Modern Family is a show I’ve purposely kept from reviewing this year, but I thought that after tonight’s episode, it’d be a good time to jump in and say a few things.
With only a handful of episodes left, Modern Family has had a perfectly adequate second season. It’s a great show and it makes me laugh — quite a bit, actually — just not in the same way I was laughing last year. It’s a show that knows what it does best, and is determined to do that, and just that, as well as it can. And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be as zany as 30 Rock or as edgy as Eastbound and Down. But every now and then it does something to break out of its shell, and “The Musical Man” certainly did that. Just maybe not in the way it wanted to.
The episode’s structure felt a little more like a traditional sitcom, especially in that the C story, with Jay and his brother, Donnie (played by Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks), had very little time devoted to it. Instead, we spent most of the episode with Claire and Haley, driving around in their newly shrink-wrapped van. Because of the unfortunate layout of Phil’s new ad, one side of the van showed Haley with the caption, “Let me make all your dreams come true!” while the other side had Claire, exclaiming, “I can’t be satisfied!” It was genuinely funny. I LOLed, as I’m sure many of you did. But then the show took the joke and beat it right into the ground.
When Phil sees that he’s got 19 missed calls, of course he assumes that it’s because there are people out there looking for quality, affordable housing and NOT looking to satisfy his wife and daughter. Of course this leads to a hilariously misunderstood phone call, with the sexual double-entendres flying fast and furious.
While all this craziness is going on, Cam has taken over Manny and Luke’s school musical and, as he is wont to do, is trying to Streisand it all up. The thing was, by the time this side of the episode delivered its punchline, with the kids on the stage turning over their hilariously misspelled placards, the only thing going through my head was, “What dirty joke are we gonna get?” The rest of the episode had hit the same note so many times, that I didn’t expect it to go anywhere else in the endgame. It was all funny, but it was also unimaginative, and felt a little off for a show that’s taken so many traditional sitcom tropes and made them feel fresh again.
Overall, I liked the episode, and it was a slice of deep fried gold compared to Happy Endings and all the other mass-produced sitcom clones we’ve seen this season. But this year it’s seemed like there’s a line the show just doesn’t feel it needs to rise above. And I hate to say it, but that line dips into mediocrity a little too often. And with a show like Modern Family, such things ought not be.