After Clive Bixby and Juliana returned last week for the Valentine’s Day festivities, more season one favorites showed up this week. DeDe Pritchett, Claire and Mitchell’s mom and Jay’s ex-wife, and Fizbo the Clown were both on hand to help celebrate Lily’s birthday, but while they made for a funny episode, they were both better the first time around and just ended up making “Princess Party” feel overdone.
One of my big complaints about Modern Family is how often they keep the three families separate, or with only minor crossover, despite the fact they all live in the same neighborhood. It would be so easy for Cam and Mitchell to go to Phil and Claire for parenting advice, or for Manny and Luke to hang out more, or for them all to have family dinners without any big special occasion. That’s not to say the individual stories are necessarily bad, it just seems like they could easily be taken to the next level with some crossover that had little or no contrivance.
The thing about keeping the families separate, though, is that when they do come together, it’s supposed to be a big event. Lily’s birthday party certainly had that specialness to it, but unfortunately there were so many other elements that it got overshadowed and we barely go to see our main characters interact, since they were so busy dealing with their external conflicts.
The return of DeDe, and her new penchant for younger men could have been a great story line on its own. So could Claire’s old boyfriend returning to embarrass her in front of her kids. So could Cam trying to be Fizbo at Lily’s princess party. All of these would have been perfectly legitimate A-stories, and probably would have deserved the spotlight. Instead, we got all three stuffed into one episode, and they all got the short shrift.
In particular, Matt Dillon as Claire’s old slacker boyfriend Robbie never paid off. He was completely unappealing and there was never any question that Claire was glad to have gotten rid of him. His presence was justified simply because DeDe needed a younger guy to rub in everyone’s face, but it could have been any guy. This way just added another unnecessary layer to the story that never played out beyond its predictable beats.
As I’m reading this over, the review sounds a lot more negative than my actual reaction to the episode was when I watched it last night. I found a lot of the episode quite funny, and thought the Jay and Gloria story line in particular was quite strong and built nicely on their May-December relationship. Sofia Vergara continues to kill as Gloria, and the answering machine scene was by far the best part of the episode (“It’s not the beep.” “Then why even say it!”).
The more I think about it, though, the more I feel like Modern Family is squandering its potential. The characters are so well-defined and bounce off each other so well, it’s a shame they so often get stuck in tired sitcom tropes and mired down with guest stars. The cast can more than handle themselves if they just get the right material.
Bits & Pieces
- I did like that we never actually got to see Fizbo at the party. We saw Cam in costume before the party, his petty argument with the princess during the party, and then his wiped-off makeup afterward. It was nice to see that restraint, and let us just imagine what the kids’ reactions were. (British-accented Fizbo was a nice touch, though.)
- Phil was surprisingly calm throughout Robbie’s visit. Phil has never been hotheaded, and it made sense that Jay would eventually be the one to kick Robbie out, but Phil just sort of flopped around, not sticking up for Claire or trying to become Robbie’s cool friend.
- As much as I like Luke, his trying to be cute wasn’t nearly as funny as he normally is.
- I think we would have gotten the “if the shoe fits” joke even if Cam hadn’t point out that, in fact, they are clown shoes and do not fit.
- Glad to see Manny is still enjoying his espresso.
- “She’s going to be in Chicago.” “Oh, what part is she playing?”
- “Why wouldn’t you tell him I’m married?” “Not everything in a conversation is about you!”
- “That was my bear voice.” “I was going to get a crucifix!”
- “I’m going to miss Alex’s graduation, all of Haley’s weddings…”
- “Cue gasp…”
That’s my take. Share your thoughts on “Princess Party” in the comments section below!