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Modern Family: "The Big Game"

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Modern Family can do fizzy concoctions of intricate, intersecting plotlines that coalesce into a touching finale really well. This week’s episode nails its landing, but everything prior to the closing feels scattershot. There are too many stories and not enough laughs.


Aside from Claire and Jay, each adult character gets their own slice of story, as do Alex and Haley, which makes the pacing seem rushed–we don’t spend enough time in any one situation to really care about how they turn out, and everything seems half-baked.

Cam readies himself for the titular big game–if he can secure a victory, he’ll be the “winningest first-year freshman coach ever.” He’s prepping by ritualistically touching a football to a doorframe and other surfaces in his home. Because he won’t benevolently accept his husband’s harmless quirk in a loving and tolerant manner, Mitchell spends his first talking head rolling his eyes at Cam’s superstitions. But then the show cordons television’s most acrimonious couple off into separate plotlines, so the “How Much Do Cam and Mitchell Hate Each Other This Week-o-Meter” doesn’t spike past about three. To prepare his team, Coach Cam is running extra drills, somehow exuding authority despite his sweater vest. Unfortunately, his team’s zeal for winning deflates when they learn their opponents’ coach just died, they’ve never won a game, and they’re playing on the dead coach’s birthday.

In the most entertaining plotline, Phil experiences a career crisis. He hasn’t sold a house all month, an unprecedented cold streak. His increasing desperation to stay relentlessly positive in the face of failure doesn’t produce any instant-classic Phil one-liners, but it does allow Ty Burrell to shimmy up the side of a house, which will never not be entertaining. Phil’s plotline gets a solid B+, although the too-neat wrap-up at the end (he manages to sell an expensive house for cash on the last day of the month) underlines that there were never any real stakes for Phil. Modern Family is a show that plays it safe, and it can show Phil acting like the dorkiest father on the planet, but it’s not going to upend his finances.

Alex and Haley run into Haley’s ex-boyfriend Dylan at the big game. Dylan shows Haley where he wrote “HaleyDunphyDome” when they dated. It was supposed to read “Haley Dunphy Do Me,” but Dylan is bad at spacing. Haley doesn’t care about Dylan’s spacing deficiencies, and makes out with him. Dylan is in nursing school. “I’ve always healed people with my music,” he says. “If everything goes well maybe one day I’ll see you at the hospital.” Aw, Dylan, never change. I hope Dylan comes back. He reminds me of a better time for Modern Family, a time when Lily wasn’t the funniest character on the show.


Speaking of Lily, she and Gloria are relegated to a minor tale of kindergarten romance. Lily has a literal playground crush and consults Gloria about the art of seduction. This plotline could’ve easily been cut and it would have had no impact on the episode.

Gloria’s husband and Lily’s aunt are given more screen time, but don't generate any more laughs. Claire and Jay are in an argument at work. Claire wants Jay to stop giving her special treatment so her co-workers stop treating her like the boss’ daughter. Then she gets stuck in a closet in the warehouse and pratfalls her way out. To maximize your time on this planet, I suggest skipping this scene and just watching a clip from R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet.


The storylines stay separate until everyone arrives at the game. Unlike "A Fair to Remember," the episode from two weeks ago where everyone goes to a fair for no apparent reason, it actually makes sense that this extended family would come together for this moment.

Everyone watches as Cam decides to end the game with “a little trickery” to secure a win. And just as Phil sits in the stands on the brink of real estate-induced despair, Cam runs Phil’s play—the Triple Goldwing. “He fakes right, he fakes right again, he fakes faking right,” Luke says over the loudspeaker. (Oh yeah, Luke is the announcer.)


Cam’s play works and they score, but it’s up to Manny to kick the winning field goal. He protests, eager to give the poor, pathetic dead coach team a tie, but Cam can taste the victory. Manny ends up kicking the winning goal, although he insists he meant to miss. He and Cam have a heart-to-heart after the game. Claire and Jay have already had a heart-to-heart in the stands. Haley does Alex a solid and writes “Alex Dunphy Dome” under the bleachers to give her sister some confidence. (Yay for sisterly solidarity, but ew to the idea of gaining confidence from badly spaced sexual graffiti.)  Either way, relatives be bondin’. And while the satisfying ending doesn’t make up for the limpid aggregate of plots that drives the episode, it did remind me that this is a show I’m rooting for. I hope this creative slump doesn’t turn into a valley of mediocrity.

Stray observations:

  • Claire likes mustard and sauerkraut on hot dogs and I respect that. Ketchup is an inferior condiment.
  • In a Battle of the Fictional Coaches, Cam certainly wouldn’t be my first choice (Coach Taylor forever) but despite the whole “winning no matter what, even dead coaches” thing, he seems like he’s doing a good job.
  • I omitted Mitchell’s plotline. He spends the episode trying to quit his job, but can’t bring himself to break the news to his boss, Charlie (Justin Kirk). Mitchell ends up doing it, but I didn’t end up caring about it.

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