At the Dunphy household, Haley wants to quit her job because it’s boring (welcome to life, child), Alex is continuing her nerd-dom and Luke is continuing his mad scientist lifestyle. Claire doesn’t agree with her children’s choices while Phil finds nothing is wrong. All will have to wait because Claire has to go in for an angiogram ? a precautionary test.
At the hospital, Claire and Phil meet The Future Dunphys ? three adults whose personalities mirror the little Dunphys. We find out BizarroHaley has been married four times and is unhappy in another marriage, BizarroAlex is a cat lady, and BizarroLuke is a man-child that’s probably on a first name basis with the police.
Phil knows the error of his ways while Claire sees the BizarroDunphys hate their mother and knows the error of her ways. Both, separately, call their children who interpret the schizo behavior as Claire being really sick. They arrive at the hospital to see their parents okay and realize it’s just another overreaction ? the children freak out, leading to BizarroBizarroDunphys (younger version of the Dunphys) to have judgy-face.
Jay takes Manny to interview at a private school. Unresolved issues surface as Jay relives his history with snotty private school boys with small noses ? he worked for the privileged and wasn’t treated well. Jay realize, as the tour of the school continues, he wanted to BE the snotty boys with the small noses. His enthusiasm leads Manny to bomb his interview (doing the moonwalk at any interview is frowned upon). Manny apologizes to Jay since he knows it was important to the old man. Jay reciprocates ? if Manny feels this was the first time Jay was proud of him, then the old man is the one to say sorry?ahhhh?.
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There’s no good reason that “Best Men” the 86th episode of Modern Family, is the first full half-hour of the series I’ve ever seen. I can recall the buzz arounds its first season, the favorable comparisons to Arrested Development-but I had limited time for new shows then, and 2009 was the fall of Community’s premi?re and Parks And Recreation’s blossoming, so the faux-documentary about the new normal (hey, that’d be a good name for a show) for the American family wasn’t a high priority. And then the thing started gobbling up awards and Nielsen victories at the same time critical consensus suggested it peaked early, so I figured I just catch up with the Pritchett-Dunphy-Tucker-Delgados in syndication.
That seemed like the best way to digest the other megahit sitcoms of the era: Flattening the highs and lows of How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory into something you can watch at the gym or over a laundry basket makes for a great way to get the feel of the biggest TV comedies of the past five years.
Modern Family won’t hit syndication numbers until the end of its fourth season, but if “Best Men” is any indication, it’s already arrived at a point where the barriers to entry are lowered and the casual viewer can jump in on any given Wednesday night. (Or weekday afternoon, come fall 2013.) It’s the type of episode that’s difficult not to damn with faint praise; adjectives on the “competent” spectrum leap most immediately to mind: “Slickly directed” “capably acted” “adequately written.” It neither justifies an ongoing ignorance of the show nor does it suggest that I’ve been missing anything.
There are some big laughs-that Ty Burrell sure has a long career of bumbling and stumbling ahead of him, huh?-and heartwarming moments-it’s neat how the wedding vows from Elizabeth Banks’ character end up reflecting positively on Cam and Mitchell’s relationship-but otherwise it’s just sort of there.
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Claire’s college reunion is coming up, and she doesn’t really want Phil to come with her. Luckily for her, Phil has a bowling tournament with Jay and his friends and can’t make it. At the reunion, Claire reconnects with an old classmate she used call ‘Tater’ (guest star David Faustino) and an old professor she used to date.
When Phil gets kicked off the bowling team, he decides to surprise Claire at the reunion. They end up going for drinks at her professor’s house, and a small part of Claire can’t help wondering how her life would have turned out if she had stayed with Professor Cooke (guest star Maxwell Caulfield). But when his depressed, unbalanced wife shows up, Claire remembers how lucky she is to have Phil.
