People tend to be split down the middle on how Modern Family puts together its episodes. Some don’t mind when the three families go the entire time without seeing each other, and some prefer the ones in which they all find ways to interact. I think the show is perfectly capable of hitting on all cylinders whether the families are together or not. And if they find some way to keep half the family separate while letting a few of them get together, it seems like a perfect balance.
And that’s what we saw tonight. Gloria and Manny were off with Mitchell while Cameron and Jay played racquetball. But my favorite of the three storylines tonight was the Dunphees and the perfect storm of embarrassment that came down when Claire tried to impress her high-powered businesswoman friend — played by Minnie Driver — with how perfect her life at home was. Seeing Luke in his underwear cradling a bottle of Jägermeister while Dylan and Haley “fornicated in the stairwell” really brought it all home. All this, capped off with Clair stuffing her face with junkfood while Phil told the kids that she was probably taking a nice, long walk was the icing on the cake.
At the Television Critics Association press tour last month, creator Steve Levitan talked a little bit about constantly trying to strike the right balance between cynicism and heart in the show. I think it’s always a good idea to change things up, especially on a show like this, but I’ve never felt that the show’s heart has ever felt over-the-top or contrived. So tonight when Claire came to her senses, swallowed her pride and went back home, the family accepting her back into the fold without so much as a word didn’t seem out of place at all.
One thing I think the show needs to work on is finding more effective ways of using its guest stars. Modern Family hasn’t been able to do this the same way shows like 30 Rock have. 30 Rock makes me laugh at Salma Hayek while Modern Family makes Edward Norton look like cleverly-placed window dressing. They’re getting better at it. Case in point, “Fifteen Percent,” with guest star Chazz Palminteri. I thought they were able to give him a little more to do, and really hit their beats with his stereotypical “homosexuality.” Even 30 Rock struggled to find its voice with this, and I’m sure Modern Family will eventually be doing it just as well.
Stuff I liked:
- “One of my lovers lives in Paris.” “I don’t know what jumps out of that sentence more. ‘Lovers’ or ‘one of.'”
- Manny ratting out Gloria. I think they always use his character most effectively when he’s talking to adults.
- Cameron shouting into the phone while Jay is talking to Mitchell. It’s always funny watching Cameron shove his sexuality into Jay’s obviously-uncomfortable face.