Network comedies generally have 22 minutes to hit the plot points and get to the resolution. While many sitcoms struggle to fill those minutes, this week’s Modern Family episode, “The Musical Man,” tried to cram in way too much for its three storylines.
The episode’s title refers to Cameron being appointed interim musical director for Manny and Luke’s school, Franklin Middle School. Channeling his best Fosse, by way of Nathan Lane in The Birdcage, Cameron is a dictatorial director who wants to take the annual school show to new heights by taking a “musical trip around the world.” Now that could be good, right? Read on.
Meanwhile, in the Dunphy household, Phil is excited about getting the family’s minivan shrink-wrapped with his latest realty ad—a family portrait. When the car gets delivered, Haley and Claire hop in without noticing the advertisement in its entirely, complete with sexual innuendos. (On one side of the van, Claire’s standing alone with half of Phil’s tagline: “I can’t be satisfied.” And Haley is on the other side of the van unwittingly channeling her best Lolita.) Naturally, Phil’s phone rings off the hook and, bless his Dunphy heart, he can’t tell that the callers aren’t really talking about carpets and rugs.
In the evening’s third story arc, Jay Pritchett gets a visit from his brother Donnie (Jonathan Banks). The siblings have a relationship built on practical jokes and brotherly fights. The wrestling, headlocks and practical jokes are somewhat endearing when you’re Manny and Luke’s age (somewhat), but it’s certainly not attractive between two old men. What’s missing from their relationship is straight communication about the little things in life—like Donnie’s battle with cancer. He’s fine, but it brings out the more serious, caring Jay, and Donnie wants no part of Jay‘s more sensitive side. This storyline was a little schmaltzy—and couching it in annoying man behavior made it even worse.
The musical storyline was supposed to be the focal point of the episode, but it fell flat. While we’re glad it didn’t take a Glee-like turn, the school production could have been a little more campy or funny—a la Little Miss Sunshine. Cam’s diva-like hissy fits are always entertaining, but the rehearsals and the song-and-dance numbers in the show were glossed over and felt a bit rushed. The funniest bit of the musical was the grand finale, when the kids left out the letter “l” in “world” and spelled out “We love the word” across the stage. When Cam tells them to lower the Franklin logo—a big letter “F”—it gets dropped right in the middle of the phrase to spell, “We love the F word.” Cam runs across the stage and knocks the signs out of the kids’ hands one at a time. Yes, more of that, please.
While the sexual innuendo of the Dunphy minivan and Cameron’s musical had their humorous moments, we wished that the writers would have concentrated on fewer stories in the show’s 20-plus minutes. We know that America has a short attention span, but there’s something to be said about crafting a funny script with wit and understatement amidst all the sucker punches.
-When looking at the paper ad that will cover his car, Phil exclaims, “The best thing about me is my family…and my teeth.”
-Leave it to kid sister Alex to steal a scene: Haley gets average SAT scores and her parents are ecstatic (they thought she was strictly vo-tech material), but she wonders out loud whether she wants to go to college anyway. Her parents are shocked and her sister exclaims, “We took the scenic route, but we ended up in the same place.”
-Throughout the episode, Claire wonders if she’s past her prime, but Phil’s ad proves that she can still attract ‘em. “Thanks to all the perverts in town, I still have a few years ahead of me.”
-Cam to Mitchell on why he’s taking this directing thing so seriously: “Years from now, they will still be talking about how I Sonheim-ized them.” (We knew we shouldn’t have laughed at that one, but we did anyway.)