice work from Manny. Manny wants to defect from Spanish class in favor of learning French, to Gloria’s chagrin. “What could be more natural than your mother’s tongue in your ear?” she says. Jay is typically indifferent to the whole thing, as he must devote his cognitive gunpowder to the next innovation in luxury closets, but he’s piqued when Manny’s tutor (the muy caliente Nicholas Gonzalez) shows up and forges a too-easy rapport with Gloria thanks to his Spanish fluency.

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Gloria’s language barrier is a character element that can feel as sensitive as it does insensitive. On one hand, Gloria’s story is that of the actress who plays her, as Sofia Vergara is quick to crack wise about how little her accent has budged despite residing in the country for years. And stories about Gloria’s communication hurdles come from a family of Modern Family Gloria templates, plots in which she becomes anxious about the degree to which she’s losing her connection with her Colombian roots. The template was deployed masterfully in “The Old Man and the Tree,” with Gloria’s mother Pilar heaping praise on Claire while chiding Gloria for her unintelligibly American speech. (Yet another reason to lament the death of Elizabeth Peña.) But Modern Family is often plagued by its refusal to nudge its characters forward, and at this point, plots revolving Gloria’s speech call attention to that issue. When Vergara talks about her hardy accent it’s charming, but when Gloria talks about it, it feels symptomatic of Modern Family’s most glaring flaw.

But the Dunphys managed to balance things out with more effort at developing a character in one episode than some entire Modern Family seasons. The character is Haley, of course, who at this point is probably the most intriguing, fully realized and consistently written character on the show. Haley’s arc is a credit to the writers, who could have easily had dead weight on their hands once Haley graduated and got expelled from college. But Haley’s fumbling attempts to figure herself out are an excellent fit for the character, and Sarah Hyland has done a fine job shading in a character who was once arguably the show’s most shallow.

Haley’s new dimensions are most of the reason the Dunphy story works in “Queer Eyes,” given that Phil, Claire and Alex aren’t given much to do, while Luke has the week off. Haley and Andy are engaged in some hot and heavy…job interview preparation. Or perhaps it’s better described as assertivity training, considering they pep-talk each other into marching up to people and demanding work as a reward for being presumptuous and persistent. Still, it was a funny story, with Haley convincing a tongue-tied Claire she and Andy were having sex instead of preparing to lobby for Andy to become Phil’s assistant, while Haley tries to get her foot in the door with a celebrity stylist.

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What a smart choice to keep the audience in the dark about what was going on between Haley and Andy, given when we last saw them, Andy was rocking Haley’s world with his surprisingly skilled make-out technique. It’s a well-earned, winning twist, and proof the show still has potential if it dares to push its characters out of their respective comfort zones.

Stray observations:

  • Alex was stuck with her head in a book, which was dull, though the “human Roomba” line worked.
  • Manny was en fuego: “Let’s take it down a nacho.”
  • I’d like to think Luke was off privately rehearsing for a one-man show called “Betty Luke: Hear Me Roar.”
  • Andy is trying to get traction with “bro pair,” and it’s my pleasure to tell him I’m going to use that whenever I have the need to refer to a male childcare professional, which admittedly isn’t often.
  • Phil on Haley’s leopard print skirt: “I can’t believe I just went power walking with her skirt on my head.”

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