Modern Family: On Familiar Ground

Written by Hunter Phillips on . Posted in TV

Haven’t we seen all of this before?

Mitchell and Cameron have CRAZY quirks, and those quirks affect their parenting of Lily. Claire is a loud and commanding shrew. Phil is vying for Jay’s respect. Is it just me, or are these Season One’s stories with a flashy new paint job?

Don’t get me wrong, I love Modern Family. It’s consistently one of the highlights of my week, and there are few shows that deserve consecutive Outstanding Comedy Series Emmys more. But something seems wrong— it seems like the show is spinning its wheels, something that “The Show That Saved Sitcoms” would have never done a year ago.

Of course, I understand the philosophy— introduce new viewers to the most accessible character interactions and  broadest stories. It’s better safe than sorry when a show is competing against Simon Cowell and The X Factor. I’m positive Modern Family will return to matching its potential in the coming weeks, but as for tonight, it was a solid, if unspectacular, opener.

In the first half hour, the Dunphy/Pritchett clan vacations at a dude ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where they are hosted by an “authentic” western type played by the always-great Tim Blake Nelson. Phil is worried about Jay’s level of respect for him (“Phyllis, my son-in-law”), especially after seeing the manner in which Claire treats Dylan on the trip. Oh, Claire— one of my favorite characters from season one became almost intolerable during the following year. I couldn’t stand her shrill, antagonistic plots, and I was hoping the writers harnessed Julie Bowen’s energy into something better this year. They did not.

After reluctantly allowing Dylan on the trip in the first place, and mistreating him from the outset, Phil confronts Claire and tells her to lighten up. She meets with the master-songwriter and horse-impresario and apologizes for acting like, well, herself. Dylan takes her apology as a come-on, because ha ha, it’s funny, right? Dylan later proposes to Haley, gets rejected by both mother and daughter, runs into the woods, and is written out of the show in a manner so silly, I wondered if I was still watching Modern Family, or if I’d turned the dial to CBS. It’s a shame, too, as Dylan was one of the more reliably-hilarious bit characters on the show.

Elsewhere in the episode, Mitchell confronts his lack of manliness by blowing things up in the manliest way possible with Luke, Jay plays hero while saving Gloria from “the horny cowboy,” and Alex falls for a young Tony Soprano in one of the stranger subplots the show has taken. A pretty hilarious episode, but an uneven one too, albeit one that newcomers will be sure to enjoy.

Tonight’s bonus second episode was pure sitcom schtick, with more of Claire being Claire, and Mitch and Cam reenacting Generic Mitch/Cam Story B, in which they realize that THEY’RE SO DIFFERENT, BUT IT’S OKAY! Jay’s family has a predictable subplot involving Manny stealing a girl’s locket (which seems ridiculously out of character for the usually wise-beyond-his-years Manny). Everything dovetails in that Modern Family way, with the entire cast in one room, bouncing off of each other. An abrupt and clumsy ending ruined most of the goodwill built up during the episode, and left me a little cold.

Of more important note is the adorable little girl chosen to play three-year-old Lily. Never will I ever hear a more heartwarming delivery of “Kill the baby.” It’ll be a delight to see Lily get more to do as her dads work to adopt another child— but this one from America, or “buying domestic,” as Cam puts it.

For an introduction to Modern Family, I can’t see many better examples of episodes to break a new viewer in, providing a great entry point to all the characters. For longtime fans, these episodes will be a bore, potentially. However, if there’s a show out there that can rebound from a merely-passable episode spectacularly, it’s this one.



Trackback from your site.