S3E6: Well, they can’t all be winners. Modern Family seems to be gradually taking our senses of humor for granted. The idea of the show is to become so familiar with and enamored by the characters, that we laugh at the things they say and do because we appreciate and find humor in who they are. But this appreciation can slip anytime: it doesn’t mean the writers can feed Cam and Gloria half-hearted material and expect us to find anything they say funny just because they’re Cam and Gloria.
As a matter of fact, Cam and Gloria are consistently my least favorite characters each episode, and this week is a good example of why. Modern Family, with these two especially, has been sacrificing character and growth in favor of wacky lines said by wacky people. Whereas both characters used to fall somewhere between eccentric and down-to-earth, they are quickly becoming characters, grabbing for laughs with outlandish stories about their upbringings, and, in Cam’s case, sexual identity (which the show used to celebrate with humor, as opposed to mine for cheap laughs). But with Cam and Gloria, I don’t really expect to be entertained anymore, so it’s never a letdown. The real disappointment this week comes from the show’s hero, Phil.
“You’re not a clown. You’re an excellent backup shortstop.” – Phil
Now, don’t get me wrong. Phil is still funny this week; he’s just not up to par. The worst part about this, however, is how excited I was at the prospect of his storyline: this week, Phil takes Haley to tour his old alma mater. There. Genius. Firstly, Phil trying to relive his glory days of yore should be a goldmine of comedy (to imagine that there were other days that Phil attacked with more glory than his present ones is psychologically daunting). Plus, Phil’s relationships with his children are generally very sweet and touching, and I was eager to see that between him and Haley explored more.
There are a handful of laughs. Phil’s repetitive implications of an active romantic life in college to his teenage daughter are funny, and not at all creepy due to the fact that the character relaying them is the most innocent man on the planet. The doom in his face when he realizes that Haley is at a Pi Chi party is priceless (as is his clumsy attempt to locate the house). But where the story really fell flat was in its more tender moment. Usually, this show pulls off sentimentality without a hitch. But something about Haley’s and Phil’s making up scene seemed a little forced and unnatural. Haley does have a soft spot for her dad, but she is also capable of some serious brattiness. It would have been nicer if the moment between father and daughter felt more earned, and less super-saccharine.
“When did hats come back?” – Mitchell
Claire’s path intersects with Mitchell’s and Cam’s for a bit, here, but the two eventually split into equally unfunny scenarios. With all three of her children and her husband out of the house, Claire heads out for a night on the town with her brother, whom she must not know very well, because she expects him to take her to some lively party (when Mitchell is more of a spends-his-nights-with-a-book type). She convinces him and Cam to take her to an art gallery party that she assumes to be “gay only,” and when the two males decide to head home at the late hour of 9:30, Claire decides to keep the night going with a friendly physical trainer, whom she also assumes (wrongly) to be gay. The rest of her night is spent cloaked in dramatic irony, the jokes arising from her gregarious nature with the man only we know to be straight–and attracted to her. She ends up drunk on the lawn of her son’s friend’s house, embarrassed in front of a group of Luke’s friends’ mothers (at least one of whom she went to high school with), when she realizes that her company is straight and her dress is inappropriately short. Meanwhile, Mitch and Cam whine about how lame they are and accidentally “steal” a car (the valet gave them the wrong one). After going over how much more exciting the lives of the owners of their borrowed automobile are, they wind up getting attacked by one of those very same automobile owners, armed with some kind of blunt object. I wasn’t really sure what the point of that storyline was…maybe, interesting people are also crazy? Never trust a valet? Avoid Jay Z fans?
“I’m just saying, the guy’s a judge. He could put on a shirt.” – Jay
Finally, Gloria is worried about how secretive Manny is being. Jay tries to ease her mind by turning on a Colombian soap opera (to which he quickly becomes addicted…it’s been done before, Modern Family, you’re better than that). Gloria gets worked up over many different theories of what Manny could be doing alone in his room, but is relieved, although saddened, to find out that he purchased a weighted helmet/hang-yourself-upside-down-bar (what else am I supposed to call it?) in order to get taller, because he feels self-conscious about his height. Jay promises him that the two will begin working out together in order to make Manny feel better, before accidentally ripping the hang-yourself-upside-down-bar out of the wall. Like I said, I’ve come to expect little from Gloria-centric storylines, although even Manny is losing me lately.
But the real loss of this episode can be simply explained. Modern Family‘s good episodes and bad always have one thing going for them. One unstoppable force that, no matter how poorly written an episode is can always bring it home with at least one laugh-out-loud moment: Luke. Luke has only a few seconds of screentime in this episode, and his absence is palpable. Let this be a lesson, Modern Family. Child labor laws be damned: Luke’s portrayer Nolan Gould is the most necessary component of your show.