Reviewing most sitcoms poses challenges for writers. At some point in analyzing a show, we discover the “formula” and pick up the patterns as the weeks progress. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule—especially with the cracked-out episodes we’ve caught from NBC’s Community this season—but unfortunately, with last night’s season two finale of Modern Family, it fell more into the rule category than the exceptional one.
We’re not saying that Modern Family is a bad show—it’s actually one of the better ensemble comedies on TV right now—but with such a first-rate cast and production team, we were just hoping for more.
So just as in weeks past, last night’s episode, “The One that Got Away,” had a central premise: Jay Pritchett was having a birthday, and while he wanted nothing more than a day to himself fishing on the lake, his family—inadvertently—had other plans for the birthday boy.
There were four subplots that worked from this main storyline: Claire and Mitchell hope to recreate a childhood photo in their old backyard (she in jeans and pigtails and he in a sailor suit); Phil runs into an old cheerleading rival while shopping with voluptuous Gloria and pretends they are together to one-up his nemesis; Manny seeks Cameron’s help with sports to impress a girl he likes, and the Dunphy kids try to edit a tribute video for their grandfather’s birthday.
With all those plotlines in place, the writers were left to put the characters in absurd situations and then write witty one-liners about the situation. And the snappy lines delivered with aplomb by the cast are what keep us entertained on a weekly basis. For example, little Manny—the old soul who prefers French press coffee and Proust—hasn’t a clue about little boy things. When he talks to Cameron about using a baseball glove, he says while wearing the glove, “I only used it once to take a torte out of the oven.” Manny is being Manny is refreshing.
But the changes that we’ve seen in Jay Pritchett lately aren’t as amusing. This season, Jay has become an old softy, and we miss the crotchety know-it-all. Yes, it’s fine and good that Jay learns life lessons at the end of each episode, but let him be Mr. Crankypants, too. He’s way too calm in dealing with his crazy family—you’d expect a little more irritation from a father who has to rescue his two grown children who’ve broken into their old backyard. (That storyline was kind of lame anyway. In the end, Claire and Mitchell learn that they needed each other growing up in the Pritchett household—yaaawn.)
There was one new seed that’s been planted for next season: Cam and Mitchell are going to adopt again—hopefully a brother for Lilly. We can only wish that next season’s Modern Family re-tools a little bit, relying less on formula, adding more surprises and keeping the audience (and reviewers alike) on their toes.
-Phil reminisces about recreating a childhood photo for his parents. The camera cuts to a photo of a baby Phil with a spaghetti bowl on top of his head, next to a grown-up Phil posing the same way.
-In a phone argument with the dog groomer, Jay says, “You know what did your job in my day?” [A beat] “A hose.”
-Cam on Gloria: “She can be mean in Spanish.”
-“You think that’s funny, Popeye?” Jay to Mitchell as he sits in the backseat of Jay’s car in a sailor suit.
-Jay opens his gifts. From Gloria, he gets a phone that looks like a big pair of red lips. She misheard him when he said he was considering saxophone lessons. Instead, she gave him a “sexy phone.”