Meanwhile, Mitch and Cameron are getting ready to host an Oscar party. Cameron wants to take pictures of Lily dressed up as different Hollywood starlets, but six hours into the photo shoot, she gets cranky, and they decide to replace her with baby Joe. Lily ‘helps’ by gluing Joe’s headdress to his hair, and Cam and Mitch have to find a way to fix it before Gloria finds out. Their Oscar party goes well—a little too well, maybe, because they wake up and discover that they somehow promised Dylan, Haley’s delinquent on-and-off boyfriend, that he could move in with them.
The series Modern Family reminds me most of in this regard is The Cosby Show. Like that earlier show, Modern Family had a surprisingly big breakout season, for which it won the Emmy and critical plaudits for being groundbreaking in depicting a minority group as just another part of the big, American tapestry. After that, it declined slightly and went through some bumpy times, before settling onto a rough plateau where it more or less sat for several seasons. Modern Family very rarely produces A or A- episodes anymore, but this season in particular, it rarely produces episodes that fall beneath a B- either. It knows exactly what it does well, and it performs at that level almost ruthlessly. Just as Cosby had its go-to jokes-and always left a little time for Bill to riff-so, too, does Modern Family have its stable of gags-and it always leaves time for Ty Burrell to perform some pratfalls. Modern Family gets shit all the time for playing it safe, but I think it’s important to note just how hard it is to create a show that plays it safe but is still mostly satisfying. Hell, this show had a lot of trouble with just that in its third season, but its fourth season has been an improvement in most ways.
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It’s a special Valentine’s Day episode of ?Modern Family,’ and everyone’s trying to have a good time, but nothing is quite working out as planned – as usual.
“Heart Broken” may not be a consistent laugh riot, but it’s one of the best episodes of the season, owing largely to the decision to treat the episode as a trio of short vignettes – rather than jumping back and forth between stories, we watch each family’s story from beginning to end before moving on to the next. The running theme this week seems to be the typical ?Modern Family’ fare: everyone has plans for their ideal good time, but nothing goes accordingly.
First up are Claire and Phil, who are back to their traditional romantic evening of sexy role-playing, but Claire faints at the bar, the result of a minor hereditary heart condition. Eager to complete her Valentine’s “activities” with Phil, Claire keeps insisting that she’s fine, but she’s really just trying to hide her vulnerability.
Claire is and always has been the strongest member of her family unit, capable of dealing with high-pressure situations and keeping her chin up in difficult situations, but that strength (and stubborn refusal to acknowledge weakness) comes with a price. If she keeps on this way, her minor heart condition could become a major one. The kids take a backseat, allowing Claire and Phil to get in a few good laughs, mostly at the expense of Phil and his bloody nose.
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Even when it’s at its best, Modern Family is not a show that’s strong on plot. We’ve seen every conceivable character combination and plenty of ratings-grabbing big events, but when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter whether Gloria has a baby or if Haley goes to college. What’s most important is that Modern Family can still pull out strong episodes, so long as the writing is solid and the show can avoid falling into its own clich?s.
Tonight’s story on its own doesn’t sound too promising. The girls especially get clunkers of plots. Gloria and Alex visit a psychic, Haley and Dylan babysit li’l Joe, and Claire, in the most asinine plot to greet her in a while, is obsessed with recreating a potential accident that Phil could have caused.
Meanwhile, Phil, Jay, Mitch, and Pepper, golf while Cam is trying to pull off a school production of Phantom Of The Opera. Manny yearns to play the lead, but he’s replaced by Luke, who is supposed to paint sets but unexpectedly possesses a beautiful singing voice.
However, one good thing is that the writers relaxed on two typical Modern Family tropes: Mitch and Cam were never onscreen at the same time, hence we were spared their adorable neverending bitching at one another, while Jay, softened by new-fatherhood, isn’t nearly as tough as usual on Phil, who thus isn’t as pathetically desperate for his father-in-law’s approval. In a fun switch, though, Phil realizes that he golfs better when he’s being berated, and so he asks Jay to give him the business.
