KIP MOONEY: I always worry about holiday-themed episodes, particularly Halloween ones. Unless the show in question is The Simpsons or–two for two so far–Community, it’s really an excuse for the writers to pull out pop culture clichés (hey, this episode’s a parody of the latest slasher movie!) to cover up an inability to keep the series fresh. But maybe these are just bad memories of Home Improvement.
Thankfully, this was not the case with this week’s Modern Family. After last week’s season peak, the show is finally on a roll again after a very shaky opening. The writing is simply stellar in its jokes and earned emotional payoffs.
This week, Claire and Phil are admittedly too old to be getting this excited about Halloween. They’re going as a Corpse Bride and Groom (“Is there any other kind?” Phil half-jokes) and take pride in having the scariest house on the block. Unfortunately everyone seems to have an excuse as to why they can’t participate: Cam is too mortified from a childhood embarrassment, Alex would rather study and Haley’s costumes are too inappropriate–those include a sexy cat, sexy nurse and sexy Mother Teresa. (“I’m her back when she was hot,” she protests).
But in a fantastic speech (and a strong case for Julie Bowen as next year’s Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series), Claire explains that Halloween is the only holiday has left, after Gloria took over Christmas with her Colombian fireworks displays and Cam and Mitch have dominated Thanksgiving with “whatever turkey craze they saw on the Food Network.” She then terrorizes her own yard display in a rage best described as Griswold-esque.
I think the only competition Bowen will have is her co-star Sofia Vergara. This was the strongest Gloria has got to be all season long. Her perfect blend of sarcasm, rage and motherly love is the biggest secret weapon on any sitcom on television. She lets it all shine as she attempts to speak “more American” after Jay and Manny criticize her mangling of common U.S. colloquialisms (i.e. a “doggy-dog world”). It all sets up a wonderfully tender seen between Jay and Gloria, costumed as a gargoyle and witch (or as Gloria would say, a “gargle and a brujá”).
These last two episodes have played to the what the show does best. Its perfect blend of humor and heart is what endeared so many to the show in the first place, and by keeping a let’s say 80-20 ratio is when it functions best, even though tonight’s episode appropriately flirted with some dark humor, provided by guest star Matt Besser as Jerry, whose wife just left him. That was a definite bonus for someone who loves the cheap shots on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. About the only detraction is that Cam, so bright in season one, is turning into little more than a drama queen. There’s no reason I should like uptight Mitchell more than Cam.
But hopefully they’re just working out a way to keep the show moving forward, which evidenced by this one-two punch, is certainly where they’re headed.
Jay, who went as Snoop Dogg last Halloween: “I didn’t even know who he was. Haley just turned my hat that way and told me to say that. I thought he was a dog detective.”
Phil, to recently separated Jerry: “Don’t push me away. I’m not Judy.”
Mitchell, on the phone: “I’m trapped in the men’s room and all I have on is a Spider-man costume.”
Cam: “Hot! Who is this?”
HOWARD MEGDAL: Agree with nearly every point you make, Kip, though Cam has been tremendous throughout. The writers let him down this week.
His character hasn’t been the one to overreact to small slights from childhood- just the opposite. He’d also relish the chance to be part of a Halloween haunted house. The problem with his role this week is how incompatible it is with who he’s been.
That said, I enjoyed Gloria’s Eliza Doolittle, every costume, and Matt Besser’s cameo, too. Claire’s speech resonated- its veracity in terms of family dynamic is what made the emotion of the moment work.
A strong episode, which makes 4 of 6 by my count.