“Spring-A-Ding-Fling” is the perfect encapsulation of what has made season five of Modern Family so unbelievably frustrating. It’s not the lackluster episodes like “And One To Grow On” that try my patience as much as those like “Spring-A-Ding-Fling,” which demonstrates how easily—with tweaks that are practically undetectable—Modern Family morphs back into something resembling the critically adored, monster hit it once was.
The episode felt like an uptick from the beginning, with a cold open that, while not the season’s funniest, made for energetic table setting for a quartet of stories that all worked, with no glaring duds among them. Better still, none of the plots in “Spring” sputtered or faded away in the third act, as has often been the case with the episodes this season. It’s a finely tuned, admirably paced episode that easily stands among this season’s three best.
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that “Spring” was able to recapture Modern Family in its heyday since it featured the return of the SCARB, the So-Cal realty kudofest last seen in season two’s winning “Strangers On A Treadmill.” It’s Phil’s third time hosting the event, and Claire can’t make it this year, due to her prior engagement at another elaborate affair across town, the titular school dance masterminded by Cam.
Haley agrees to go in her stead, cueing up yet another opportunity for Haley to disappoint Phil as only she knows how. There have been many stories over these hundred-plus episodes that feature Haley letting Phil down, but this was a welcome change from the others, as it wasn’t a matter of Haley displaying colossally bad judgment or being egregiously hurtful. Here, Haley is just doing what teenagers do, blithely texting instead of paying attention, unaware the five seconds she’s looking away is the precise moment Phil needs her to be present.
Haley’s apparent indifference to Phil’s performance is enough to throw him off his game, and he’s unable to finish. But in one of Modern Family’s sweetest moments in some time, Haley accepts the Realtor of the Year Award in Phil’s stead, stinging the usual suspects with the jokes she overheard Phil practicing. Sarah Hyland nailed the scene, and the story was funny from its beginning, Phil’s absurdly elaborate “Come Sell Away” number, to its end, with Haley taking the piss out of Margaret Fuhrman. It was harsh, but let’s be honest. Margaret needed deflating.
Also in need of deflation was Wendy, the college friend who hired Mitchell to work at her legal aid firm. Or so he thought, after gathering the impression she was a tyrannical boss thanks to a series of misunderstandings. The story was Modern Family’s classic sitcom misdirection, a technique the show deploys often with wildly different degrees of success. (The sleep-moaning Jay plot in “iSpy” is a recent unsuccessful example.)
It came off well here though, thanks to Ben Karlin’s script, which didn’t excessively tip its hand, as well as Aisha Tyler’s vibrant performance. I rewatched the scene with Wendy dressing down the intern for her outfit choice, and the way Tyler manages to pitch her tone right between boss-from-hell and snarky best friend is rather amazing. The story wasn’t quite flawless—I’m still not sure I entirely understand the part about the notes Mitchell found in his desk—but Mitchell’s disastrous confrontation was hilarious, and the whole thing worked overall. Here’s hoping Tyler will recur as frequently as Justin Kirk did as Mitchell’s former boss.
The Spring-A-Ding-Fling (the “fling” is Cam’s addition!) was another example of a plot that was semi-recycled from a season two episode. But whereas “Dance Dance Revelation” was driven by the rivalry between Claire and Gloria, here it was Cam who was anxious about being upstaged following the return of Señor Kaplan, who was the school’s resident boisterous gay before Cam filled the vacancy left by Kaplan’s sabbatical.
If I had to choose a weak link in the episode I’d probably go with this story, which never managed to fully win my investment because I’m not how much I care that Cam is concerned about not being the center of attention for five minutes. Still, Will Sasso did a nice job as Kaplan, evenly matching Cam’s flamboyance without overdoing the overdoing, if that makes sense. And it didn’t take up too much space, since there was enough other stuff going on with Claire awkwardly meddling in Luke’s and Alex’s dates with kids who seem pretty perfect for them, if not exactly to control-freak Claire’s liking.
I’d bet others will point to Jay and Gloria’s plot as the weakest of the bunch, and that’s an argument I can understand, even without hearing it. It wasn’t the funniest story in the episode, though I cracked up every time Gloria started going all Guantanamo Bay on Lily, trying to get Lily to admit shattering her phone instead of pinning the blame on Joe. But it was funny enough, never felt like it was dragging down the episode, and offered a cute little twist at the end, with the reveal that Joe chose to walk at just the right time to corroborate Lily’s alibi.
More like this? Please?
- The minus is for two reasons, one being that I never felt quite enthusiastic about the episode to give an unqualified A, and the other is the fact that the culminating voiceover bugs me every time I hear it. (Though it was deployed well in “The Old Man And The Tree.”)
- Phil on Claire missing the SCARB: “It’s for the best; she’s invisible at these things. It’s hard being married to the rock star.”
- The photo of young Phil and Haley in the cold open was a nifty little inclusion for Modern Family, which almost never uses those kinds of mockumentary flourishes anymore.
- Cam on Kaplan: “Somebody’s always on!”
- Joe is getting big!
- It was such a predictable awards-show move to have Phil win Realtor of the Year right after performing. I expect that kind of lowbrow nonsense from the Grammys, but I expected more from the SCARB.