Modern Family had its first new episode of the new year last night, and I have a review of it after the jump.
Modern Family kicked off 2011 with a fairly typical episode. It had funny parts, but not all the story lines clicked, and the three families were largely kept separate throughout the half-hour.
The strongest story was probably Cam and Mitch’s. Their opening exchange, with Mitch continuing to ask questions about the stranger, was great, as was the first scene after the credits, with Cam leaning on Mitch’s shoulder, both looking gazingly at their new Reiki-master neighbor. James Marsden played nicely off both of them as the slightly crazy Barry who was living in Lily’s play castle in the backyard. Ultimately, the story didn’t really go anywhere, but the playhouse scene had some good physical humor, and the whole thing was a nice look into Mitchell’s judgmental personality and his friendly competition with Cam over always having to be right. Plus, we got to see his grammar-geek side, which I closely identify with — when you have a joke about the misuse of “literally” and “I could care less,” I’ll let some other things slide.
The part that bothered me about this plot, though, was the way the writers handled the landlord, Mrs. Ko. First, she calls Cameron “Mitchell” (she can’t keep the two gay guys straight!), then, after yelling to her husband when he honks the car horn, tells Cam they’re “so lucky they don’t let you get married.” Sure, that can be read as a joke about nagging spouses, but it also equates those nagging spouses with marriage as a whole. Cam and Mitch are in a committed relationship and have a child together — they are as married as any other couple on the show, except that their union cannot legally be called a marriage in their state. Mrs. Ko’s comment completely ignores the issues of inequality surround gay marriage, and instead focuses on her own annoyance with her husband at that moment. On top of all that, she had a very stereotypical Asian accent that added nothing and turned her into a racial caricature. Sure, she is the device that leads Cam to discover that Barry is living in Lily’s play castle, but he could have found that out by just hearing Barry sneeze while taking out the trash. Instead, the writers felt it important to introduce a stereotyped Mrs. Ko at that moment to make disparaging comments about gay marriage and then leave before she, as the landlord, could be any help in resolving the Barry situation.
The Jay-Gloria-Manny subplot was also enjoyable. OF COURSE Manny wouldn’t know how to ride a bike, but would try to impress Jay with his custom-made training wheels. I’m glad Manny learned to ride so quickly, even with his full-body protective gear, because it was Gloria’s inability to ride a bike that led to the funniest jokes (her mother never taught her because she always said, “That’s how people grab you!”) and the only crossover between families for the night (more on that in a minute).
And Phil and Claire’s story was…fine. It fit their characters that Claire would take on the role of neighborhood safety patrol and make it her duty to stop the speeding car, while Phil would try to straddle supporting his wife and his new (potential) client, but it just felt very clear that the writers were creating a scenario that could have been easily resolved if Phil just said something straightforward to either Claire or Laura. It was a funny reveal that Laura was the crazy driver, and the kids’ reaction to the “Slow Down Your Neighbors” poster was spot-on, but the conflict dragged on for too long, and was not even resolved on screen (we only got Phil’s explanation of the one dozen Mylar balloons he ordered for Claire).
Luke, who is quickly becoming my favorite character, was the best thing about the episode. His strange distrust of the police was a nice runner in his parents’ story, and it was hilarious to see him as an effective teacher with unconventional methods. Having Luke squirt a knee- and elbow-padded Gloria with a water gun while she was trying to ride a bike couldn’t not be funny, but the fact that it worked and that he reproduced his methods to help Haley study at the end brought it to the next level.
So, a fairly solid episode to kick off the new year, even though it contained some problematic elements. At least it didn’t end with one of those schmaltzy voiceovers.
Bits & Pieces
- “What is the one thing a speeder can’t outrun?” “Bullets! A laser! Ooh, I know, a falcon!”
- “Just getting rid of some negative energy.” “Oh, well, in that case, we’ll be back Tuesday.”
- “I need somebody gentle, nurturing, like a woman.” Doorbell rings and Phil walks out.