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If Modern Family was taking two steps forward and one step back, at least we would be getting somewhere ? slowly, but somewhere. Instead we get a leap forward, 10 steps back and an occasional meet in the middle. Last week’s “Party Crasher” took great strides forward; this week, we got “Fulgencio” which was as bad as the name Fulgencio.
Gloria’s mother, Pilar, and sister, Sonia, are visiting from Colombia for the baby’s christening. In most episodes, Gloria’s typical Colombian, I-lived-in-a-village jokes are tolerable because they’re few and far between. A whole episode of it from three women was not tolerable or funny in the slightest. Example: her sister asks where the garden is and wants to wash her clothes in the river-just because the woman is from a developing country does not mean she’s an idiot.
The mom’s main role in the episode is to play the female version of Jay. She wants to name the baby after her husband, Fulgencio Umberto. (Is that Gloria’s father? It wasn’t clear.) When Jay tries to talk to her truthfully about his hatred of the name, she reveals that she has never liked him. And then he realizes he’s a Phil son-in-law.
As the baby’s godparent, Phil prepares for the christening by getting into Godfather mode. He tries to solve his kids’ problems with hugs and kindness. When that backfires, he goes full mafia. The only noteworthy moment from this storyline is Luke saying a curse word during a confessional. (Have we heard that before?)
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Modern Family has been around for four years now, and in that time, its three interlocking family units have pretty much remained stable. The biggest change that the producers have incorporated into the show was probably Hayley graduating high school and going off to college, a decision that Sarah Hyland sort of made for them just by getting older; the show’s way of dealing with that shift in the Dunphy family dynamic was to have her bomb out of school almost immediately and come crawling back to her family’s spiky embrace. The show itself trades in the commonplace that the modern definition of “family” is in flux, but these families haven’t had to weather any major changes until tonight, when-tada!-Gloria has her baby.
It seems kind of appropriate that the big joke around the birth is that Gloria is fighting her own body to try to keep it from happening, at least not just yet: She goes into labor on Manny’s birthday, and wants to spare him from having to share that special date with a younger sibling. She’s already helped spoil his birthday by arranging a surprise party for him, not knowing that he’ll be coming home with a pretty girl who bestows his first kiss on him, just before flipping on a light switch and seeing the small army of relatives standing there staring at them, wondering if they’re still supposed to yell, “Surprise!”
Manny may not have much game, but he’s always been, as he said in last week’s episode, a gracious host, and he alone is keeping the metrosexual spirit alive on network TV. It’s nice to finally see it paying off for him, even as a pretext for a little cringe comedy.
There are other aspects of this episode that may make you cringe without fully convincing you that this is the reaction that was intended. In the first glimpse of Mitchell and Cameron, Mitchell and Lily are having a pretend wedding-a cute-awkward situation that becomes funny-awkward when Cam becomes jealous and frets over why Lily didn’t propose to him. (“Please, don’t let me marrying my daughter turn into something ugly.”)
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It’s a new year and we’ve got a new episode of ?Modern Family? to celebrate – this week Jay and Gloria take the whole family, sans kids, to a resort in Palm Springs for New Year’s Eve.
As usual, nothing goes according to plan for the ?Modern Family’ gang. Jay decides to take the whole family, minus the kids, to his favorite old resort in Palm Springs, but it’s not what it used to be, and everyone begins devising ways to ditch the family dinner for something a little more exciting. The thing is, when you have expectations for a “fun” evening, you get too wound up in the details and nothing turns out the way you hoped it would.
Claire hasn’t had sex with Phil in over a month, prompting her to take the advice of a weirdo bellboy and drag Phil out in search of a romantic and hidden hot spring. Her problem is one that could be easily solved, if she’d just tell her husband that she wants to have sex, but instead she makes a huge deal about sneaking away from the family and finding a hot spring that may or may not exist. It’s the kind of story that’s rooted in vintage housewifery – this idea that we can’t talk to our husbands or partners about what’s bothering us, let alone an issue dealing with sex.
