S3E8: About a third of the way into this week’s Modern Family, something interesting happens. The mood shifts a bit. The writers seem to decide, “Let’s take this a little bit further.” Things get a little sillier than usual—a little wackier. And, right around the montage of scenes of Phil coyly reminding Jay about how he fixed his printer last season, the laughter begins. This week’s Modern Family, entitled “After the Fire,” deals with the family’s collective attempts to help a local family after their house has burned down. Now, this seems like it might be a more severe episode than most. Even though the tragedy does not directly affect the central characters, it’s not farfetched to assume that it will make them take stock of their own values, or appreciate the omnipresence of death and danger. But…these are not routes the episode takes. Instead, the most “biting” conflicts are Claire’s oedipal jealousy of Mitchell’s friendship with Gloria, or Cam’s ceaseless endeavors to prove himself manly. Missed opportunity? Sure, you could call it that. But I’d rather you didn’t. Because this episode has got to be the absolute funniest—and I mean consistently laugh-out-loud-funniest—episode of Modern Family all season.
“Let me transport you to a land I call Relaxistan.” – Phil
As usual, Phil is the episode’s comedic hero. When Jay hurts his back carrying boxes, Phil—who we find out this week is a licensed massage therapist (that’s probably the most in-character out-of-left-field ret-con that I’ve ever heard of)—insists that Jay let him work on his back. Obviously, Jay is reluctant, knowing full well how desperate Phil is for his approval. But he eventually agrees, and realizes soon just how talented Phil is. Jay is so relaxed that he even inadvertently lets out an “I love you” to Phil. Unbeknownst to Jay, Phil is too preoccupied by a text message he receives from two ex-coworkers who have decided to form their own real estate agency and want Phil to join them as a partner. Jay is overwrought with stress throughout the episode over the idea that he accidentally told Phil he loved him, and Phil is worked up himself over the big decision of whether or not to stay at his company or take this new opportunity. Phil cites his poor decisions of past, and there is a flashback to Phil bringing home “the last alpaca.” This is right about where the laughter escalates to the “hysterical” territory. The end of the episode sees the sweetest Jay-Phil moment yet, mostly because Jay is actually openly affectionate to his son-in-law (and Phil keeps his composure). Jay tells Phil how good a salesman he is and how he is worthy of gambling on, which encourages Phil to take the new opportunity. And of course, where would a massage storyline be without a “happy endings” joke? Classy, Modern Family. And nice shout-out to your follow-up.
“That question…it was like a hate-crime.” – Cam
Despite my love of this week’s episode, my regular Cam problems remain: he’s not the same character he was at the start of the series, and his original incarnation was one I preferred. Cam used to be confident and secure in both his masculinity and his femininity—now, he’s desperately trying to assuage his insecurities, and often at the expense of a familial compassion that once made him so great and strong. Cam wants to prove to his family, specifically his two nieces who are along for the ride, that a gay man can drive a truck. Unfortunately, Cam is not as good at trucking as he thought, and he gets Jay’s company’s truck stuck in a parking lot. His company, Haley and Alex, are in their own fight about the latter’s wardrobe. Haley wants Alex to dress more femininely and less “nerdily,” while Alex is happy with the way she presents herself. Of course, “Be Yourself” always works out on TV (as it should—yes, I’m a Little Monster), and Alex eventually gets to prove how embracing her bookish side pays off…
“If we don’t find this helicopter, I’m walking to Canada.” – Manny
“Hope you like taxes.” – Luke
Manny plus Luke equals television gold. Now, I love Luke’s partnership with Phil as much as anybody else. But the more I see the odd couple of poor, world-weary Manny and the blissfully quixotic Luke, the more I celebrate the pairing. This week, Manny and Luke lose a helicopter that was meant for the son of the couple whose house burned down (Luke convinces the reluctant Manny that the two should “embrace life” and play with it in an inspiring scene). A trio of older nerds comes across the helicopter and won’t let the duo have it back, but a nearby Alex springs into action—apparently, she’s quite the icon among the nerd population at their high school—and gets the helicopter back in an instant from the enamored bullies, telling her shocked sister, “You have your fans, I have mine…and someday, your fans are going to work for my fans.” It’s an empowering moment for girls, nerds and younger siblings. Go Team Alex.
“I think it’s sweet. We’ve all got our thing—you have mommy issues.” – Claire
This is a storyline that I actually think deserves some more exploration. Claire is jealous when she realizes that Mitchell and Gloria are close because it reminds her of their childhood, when Mitchell would get along with their mother and Claire would retire to the company of Jay. She is jealous to lose Mitchell to Gloria, and to be again the “second favorite” (which Gloria eventually confirms that she definitely is). I do like that the conflict is never “comfortably” resolved. Claire and Gloria can’t logically be real friends; an animosity will always exist between them. But, they remain family members—and just like in real families, sometimes, there are two people who don’t particularly like, but still kind of love, each other.
As said, this is definitely the funniest Modern Family in quite some time. It treads the bounds of wackiness: Phil donning his masseuse persona, Cam dressing up as a clown after overmedicating, Alex intimidating three lovestruck geeks, the Manny/Luke combo, and, again, an alpaca. The show really lets loose this week and seems to just have fun with its characters, without sacrificing real stories (Jay/Phil and Claire/Mitchell/Gloria have a lot of value). So let’s hope there’s more of this in weeks to come!