If you’ve been reading my weekly reviews, you probably know that I haven’t been the biggest fan of the second season of Modern Family. I really do like the show, and think they’ve assembled a great cast to play some wonderful characters, but so many of the stories, especially in the second half of the season, have been lazy stock sitcom plots with unearned resolutions. My frustration comes mainly because I know the show is better than what it has been demonstrating over the last several weeks, and I’m just growing impatient with waiting for it to get back into its season one groove.
Having said that, last night’s “Two Monkeys and a Panda” was the first episode in a while that I thought really worked all around, and a lot of it was due to the fact that there were no wacky misunderstandings or shoehorned-in sappy voiceovers — just honest emotional moments and organic interactions between the characters that fit perfectly based on what we know about them. And the lack of crossover between families didn’t even bother me because each of the individual stories was handled so well.
The Dunphys had two stories in one: Since Claire didn’t have time to use her spa coupon (valued at over $200!) that was going to expire the next day, Phil took a spa day himself, and learned some valuable lessons about women from his new gal pals. The scenario provided Phil with numerous classic lines (“If you don’t use it, then all our money just goes to charity!” “You mess with Phil Dunphy, the claws come out” *cut to manicure*), but at the same time gave him some insight into Claire’s mind. Claire can often come off as shrill and controlling, but by having Phil learn from the other women at the spa, it both fit his character (he would be too unaware to pick up these lessons on his own) and gave some more depth to Claire, without her having to explain everything.
Their B-story had Alex borrowing Haley’s sweater, predictably ruining it after she promised it would be fine, and then Claire having to drive around town to find a replacement. It didn’t work quite as well, since Claire probably could have followed Phil’s advice and just avoided the problem altogether, but there was nice closure with Phil really taking his recent lessons to heart and being there to lend Claire support and a sympathetic ear.
Jay and Gloria’s age difference was tackled head on when Jay took Gloria to look at plots at the local crypt (ta da!). Although it started as a disagreement about burial versus entombment, it turned into a discussion about their relationship and what Gloria might do if she outlives Jay — a very real possibility. As tough as Jay seems on the outside, the story exposed a softer, more insecure side of him, as he worried that he would end up the putz once Gloria remarried someone better than him. His talk with Manny about Gloria’s string of suitors (including proposals out of car windows), and the fact that she fell in love with him after their first fight, showed that, despite her apparent trophy wife status, they really do have a connection, and their hug at the end was the perfect note to go out on (with Jay’s coffee can speech wonderfully undercutting the moral, unlike the normal sappy voiceover hammering the moral home).
Cam and Mitchell’s storyline was similarly grounded in an honest relationship conflict. Unlike recent weeks, where they argued over who Mitch’s assistant had a crush on or who listened more, this story exposed Mitchell’s insecurities about Cam’s parenting but ultimately showed what dedicated parents the two are. Cam’s freakouts were perfectly in-character, and it was nice to see the honest discussion between them regarding Lily’s non-hyphenated last name. Now, I did have a problem with the titular “Two Monkeys and a Panda” story, in that it essentialized Lily’s racial identity and highlighted the fact that she is literally their adoptive property. Adoption is obviously a real thing, and there is a way to address it, but the show has consistently used Lily as a way to make racist jokes (see: the Godzilla commercial) that I honestly don’t find funny and just get cheaper each time.
With that caveat, though, I really enjoyed the episode overall, and what worked in all three families’ stories this week was their grounding in more serious issues that let them sell the emotional aspects without feeling cheesy and unnecessary. Much of the episode had almost a sad tone to it, which felt out of place for such a typically joke-driven sitcom, but by highlighting the characters’ relationships and making the plot flow from there, rather than the other way around, we got one of the best Modern Family episodes in quite a while.
Bits & Pieces
- “Guess what the new spinach is — kale.” “No!”
- “She makes me feel like a fifth grader again.”
- “Gotta give my cholesterol pills something to do.”
- “There is no explanation, there is just no excuse — I just want to know.”
- “When do I ever play?”
- “Today I made a comment about the Wiggles, and it went right over her head.” “I don’t know what that means.” “It’s an expression, it means she didn’t get it.”
- “We need to talk about this ‘ta-da.'”
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