But it’s also a fairly common problem because no matter how long you’ve been with someone, asking for something when you haven’t been getting it can be a humbling experience – what if they say no? What if there’s some upsetting reason? ?Modern Family’ doesn’t tackle this issue with the sort of depth I’d like to see, but the subtle approach is noted.
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Manny and Luke’s little league team makes it to the playoffs, sending Claire and Cam on the hunt for a field they can use, while Gloria discovers a microphone on tonight’s ?Modern Family.’
While Manny and Luke keep up their ?Odd Couple’ display and practice for their little league playoffs, Claire begins searching for purpose, and it’s all thanks to a flippant remark from Haley, who’s off to her first day at work. Haley comments that having a job makes her feel like she’s worth something and gives Claire a passive-aggressive apology – Claire’s feelings about being a stay-at-home mom are rarely explored on ?Modern Family,’ which has felt like a relief considering how redundant similar plots have been on other sitcoms, and usually we’ve only seen this idea explored via Cam. Cam often feels tedious and in need of purpose with Mitchell off at work and Lily in school, but now that he has a job and Gloria’s pregnant, all that leaves is Claire.
So when Claire and Cam find a great house for an unbelievable price, the zealous pair try to convince Mitch and Phil to let them buy the house together and flip it for profit. As Cam notes, he should be in charge of design, obviously, because he knows about colors and shapes, and as Mitch hilariously notes, that’s not much because Lily knows about colors and shapes too. Sticking Claire with Cam for this particular storyline makes loads of sense – Cam is always looking for a new creative project and is often naive in his approach, and here’s Claire with this drive to find something useful to do with her time and who is equally naive about what she wants to do.
As it turns out, Claire has been applying for jobs and getting turned down, and all she wants to do is feel like she’s really earned something. And why not? She’s a sensible, intelligent, and capable woman, and being a homemaker while someone else is providing the cash can make someone feel a little worthless.
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It’s a week of surprising behavior from everyone on ?Modern Family? when Cam and Mitch try to save a tree, Gloria suffers from “pregnancy brain” and the men are taken out of their comfort zones.
First of all, Alex and Haley’s plot this week was the weakest of the bunch: to take revenge on Haley for posting an embarrassing photo of her on Facebook, Alex attempts to get an equally embarrassing photo of Haley while she cleans up the highway for her community service. While the embarrassing pic of Alex was pretty funny, the rest of the plot felt like an afterthought, as if the writers were looking for something to include the girls this week and hastily recalled Haley’s mix-up with the law back at college to cook up a quick story. Snoozeville.
But the other three stories this week tie together quite nicely, all with the theme of people doing the unexpected. First up, Jay gets Claire to take Gloria to Costco in order to keep an eye on her while she’s suffering from “pregnancy brain” which is making her very absent-minded. We get some cute moments from Gloria, who tries to exit a moving vehicle and can’t remember why she wrote “frozen” on her shopping list, and it’s a nice change of pace from the typically shouty and overly-sensitive, hot-headed Gloria that the writers have focused on too much this season. But the ladies find themselves in trouble with the store’s manager (a woefully underused Paul Scheer) when Claire accidentally leaves the store wearing a sweatshirt she didn’t purchase, leading Gloria to save the day by pretending she’s gone into labor. It’s more of a “wacky hijinks” type of story than one that has any real development, but it serves as solid connective tissue for what’s going on elsewhere.
Speaking of which, Cam has decided to hang out in his family’s favorite tree (which they hilariously refer to as “Treeona Elmsley”) when the city tries to cut it down. As usual, Cam can’t finish anything he starts, and when he’s called into to replace an actor in the local theater’s ?Cats’ musical, he leaves Mitch to take over. This plot also has some rather wacky material (a fireman removing Mitch, who’s dressed like a cat, from the tree), but it also rounds out Cam and Mitch’s dynamic – while Mitch does think that Cameron never finishes what he starts, he also agrees with his partner for once, and maybe Cam finally had a good reason to ditch a project and leave Mitch in charge. And it lets Mitch defend Cam to a couple of Odd Couple cops, proving that he’s not always a nag.
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