KIP MOONEY: I know I’ve been praising Modern Family‘s last few episodes a lot, but tonight was different. Well, everything just fit together so well, the timing was so spot-on, I felt like I was watching another show.
Critics often complain that the show relies on unrelated and ridiculous storylines as a way to make sure everyone gets to see some play, rather than reducing their roles–which I think would do the show some good, rather than come up with something weak and annoying for, say, Mitch and Cam or Jay and Gloria to do.
But tonight was like watching a comedic symphony, with old characters popping up and new characters adding just the right touches to an already fine ensemble.
Tensions were high this weekend as DeDe (Shelley Long) returns to make a big scene. First, by undercutting all of Claire’s tough parenting by revealing detail after sordid detail about Claire’s rebellious teenage years. Then, she invites Claire’s ex-boyfriend (a wonderful immature Matt Dillon) to dinner, turning an awkward situation into an unbearable ordeal. It only gets worse when Claire catches Mom and ex smooching, pressed up against his limo.
DeDe was in town for Lily’s second birthday, which Mitch has decided would be princess-themed. Cam, always wanting to be the center of attention, hopes to find a way to bring back Fizbo, his clown alter-ego. His disagreements with Mitch never felt too outlandish, which kept this episode from flying off into some fantasy world that Modern Family has gone to before.
There’s also a subplot with Gloria and Jay trying to record an audiobook for Lily’s gift (the likes of which you can get at Hallmark stores), which was a genius way to use them without putting them in a “wacky” scenario that didn’t work and wasn’t that funny. The big reveal at the end–with the book recording Gloria’s shushing and Jay’s drinking–sent me over the moon.
Tonight’s episode, written by Elaine Ko, was essentially perfect, even if it didn’t have as many rolling on the floor moments. So to all those shows that think you need to have labyrinthine plots or endless pop culture reference to flawlessly execute a sitcom, take note.
Phil: “Maybe he needs the limo ‘cuz he’s got a lot of DUIs.”
Mitch: “Cue gasp.”
Gloria: “I’m going to miss Alex’s graduation and all of Haley’s weddings.”
HOWARD MEGDAL: Kip is absolutely right, but I’d like to deconstruct a bit more of the why understated works so well for this show.
In terms of Cam, this is a man with a big presence. Having him respond in an unrealistic, over-the-top way isn’t merely wasteful- it is counterproductive. I find myself laughing at Cam the most when he provides small responses to situations- it allows his timing and delivery to become the focus, rather than the hysteria around it. Put it another way: no one stops the Macy’s fireworks show and says, “Okay, again, but bigger.” That’s Cam. There’s nothing that needs to be added.
And really, the same is true for Gloria. I’m not suggesting either one should be tantrum-free- these are their characters, after all. But the big to set up the many smaller moments is the way to go. And recording the audio book, Gloria was in her element- even getting to surprise us, and Jay, with a hilarious bear impression.
This show had no big payoff at the end. And really, it never needs one.