After the success of “The Old Man And The Tree,” I hoped this season of Modern Family would trend upward, but I didn’t get far into “And One To Grow On” before I knew it wouldn’t be the one to continue that momentum. “And One To Grow On” is a pretty weird episode. It's not weird in a good way, not interesting or daring or ambitious, just kind of generally lumpy, arrhythmic and not-quite-right.
The episode leaned on a structure that has worked well in the past, in which the three families have self-contained plots that make no attempt to intersect until the third act, when the entire Dunphy-Pritchett-Tucker-Delgado clan collides during a purposeful gathering. It’s a structure that succeeded admirably in “Tableau Vivant,” for example, but in order to work, the audience has to be interested in the individual tributaries, not just the gulf they eventually dump into.
That’s to say not much of “And One To Grow On” worked in the early going. At the Dunphys’, Phil tricked Luke into attending a ballroom dancing class because it’s “in his blood,” while Claire bribed Haley to ride shotgun while the overcautious Alex drove five miles under the speed limit.
At Jay and Gloria’s place, the family prepared to celebrate the joint birthdays of Manny and Joe, while Manny pined for a girl Jay thought was out of his league. Meanwhile, Jay is anxious that Joe thinks Andy is his dad.
Cameron and Mitchell conspired to reunite a pair of feuding BFFs so they could get their dream wedding venue after a moment of ponderous hesitation from Mitchell lost them the space.
If those stories all sound familiar, it’s for good reason. Cam, with and without Mitchell, has been marching couples down his good-intention-paved road at gunpoint since “Game Changer.” Luke similarly rebelled against his father’s attempt to turn him onto a goofy hobby in “The Butler’s Escape.” Jay has been trying to convince Manny to act like a normal kid rather than someone who suffered a massive head trauma while watching a community theater production of Cyrano since the pilot.
I get it; it’s a television show. There are characters, they have their foibles, those foibles breed high jinks, lather, rinse, repeat. That’s fine, but by season five, if there isn’t any new insight or unexpected joke to be mined from the familiar, a show becomes like a claustrophobic relationship—too dull to enjoy but too comfortable to leave.
Such was the case with “And One To Grow On,” which never managed to pick up steam until the final act, replete with confessions and confrontations as usual, but it wasn’t more than the sum of its parts. It was just everything smashed together, and that seemed lively because the dialogue bounces around so rapidly flicking at each of the storylines. But it was only as exciting a denouement as could be expect from layering three beige stories atop one another.
There were some funny moments sprinkled around the episode. In particular, I liked Phil and Luke’s car scene prior to Phil’s arrest. Nolan Gould’s performance has started to grate on me as Luke has transitioned from a daffy, snarky kid to a yelpy young adult, but he and Ty Burrell really sold the scene, especially Phil’s wounded reactions to Luke’s mockery of Footloose.
There was a winning Cam and Mitch scene too, in which the pair had a proxy argument on behalf of their marks, Tracy and Sophie. It wasn’t as funny as it could have been, as the script moved over it pretty quickly, also because it reminded me of a Friends story with Ross and Phoebe that executed the idea much more effectively.
I also liked the non-ending, having Manny open the door without revealing what his fate with Amy was. Even though I didn’t like most of what led up to it, the writers made a lovely choice by deemphasizing the importance of Amy’s reaction to Manny’s gesture. It was a surprisingly elegant ending for a show that, even now, doesn’t mind reaching for a thematic voiceover to make sure everything came through as intended.
I need to talk about Andy though, because the Andy situation isn’t working out. I don’t want Andy to think it’s a reflection on his work, because that’s not it. He’s done a wonderful job with Joe, and with encouraging the entire family towards healthier habits. It’s just that... well there has to be a certain chemistry in these types of relationships, and it isn’t here. Not because anyone did anything wrong, but because folks are so doggone different from each other.
...is what I would say if I was Jay, but since I’m only a viewer of the show I’ll say instead that I adore Adam DeVine (his face is funny on its own; a compliment I promise), but I completely forgot the character existed, and when he popped up tonight I remembered why. Andy isn’t adding anything, but if he’s going to be around for a while I hope there’s something resembling a plan for him.
- Phil to Luke: “No son of mine is going to graduate high school without learning how to do a proper box step.”
- The spectre of Pepper Saltzman continues to loom over Cam and Mitch’s wedding prep: “This is the one Pepper was least snarky about.” “That’s true, he doesn’t throw the word ‘adequate’ around lightly.”
- Phil’s hiding places for the emergency money were cute, if not laugh-out-loud worthy.
- Lily was benched this week, but the show’s been leaning on her pretty heavily this season, so the break is probably for the best.