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Modern Family: "The Late Show"

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I was very optimistic going into this episode. As someone weaned on Seinfeld, I'm a total sucker for "everybody tries to get to the big event on time" episodes. An episode where the three adult couples all have to make their dinner reservation seemed destined to have the characters crash into each other, and the law of averages would take care of the rest in terms of the comedy results. And it… kind of did? If you squint? There were certainly a handful of payoffs that I thought were worth it. Mitchell and Cam expending so much energy battling each other over wanting to wear the same outfit (pardon my weary gay sigh, but: [weary gay sigh]), only for Mitch to find Claire wearing the same outfit at the restaurant? Solid. Gloria repeatedly making an entrance at the restaurant for the benefit of the other family members? Also solid. Whether these payoffs made their respective lumbering, uninspired, frequently unpleasant setups worth it is another story.

I have a feeling if I end up loudly complaining about Modern Family every time they do another plot where Mitchell and Cam are petty and mean to each other, things are going to get pretty repetitive around here. But maybe a repetitive show deserves repetitive reviews. They've just struck this same note SO many times. We don't end up learning anything new or surprising about either character, which isn't a deal-breaker in and of itself. Plenty of comedies find great success riffing on the same unchanging tendencies of their characters (there's this show called The Simpsons you should check out). But that riffing had better be damn funny, and with the exception of a few moments (Cam correcting Lily for misquoting All About Eve), this subplot didn't cut it. Not to mention the fact that we already handled the "Mitchell is uncomfortable letting Cam plan the whole wedding" thing a couple episodes ago.


I could say all these same things about the Jay and Gloria plot, which manages to combine a hackneyed premise (Women Be Late! Women Be Trying On Lots Of Outfits! Women Be Spending Jay's Money!) with lazy and unimaginative execution. Once again, Jay and Manny banter their way across the age gap, as they wait for Gloria to get ready. It might have been halfway interesting to follow Gloria and Haley upstairs, since at least they're a pair we don't see much. Instead, it's another dozen rounds of Jay seething with annoyance and Gloria being semi-oblivious and loud. Again, I really liked the bit at the restaurant where Gloria kept ducking away, only to make a big entrance for the benefit of Mitch/Cam and then Claire/Phil. I just wish the lead-up was better.

Phil and Claire probably get the best third of the episode. Ty Burrell does some really good work with that impossibly small ("sexy") suit, enough so that I'll easily forgive it for being a take-off of other, better bits (I did mention I'm a Seinfeld guy). And we dip back into the land of Dumb Luke for some classic paranoid Claire material. This is good riffing. The smoke-alarm/doorbell testing, the nightmare delivery-boy scenarios, Luke falling over backwards in a hail of Cheetos: They all landed in a way the other storylines didn't. I'm not sure that I bought the zero-to-60 nature of Phil and Claire's conflict over the Luke issue entirely. That one felt like the show needed one more couple to be fighting at dinner. But I won't throw the baby out with the bathwater on this one.

The episode-ending taco truck excursion was a rather kind way to pay off an episode's worth of bad feelings between spouses, but it felt ever so slightly false, like a papering over of any kind of narrative flaws by giving us a feel-good ending where everybody is together. Even the kids get their own mini-version of this, with their little "Midnight Train to Georgia" bit. This is a show that's gotten very comfortable with relying on voice-overs or come-together moments in order to give the illusion of heartwarming family comedy, but I think it delivers on that promise only half the time. Or all the time but half as effectively. Like Haley said, too much math.

Stray Observations:

  • Obviously Mitchell shook up that can of soda for Cam. If you (semi-)secretly hated your partner, you'd do the same.
  • Also, look, if Mitchell is going to frown about Cam playing dancey getting-ready music, I may not ever being able to get back onboard with him. Why bother getting ready at all?
  • Luke on the smoke alarm buzzer: "Don't worry, Mom. If I hear it when you're gone I won't answer. I'll just hide where no one can find me."
  • Alex reads Little Women to Lily. Alex agrees to let Lily do her makeup. Alex gets the least essential subplot for the second straight week.
  • My roommate noted as we watched that another sitcom has done the "Midnight Train to Georgia" thing better. I agreed. He meant 30 Rock. I meant Growing Pains. We're both right, but only one of us is 1,000 years old.
  • Phil admits Luke is his favorite then quickly disavows all knowledge of such a statement. Aw, Phil. We already know.

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