After a riotous episode that left us with memorable catchphrases like “monsterating” and “Satan’s trifecta,” Modern Family returned this week with a new episode, “Send Out the Clowns.” Yes, we laughed, we cried—but not nearly as much as the “Leap Day” episode.
The show opens with a funeral for Cam’s old clown college mentor, with a number of clowns in full regalia—including Cam. Fizbo returns! He explains to Mitchell (in civvies) that his old teacher was a “Professor Ringmaster,” which is just “one step below Pitmaster General.”
No matter what anyone says, to us, a clown in makeup is more creepy than funny. And watching these circus funsters at a funeral is a study in the comic-macabre. The opening sequence falls a little flat with the clowns playing sight gags and tricks around the coffin.
One clown—Lewis—shows up an hour late to the funeral. Played by the always appealing Bobby Canavale, Lewis is the irresponsible, ne’er-do-well type clown—and he happens to be Cam’s old partner in clowning. It doesn’t take us long to realize that there’s still bad blood between the Fizbo and Lewis. The team broke up after Cam and Mitchell got together. “It’s hard to have a relationship and a clown career,” Cam explains.
After a post-funeral bar outing (which we don’t get to see, but wished we could have) Fizbo and Lewis are back at Cam’s house entertaining Lily with drunken clown tricks at 3 in the morning.
After a heated discussion about Mitchell not supporting his clown career, Cam announces that Fizbo and Lewis are getting back together for one last gig—at a children’s birthday party. Unfortunately, Lewis thinks that the act is getting back together permanently. When he realizes that Cam’s just in for one last party, Cannavale pulls his best Krusty the Clown impersonation and starts beating Fizbo, as if it’s part of the act. The scene wasn’t particularly funny, nor did it do anything to improve our perception of clowns.
The episode, directed and co-written by series co-creator Steve Levitan, features several storylines for the rest of the family. Phil competes for a huge real estate listing against an unscrupulous agent, Mitzi Roth, played by an intimidating (and almost unrecognizable) Ellen Barkin. Claire tries to get daughters Haley and Alex to accept her friend request on Facebook. And Jay gets suspicious when the coolest kid in school befriends Manny.
Now while we love Phil, the good-guy-triumphs-over-bad-bitch story didn’t work for us, even though Barkin was delicously evil. Using little Luke to guilt her into turning over the listing wasn’t a believeable ending to the story. Barkin’s character seems way too cunning to fall for one of the oldest tricks in TV land.
What we think could have made this episode better was concentrating on two of the subplots. Nosy moms friending kids on Facebook is an issue rife with potential. That’s what made the “Leap Day” episode so great—its core was rooted in issues to which we can all relate: e.g., women’s cycles and milestone birthdays. The last scene is one of the funniest snippets of the entire episode, when Claire gets schooled in Facebook tagging. Her daughters see photos of her from spring break 1992, which means lots of laughs for them and much horror for their mom. (“Untag me! Where’s the wall? Tear down the wall!”)
Jay, Gloria and Manny also could have used a little more screentime, too. Jay and Gloria realize that the cool kid is only hanging out with Manny because he’s got a little crush on Gloria. Jay is crestfallen because he thought the kid looked up to him as cool motorcycle dad. (There’s was a great Gloria malaprop with Ponzi and Fonzi scheme in these scenes as well.) While Jay doesn’t like the prepubescent kid leering at his wife, Gloria points to her ampleness and says that if “these” can get them tables at a restaurant, why not use them to get Manny a new friend? There was something sick and funny wrapped up in that line, but Gloria’s good intentions—and Sofia Vergara’s suble touch—mitigated the sleaze factor.
At times, the episode felt like the episode’s clown car scene—when Cam and his friends all squeeze into a Mini to head to drink after the funeral—because Levitan and company tried to cram too many things into 22 minutes. Just when things were ramping up, it was time to cue the credits.