Modern Family: Week 8 in Review

KIP MOONEY: “Punkin Chunkin” is perfect breezy night-before-holiday entertainment. My initial reaction was that this was the best Thanksgiving episode of a sitcom since Friends (and you could pick any, though I’m partial to “The One with All the Football”).

While I’m starting to think that was too much praise on an episode with an incredibly game guest star who just COMPLETELY DISAPPEARS halfway through, I love spending time with these families, especially around the holidays.

Speaking of that guest star, he’s Josh Gad, who was nominated for a Tony for the Book of Mormon, and will no longer be thought of as “the poor man’s Jonah Hill.” He’s Kenneth, the neighbor kid who returns after having launched a successful multi-national corporation, all because he followed this simple philosophy: “What would Phil Dunphy do?”

Phil, of course is completely flattered, and eventually decries Claire for being a “dream quasher,” since she always shoots down his ideas—from ludicrous inventions to table decoration and placement. While Claire is kind of notorious for keeping everything by-the-book, Phil is just acting completely ridiculous. He’s been able to provide for his family in a tough economy (as a real estate agent, no less!) but Kenneth represents what Phil always chases but never attains: coolness.

It turns out all the Pritchetts are alleged “dream quashers.” Mitchell wants Cam to remove one of his more outlandish stories from his repertoire, and Jay wants to be realistic with Manny when he creates an absolutely hideous centerpiece. While they both have good points, they come off as prickly and cold, especially when a family member is just trying to have fun.

This all comes to a head when every single member of the family heads out to a football field to try to launch a pumpkin as far as Cam claimed he did in high school. Of course, the gourd only sails a few dozen yards, a far cry from the “goalpost to goalpost” flight it took in Cam’s story. But the Mitchell, Jay and Claire note their victory doesn’t taste as sweet anymore.

We end with a nice voiceover—one that wasn’t drenched in sap—about how dreamers and more realistic types end up together because they balance each other out.

I don’t know if we’re going to get any classics this season aside from “Treehouse,” but as always, I had an enjoyable time with these families.

BEST LINES:
Manny: “Remember that collage I made that helped us get through Hurricane Katrina?”

Phil to Claire: “I love your ‘I love you,’ but I’m getting tired of your ‘but.’”

Mitchell: “How come Cody only appears in this story?”
Cam: “Cody was KIA in Desert Storm. He’s a hero.”

– We’ll never know if Cam’s punkin chunkin story is true, but man, is he committed to it.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Several aspects of this show came together nicely. The show managed many of the primary notes we are used to for conflict- Phil/Claire, Jay/Gloria, Mitchell/Cam- while allowing us the chance to take in the larger harmony of the family dynamic.

Better yet, each conflict got presented in such a way that there didn’t have to be someone obviously in the wrong. Instead, this episode managed to wring laughs from worldview and nuance- and that’s just not typical sitcom fare. Really impressive.

Ultimately, this show was a building block, allowing the writers to mine future humor not just from the smaller families within, but the larger Pritchett/non-Pritchett divide as well. It will serve them well in coming years.

And Josh Gad was a guest star used just enough. I think they are starting to realize that the more attached we become to the entire Modern Family clan, the less we want to spend our half-hour a week with outsiders. That’s how you build an audience that doesn’t get tired of your show. It’s what The Mary Tyler Moore Show did best, and it is working well here.

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