Modern Family: Season 4, Episode 14 – “A Slight at the Opera”

KIP MOONEY: It’s episodes like this that remind me that Modern Family is sometimes a show divided against itself. There’s the sharp, hilarious stories it tells for its best episodes and the aggressively mediocre ones it uses to pad out its weakest. This episode had 100% of both.

So let’s get the bad, or rather the pointless, out of the way. Gloria and Alex at a psychic? Completely unnecessary and proof that this pairing doesn’t work. Alex trots out plenty of jokes about how psychics are scam artists and Gloria believing everything the brúja says wholeheartedly. There was already plenty of great stuff going on, so this was completely unnecessary. I’m tired of wasting writing space to hoping Modern Family will eventually write an episode where we don’t see characters for episode(s) at a time simply because they don’t have any great material for them. Not every episode needs a separate plot thread for each character.

And what on earth was Claire doing this episode? Her pratfalls prove she’s no Phil and the quasi-revenge plotline on Phil’s forgetfulness was just a complete waste of time. Granted, I did like Haley and Dylan’s surprisingly good parenting qualities, and how they both ended up in a Phil-and-Claire-like argument. (“I thought it could be fun.” “All you do is have fun, while I’m doing all the cooking and cleaning!”) But I would have much rather stuck with our two stories, which was an embarrassment of riches.

This episode gets its title from Manny being upstaged at Cam’s production of The Phantom of the Opera (which is likely way too long and advanced for middle schoolers, but Cam has never thought about things like that) by none other than Luke. Originally hired to paint sets, it turns out he’s got a halfway decent voice and is at least suited for the part. I like to think he and Manny both share an affinity for capes.

But the grade-A material gets saved for Phil and Jay’s golf match against Mitch and Pepper (Nathan Lane). Turns out everyone here is seeking some sort of approval: Phil from Jay, Mitch from Jay, Pepper from Mitch. Jay, of course, just wants to win this round. The golf games of Phil and Mitch have drastically improved and it’s a nailbiter until the final putt. A great running gag is that Phil has never heard Harry Chapin’s 1974 hit “Cat’s in the Cradle,” which is hilarious considering Phil has nicknamed his arms as the Captain & Tennille and England Dan & John Ford Coley before. That sort of wuss-rock should be right up his alley.

When Pepper plays it for the group on the way back to the clubhouse, everyone starts bawling and it’s at once hilarious and touching, which are the show’s two biggest attributes. Phil, who was going to bail on the Phantom show ends up returning and getting a big surprise not only from Luke being onstage but also from his own dad (a too briefly used Fred Willard—keep him around for a couple episodes, guys!) sitting next to him.

This show can and has achieved greatness, but it’s got to stop diluting it with meaningless plots. More putts, fewer psychics.

BEST LINES:
The school paper’s review of the last musical before Cam took over: “Anything Blows”

Pepper: “Let’s make it a foursome.”
Jay: “That’s the first time that word’s ever scared me.”

Mitch: “Dad used to say, ‘Nice throw, Nancy!’ Nancy was our neighbor. I could never throw as good as she could.”

Pepper: “I like big putts and I cannot lie.”

About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney is a recent graduate of UNT's Mayborn School of Journalism and big-time opponent of going to grad school. Working as a freelance writer in the DFW area, he's always ready to go in-depth with his opinions on film, television, music, religion and the sorry state of politics in America. He continues to work independently, as each of his non-college jobs has resulted in the company experiencing serious financial troubles once he leaves, including Blockbuster and the trashy restaurant D's Country Kitchen. (The lesson here is hire him, but don't let him leave.) His literary heroes include Roger Ebert, Donald Miller and Matt Taibbi. Kip has written for The Dallas Morning News and Pegasus News and served as editor-in-chief for the North Texas Daily, but he is perhaps best known as the inspiration for Christian Lander's well-known blog Stuff White People Like.
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