Making a fresh Valentine’s Day episode the fourth time around for a sitcom in its sixth season has go to be about as tough as a long-married couple finding a new romantic spark for the holiday. In the case of “Valentine’s Day 4,” Modern Family goes outside for help, for an effort absolutely bolstered by some off-the-charts guest-star appearances.
Let’s save the best for first: Yes, it’s beyond-annoying that—surprise!—Cameron and Mitchell are the only couple that doesn’t even mention Valentine’s Day. Why can’t they be the couple role-playing and slipping into hotel suites? But if we put this continued outrage aside, their Lucy-and-Ethel shenanigans in retrieving a priceless wedding gift are the highlight of the episode, because of who they’re trying to steal it from: Roger Bart as their friend Anders (Anders and Cooper! They broke up.), with Jackie Mah as his clearly long-suffering maid, Carmelina. Sometimes Cam and Mitchell’s friends offer over-the-top performances that liven up everything in their midst (remember Nathan Lane’s spectacular first appearance as Pepper?) and Bart certainly does so here.
Bart nails every line with aplomb as Anders despairs over the death of his marriage: “You think you know the person sleeping in the next bedroom.” And Carmelina’s deadpan kills from the moment she wrenches that present away from Mitchell. Anders turns on the motion detector in his mother’s room during cocktails, “when I tend to forget that she’s even here.” Anders comments on his mother’s possible seizure: “That kicky thing? She’s either having her Rockettes dream or her catheter’s out.” Anders describes: “We’re out of ice! The nightmare continues!” “Even though it doesn’t say so on it, it’s a fish.” “Oh my God! Plastic olive swords! Carmelina, are you trying to be deported?” And his ugly new cheese board is a “stylish cheese-delivery system.” I haven’t howled this much at this show for awhile, probably loudest at Mitchell menacingly coming toward Anders’ bedridden mother with a pillow on the monitor screen.
Despite the hilarity, Cam and Mitch are almost completely devoid of romance. Although we do get an “I love you” out of them at the end when they make off with the wedding-present painting from the back of Anders’ mother’s wheelchair. The two are like-minded at least.
Stephanie Beatriz also steps it up in her role as Gloria’s sister Sonia; left behind in Colombia to take care of her mother, she usually spends Valentine’s Day “selling artificial flowers near the well in my village.” While her makeover transformation is revelatory, as campy as Anders is, Sonia gets just as many laughs with her somnambulant delivery, as when Jay announces that he got her a present and she nods, “Laundry.” Or when she expresses a desire to cook for her own husband some day, and then thanks Jay “for not laughing and falling on the floor like my mother does when I say such things.” Despite the best efforts of Beatriz, her plot ends up in a manner so trite Stella the puppy could figure out: At first Sonia will appear not to have feelings for Jay, but then of course she will. But the outrageous vitriol with which Gloria attacks her sister (“How dare you try to steal the life I stole from you!”) and Jay’s glee at the two fighting over him: all impressive, if predictable.
Our last guest star, of course, is Juliana, gamefully pulled by Claire so well that her husband falls for her different persona, so this episode focuses on Phil and Juliana, not Clive and Juliana. But we’ve seen these two go around a few times as they cavort in hotel bars and glass elevators and rooftop pools. Juliana knows the best way to entice Phil is by saying that she’s as flexible as a “government-insured, zero-down, variable rate mortgage,” and Phil’s only previous attempt at thievery was when he stole his high-school production of The Wiz. While Clive and Juliana have had a great run, I’m glad this episode is putting the pair to rest. Phil’s complete submission to Juliana is always humorous, as is Claire’s commitment to spice things up in her marriage even for a night, an inspiration to exhausted wives everywhere. But it’s sweet when Phil ditches Juliana for his wife, then sweeps her off the porch.
Sonia and Claire both undergo major transformations this episode, and both with different results. Maybe because the romance of Valentine’s Day itself begins with a bit of deception and mystery. The person we are when we’re first dating someone is a dreamy, idealized version of the person we actually are, who swears in traffic and forgets birthdays and, as Claire notes on the ride home, just wants to get into a tub with her infected toenail. So why not put on a new name for a night, or borrow an outfit that’s 180-degrees different from your usual fare, in the case for romance? After all, as Claire rightly points out, there is no chance that Baby and Johnny are going to stay together after the end of Dirty Dancing. They’re inherently too different, and Johnny is just distracted by the shiny new thing in front of him. So why not just enjoy the romance while it lasts?
Speaking of different from usual fare, there was an extraordinarily high percentage of LOL lines this episode. Credit should be thrown to longtime sitcom scribe Jeffrey Richman, and director Fred Savage, a former sitcom star himself. Both these vets have a familiarity with the genre that breeds confidence, which undoubtedly helped lead this episode toward its success rate.
It’s another week when none of separate family’s paths cross over, though. Which inspires pondering over what that means for the future of Modem Family. Will it continue to run as three separate ten-minute sitcoms? In the end, the only parallel across the three comes when Jay and Phil are ecstatic at how their Valentine’s holidays turned out, making giant breakfasts like omelets and pancakes while singing. Mitchell is reduced to sprinkling sugar on his oatmeal, I believe, and humming. Next year for “Valentine’s Day 5,” Modern Family could definitely blaze a new trail for itself by focusing on the romance of Cam and Mitchell instead of everyone else.
- Shecky Green reference!
- Only kid present: Manny. Have to say, did not miss the others at all.
- Consistency: Jay’s love for his dog.
- Modern technology offered another interesting parallel this episode: Anders’ video monitor causes some trouble for Cam and Mitch, while Joe’s baby monitor enables Gloria to find out the truth about her sister.
- Clive’s speaker business pretty much runs itself.
- Manny turns into a Cathy cartoon on Valentine’s Day.
- For future reference, Dede’s sisters are Cece and Bebe.
- Manny’s source material for his aunt’s craziness: Lethal Ladies.
- “Baby, they haven’t built a pool I couldn’t warm a little.”