S3E18: If the words “scrapped together” have ever applied to an episode of television, that episode was this week’s Modern Family.
“The Three Stooges are all dead.” – Luke But compared to Jay, Phil is his old self this week. When Manny tells his parents that he has made friends with Griffin—a kid so cool that Stella the dog perks up at the sound of his name (the funniest moment this week)—Jay is practically infatuated. He acts like Phil did with Dylan, only without the tech-savvy or the ability to pull off a leather jacket. Jay assumes that Griffin is only hanging out with Manny to get closer to Jay; he considers himself the picture of a cool role model. In reality, Griffin is hanging out with Manny to better ogle Gloria, on whom he has a blatant crush. Jay doesn’t work as the fool. He’s established as a figure of sensibility and deserved respect. Yes, he has his flaws. But they are flaws befitting his dignity and “machismo.” He’s hypercompetitive and stubborn. Those are ways an imperfect Jay works. Fawning over a teenaged boy in hopes of being validated as a cool adult? Not at all in coordination with who he is or is supposed to be. And although Manny is generally pure Manny through the episode—his institution of “Japanese night” is one of the episode’s better jokes—there are a couple of things that stand out as obscenely un-Manny. First and foremost, he is willing to lie to a young boy in order to get closer to his sister. Although Manny is consistently girl crazy, he’s also terrifically honest, with a tremendous guilty streak. Secondly (and less importantly), isn’t the idea of Manny being willing to ride Jay’s motorcycle completely out of character? Or has this affinity for the bike ever come up before? “It’s fine. All seltzer under the bridge.” – Cam Finally, the titular storyline, and the best of the three major plots. Cam’s old clown college professor’s death reunites him with some old clowning buddies, particularly Lewis (Bobby Cannavale), his old partner in the “Fizbo & Lewis” routine. They were practically the Beatles. Of children’s parties. Lewis is a bawdy sort who still resents Cam for dropping their act to devote himself to Mitchell years back. However, their reunion sparks the old passions again, and Cam agrees to get back in the game for a few shows. Cam is on Cloud 9 with Lewis around. They plunge full-force into the clowning routine, entertaining Lily to no end. “I am a clown. It’s who I am. If you squeeze me, do I not honk?—Eyeroll!” – Cam
“Oh, like I had a choice?” – Mitchell The larger story here erupts when Cam addresses Mitchell’s lack of respect for his life’s passion. This mainly serves, unfortunately, to remind us of how incompatible Mitchell and Cam seem to be. Even the conclusive scene of Mitchell finally laughing at one of Cam’s acts—an act that goes horribly awry when a devastated Lewis attacks Cam for breaking up the team in favor of his family again—aren’t enough to instill a confidence in their relationship. Maybe it’s unlikely, but I’d like to see an episode devoted to telling us when and how Mitchell and Cam met and fell in love. What brought these extremely contrasting people together? There is something in there that sometimes works—episodes like the original “Fizbo” from Season 1 and the more recent “Punkin Chunkin” do give us clear cut evidence that Mitchell and Cam work as a couple and are better people for having each other in their lives. But too often, we have episodes like “Send Out the Clowns”—or plenty of far more volatile examples that have been peppered throughout Season 3—that make us wonder why they’re even together. A minor one-note story involves Claire trying to convince Haley and Alex to friend her on Facebook, only to regret it when they finally do, realizing that she has a lot more to hide than they do. Claire has led a wild life, a lot of which was caught on camera by old friends ever willing to post these incriminating photos on her wall. Modern Family’s greatest fault is forgetting its characters. This show is so popular because of how well crafted, believable and lovable the people in it are. When that is abandoned, you might as well be watching a whole different show. Do you think it works when Modern Family goes a little looser, like on this week’s episode? Are Phil and Jay still funny when they’re not being Phil and Jay? Let us know in the comments section or on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.