Modern Family: “The Feud”
B

Modern Family: “The Feud”

B

Modern Family

"The Feud"

Season 5, Episode 15

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In the interest of full disclosure, I want to start by admitting that I watched “The Feud” twice. I usually try to avoid rewatching episodes before writing about them because it feels like I’m not really part of the same dialogue as people who only watched it once. Alas, my DVR crapped out and required some cajoling, so I wound up watching the episode twice and admired it quite a bit more the second time around. 

For one thing, the first time through, I was so distracted by the mere idea of Haley and Alex getting stuck in the basement with a possum that I was sort of derailed for most of the third act. The first thing that came to mind with that scene was the richly mocked plotline from 24’s second season in which Kim Bauer gets menaced by a cougar. It’s a really facile thing to have a scene predicated on women being victimized by animals. It’s goofy. Worse still, much as was the case with 24’s Elisha Cuthbert, the Haley and Alex story felt like a thinly conceived vignette to keep Sarah Hyland and Ariel Winter busy this week.

Modern Family often works as a clever execution of sitcom tropes. An example would be Phil and Claire, a garden variety doofus husband & long-suffering wife pair, but an excellent one due in large part to the performances of Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen. Then there are episodes like “The Feud,” where the stuff that could feel like classic sitcom homage feels more like a dearth of interesting ideas. My first time watching the episode, I saw a possum, a lot of Gil Thorpe, and a lice outbreak, which is a story Trophy Wife already mined this season to great effect. I saw typical, low-speed latter-day Modern Family.

My second time watching “The Feud” was much better than the first, in part because I knew to expect the possum, and also because there were some genuinely funny scenes and interesting observations sprinkled through it. I counted several full-belly laughs, though they tended to come more from the random, to-camera asides than the jokes rooted in the storylines.

“The Feud” gets its title from Phil’s ongoing rivalry with Gil Thorpe, which, it turns out, is a multi-generational feud, exposed when Luke faces Gil’s son in a wrestling match.

I think the Phil, Jay and Luke combination is typically a solid one, but there was far too much Gil Thorpe for the story to work. Modern Family doesn’t often remind me of The Office US, mostly because their executions of the mockumentary format diverge so wildly, but Dunder-Mifflin comes to mind every time there’s an appearance from Gil Thorpe, Modern Family’s answer to Todd Packer. Like Todd Packer, Gil Thorpe is obnoxious, but not in a fun way, and pops up so frequently it suggests the writers think the character is funnier than he is.

Still, I had fun with this story, because Burrell knocked it out of the park. His reading of the line about finding anti-depressants in Claire’s jewelry drawer slayed me: “Enough said about that!” He was also great in the cold open, and while I’m making comparisons to The Office, Modern Family is also beginning to resemble that show in its ability to deliver a note-perfect cold open that leads into a ho-hum episode. This was a pretty great open, and that medallion was just absurd enough.

With the exception of Gloria and Manny’s bit, I wasn’t excited about most of the stories happening elsewhere. The lice bit felt tired, despite some nice physical work on Eric Stonestreet’s part and the bit in the tag. I couldn’t bring myself to invest in Claire’s sales meeting, and Mitch and Cam’s role in the lice outbreak may have been funnier if they split on whether or not to tell Claire, but their agreement to keep quiet felt like their typical shadiness.

I did really like the Gloria and Manny story because it felt so organic to the characters, with Gloria becoming anxious about Manny going to high school and learning the concept of shame. This progression is smart and observant for Manny because he is that kid who, at a certain point, has to decide between committing fully to being weird or eliminating the behaviors that make people call him weird. Manny got a sweet moment, saving his vain mother from the catty field trip moms. Better still, the fact that he obsessed over the squeaky shoes without even thinking about the pink shirt means our good ol’ Manny is still in there, daring to shatter people’s preconceptions about pastels.

Stray observations:

  • That D.P. was a little racy for Modern Family, no? Am I being sensitive?
  • There’s also a “Discovering the Body” exhibit in Colombia, but it’s a different thing.
  • Phil, on losing his office: “I’m a one-termer? That puts me along side Henry Eustace Tyler and Art Wagner... They took his real estate license after Gate-gate.”
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