29
Sep
2011
Modern Family: Season 3, Episode 3
Phil on Wire
Rachel
I'm doing something a little different this week. I would typically consider myself a Modern Family fan. Which is why I'm using this review as an intervention, and staging it as an open letter to Modern Family:

O, Modern Family, why must you break my heart? I suppose it isn't your fault. It's hard for anyone to live up to the kind of hype you received (I swear, I'll try not to mention my continued bitterness over your Emmy domination every week. Probably only the first few). But in "Phil on Wire," I feel like you're not even trying.

Unfortunately, Modern Family, you've got a 50% success rate on tonight's storylines. And that's only if I'm being generous. In actuality, it's probably closer to 35% success, because Cam and Mitchell only work partially this week.

The opening conceit is interesting enough: two of my favorite characters, Phil and Luke, watching the landmark documentary Man on Wire. I'm always happy for more Phil/Luke interactions in episodes. And this week, with Luke's narcotic-like addiction to junk food, paired with a complete lack of impulse control, as well as Phil's single-minded determination to do something ridiculous, you really didn't disappoint.

I have believed for a while that Phil is the infinitely better parent in the Dunphy house, and this episode, you really reaffirmed it. While Claire, with her annoying, overbearing twitchiness, attempts to get her daughters to stay in the same math class despite a three-year age difference, Phil actually spends time with his son and imparts a lesson through something other than nagging. Throughout the episode, Claire throws little "zingers" at Haley, her eldest, dumb daughter, in obvious support of Alex, her younger, smart daughter. These would be funny, if Claire wasn't Haley's mother. Generally speaking, I wish you'd do something with Alex and Haley other than shoving them into rigid little character boxes of "smart" and "social." Because really, if you're attempting to be an accurate depiction of a modern family (as I assume you are, seeing as that's your title and everything"¦), then why is it so necessary to cling to age-old stereotypes? If you're trying to make mainstream America see that gay people aren't causing the deterioration of the American family (as FOX news so desperately wants us to believe), why can't you also show little girls that you can be cool and smart at the same time, without having to sacrifice your mind for popularity?

Add that to the list of overused sources of humor I wish you'd stop relying on so heavily, along with Gloria's accent and hotness, as I mentioned last week. You can also tack on Jay being "surprisingly" in love with the dog (perhaps pushed over the edge by last week's "Jay being "˜surprisingly' bad as a cowboy"). I mean, the dog is adorable, keep it around all you'd like. But we get it. Jay has a heart. He's actually a nice guy, under all his crusty old man-ness. But please give him something else to do. Also, please stop relegating Sofia Vergara to demeaning physical humor, like chewing on a shoe while crouched on the floor in six-inch heels. She is beautiful and funny, there is really no need to go for the cheap laugh.

I still can't really decide if I'm totally down with what you did with Mitchell and Cam this week. Thank you for leaving only one new Lily scene (fuck you, New Lily), and instead letting Mitchell, played by the superb Jesse Tyler Ferguson, really take the lead for this family this week. Cam on a juice fast sounds like comedic gold from the beginning because, as Mitchell points out throughout the episode, he has a flair for the dramatic. We know this, of course, but what saves this plotline from tanking the way that the obvious arc in the others do is the fact that there is an unknown about ¾ of the way through. Mitchell doesn't know how Cam will react to the later stages of starvation, and also doesn't realize that he behaves in a very similar fashion. This allows for a series of fantastic jokes (like Mitchell slipping and calling Cam a "Brisket case," out of his hunger. Simple, but funny, and well delivered). Also the noise that Mitchell makes while crying of Snorkles, the lost sea lion, made me break into hysterical giggles immediately. Props to Jesse Tyler Ferguson for dedicating himself so thoroughly the ridiculousness of this week. Definitely the best thing about the whole episode.

But even for a Modern Family episode, the saccharine sweet endnote of teaching your children how to act by example, is enough to turn me diabetic. I swear your audience (at least, not the part of it I'm in) isn't all that dumb. You do not need to tie the episode up with such a ridiculous bow. We get the point. While I do appreciate the emotional closing montages over voice-overs, these moments are always stronger when the footage shows us what we've learned, rather than having the character tell us. Take your own advice, Modern Family. I'm sure it isn't too late for you.

Grade: C

The Little Things:

-"I can check the lease but I'm pretty sure we aren't allowed to have a meth lab."

-Stage 3: Soaps actress

-Jew fast. O silly Luke

-"Away from me, temptress. And I never thought I would call you that in a negative way."

Tags: Modern Family
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