I have repeatedly lamented on here the fact that the new Modern Family episodes this year have been largely based around dumb sitcom tropes — specifically misunderstandings that could easily be solved by the characters simply communicating with each other.
Maybe the writers just needed a little break to recharge, because we only got a hint of that kind of misunderstanding last night, in Gloria and Jay’s subplot, and even there it was completely warranted, since revealing the truth would have blown the Valentine’s Day surprise. “Bixby’s Back” wasn’t wholly original, since, as the title makes evident, it largely borrowed last year’s Phil and Claire’s role-playing subplot, but it succeeded in capturing the Valentine’s Day spirit and left us with one of the strongest episodes in quite a while.
I should backtrack just a little. When I say “Bixby’s Back” wasn’t all that original, I don’t even mean that as a knock against the show. Instead, I think the show used our familiarity with these characters and their situations to create some fun situations and reinforce their characterization. Clive and Juliana were recycled, but the gags in the restaurant leading up to the hotel trip were funny, and the whole situation did a great job at again showing why Phil and Claire are perfect for each other, despite their seeming differences and Phil’s utter inability to be suave. Sure, the minute Claire put the room key down on the counter, we knew the night wouldn’t end up as planned (and I almost would have rather seen it go off without a hitch — what would have been more surprising than that?), but, ultimately, the point was to see that no matter how much they could stand to spice things up once in a while, they love each other and have a sturdy marriage.
Jay and Gloria’s subplot was relatively brief, but worked really well to show off their dynamic (“I’m the second wife. Why are you treating me like the first?”). Gloria apparently knew she stole Cam and Mitchell’s table, otherwise her whole scheme would have made no sense, but the reveal of her one-upmanship was perfect, and very well played by Sofia Vergara. And it was nice to see her “Shut up, I win” undercut Jay’s romanticism, as almost a nod by the writers that the show can often be heavy-handed in its morals.
I would have liked Mitchell and Cam’s subplot to be a little more about them, rather than about how they react to an external obstacle, but it worked nonetheless. The twist that Broderick’s crush was actually on Cam was one I didn’t see coming (and nice callback to Cam’s gym shorts in the explanation), and it led to another funny, but friendly, competition between Mitchell and Cam. Their romantic ending was also undercut by their agreement that neither would blame Broderick if he had a crush on the other, and it’s nice that the writers trust us enough to understand the different relationships now, and don’t have to end with a monologue about the true meaning of Valentine’s Day. It’s clear from their actions that they love and care about each other, and it only becomes clearer and funnier when that fact isn’t telegraphed to us via voiceover.
Finally, the kids got little screen time, but they were at least all on screen, and probably work best in small doses in this kind of episode anyway. It was especially fun to see Manny test out his romantic advice, even if it went way over Haley’s head. Plus, Dylan and his inappropriate love songs returned!
All in all, a strong, true-to-its-characters return for Modern Family — I just hope the writers can keep it up without big holidays around which to structure the episodes.
Bits & Pieces
- If I have one complaint, it was too little of Manny, the show’s hopeless romantic, on VALENTINE’S DAY.
- “Yeah… I’m the idiot.”
- “I win! I win again!”
- “Did I validate you?” “Oh yeah.”
And now, Clive’s lines of the night:
- “Pretty and smart. Or should I say, pretty smart.”
- “You look hot enough to cook a pizza on.”
- “Don’t take too long.” — “I never do.”
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