KIP MOONEY: Lots of laughs, lots of heart. That’s a formula that seems to work for Modern Family and tonight’s episode was no exception. Still, several moments felt like characters hitting set-ups rather than the natural comedy and emotion we’ve come to expect. The who-will-take-care-of-our-kids-if-something-happens-to-us storyline is another well-worn plot, but the show was able to pull plenty of rich moments out of it.
Cam and Mitch are worried (Why? Because we’re running out of ideas, people!) who will take care of Lily if, God forbid (which Cam insists on saying twice), should anything happen to both of them. Should they pick the sweet-and-sour duo of Gloria and Jay or the barely in control Phil and Claire? Or would she be better off on the prairie with Cam’s mama, who apparently has a farm full of frozen cows? The choice should be fairly obvious, but it’s the getting there that counts.
Much more impressive was the Luke storyline. Luke has always been one of my favorite characters, but tonight he shot to the top of the list. Claire is worried he won’t grow out of his overly distracted nature, while Phil—being the grown-up version of Luke—thinks there’s nothing to worry about. They’re both right and they’re both wrong.
It was a serious issue tackled with grace and played for some genuinely touching scenes, especially when the big reveal is how resourceful Luke is in the face of danger. Bravo, Michael Spiller.
That’s not even to mention the season’s emotional peak—with Jay explaining to Manny that he’s the bravest person he knows, for exactly the stuff Jay would normally make fun of someone—the poetry, the blazers, the pan-flute. Keep it up.
Mitch: “Is this a bad time?”
Claire: “Come back in seven years and five months when they’re all gone!”
Cam: “Two of mama’s cows froze. She’s sending pictures.”
Mitch: “Great! A reason to stop by the frame store.”
Luke: “She gave me a Woody.”
Claire: “Uh, what?”
Luke: “Yeah, she remembered it was my favorite character from Toy Story.”
HOWARD MEGDAL: No disagreement here, though I see Modern Family less in terms of re-using well-worn plots, and more about using them effectively with sharper writing and more significant characters.
Luke is a great example. A child with his problems has been a staple of TV for decades. But how many of the kids seem as authentic as Luke? It makes a plotline like worrying about his psychological makeup succeed where others fail, ince he isn’t some child with a catchphrase, but someone we invest emotion into- a big difference, payoff-wise.
The other major change is seeing Phil as the spouse with a gripe for a change, instead of Claire. Putting her on the defensive adds depth to the marriage, and pulls it further from the sitcom norm of the put-upon wife dealing with the screw-up husband, itself a response to the husband of decades past showing mercy for his wife who is too stupid to properly operate a car. The timing seems just right on this.
I think it isn’t fair to ask Modern Family to add new plotlines to the pantheon- it isn’t what the show is set up to do. Instead, it continues to take the plotlines we already know, and do them better.