Modern Family: “Go Bullfrogs!”
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Modern Family: “Go Bullfrogs!”

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Modern Family

“Go Bullfrogs!”

Season 3, Episode 6

So this is going to be one of those Modern Families that splits everybody up into units both usual (the Pritchetts) and unusual (Phil and Haley, Claire-Mitchell-Cam) and looks for comedy in places other than the ensemble. I’m on record with the belief that the very best episodes of this show are the ones that allow the ensemble as a whole to generate the laughs, preferably in big setpieces where the dialogue comes at a rapid pace and the various neuroses and obsessions build to a magnificent crescendo. “Go Bullfrogs!” is really the exact opposite, and predictably, despite some marvelous writing and performing, it doesn’t really feel like a Modern Family episode, at least not the kind I like best.

Haley and Phil are off on a college visit to Phil’s alma mater (when did Haley decide that college was going to work for her?), and Phil is unduly excited about reliving his undergraduate days of cheerleading, a cappella groups, and buffalo wings. “And you didn’t want to get 40!” he exults after Haley expresses enthusiasm about the wings at his old hangout... right before she gets invited to a party by another visitor in her tour group, allowing Phil to school the current students at darts and order them pitchers of beer. That’s one of those things that only happens on TV or in movies. I would never let one of my kids run off with someone they just met while on a college visit, nor was I ever afforded the opportunity to do so on my college visits. But perhaps I am just sheltered. Or unpopular.

Luke being at a sleepover, Claire has the chance to hit the town and is depending on her fun, fabulous gay brother and his life partner to show her a good time, complete with clubs and drinks and craziness. She goads them to go to a boutique opening (although all they want to do is eat at a family restaurant that’s a “great value” with “pot pies to die for"), where she meets an accommodating friend of Longines (Gilles Marini, most recently Angelo, the long-lost dad on Switched At Birth), who is willing to pick out dresses for her and take her clubbing. I’m willing to be amused by Claire trying to relive her wild days (especially while Phil is happily reliving his not-so-wild youth of wholesome lunch-tray sledding), but I’m terminally distracted by Julie Bowen’s skinny arms in those party dresses. There, I said it. I even shuddered a bit when Julian, the not-gay-as-it-turns-out friend, went all hubba-hubba for her while she’s trying on clothes. It’s creepy.

Stuck at home by the script, Gloria is worried about Manny, who snuck upstairs with a big box while she and Jay watch a Colombian soap opera. We all know it’s not pornography, which is Jay’s guess and Gloria’s fear, so we’re just waiting for the big reveal (it’s an inversion device designed to stretch Manny, which he need because “I lost Bella to Durkiss because, in her words, he’s tall”). What happens in the meantime is the most amusing part of this plotline, with Gloria distracted and Jay deeply involved in the soap opera he claims to be watching for Gloria’s benefit (“The judge is peeking through the window; is he interested in Celia now? She could be his daughter! That’s insane. I’ve never seen him this mad”).

And the most amusing part of the Claire-Mitchell-Cam storyline is also a sidelight, as the gay couple come to grips with their stodginess. When Claire says it’s only 9:30, Mitchell gasps “9:30?” in horror. “First you take me to the senior center for porridge, and now you can’t stay up past Luke’s bedtime?” Claire mocks them. The two head home, leaving Claire to Julian, and get the wrong Prius from the valet, a Prius that seems to belong to people having a lot more fun than them, with concert tickets and Cancun luggage tags in the glove compartment. “Jay-Z, didn’t we almost go to that?” Cam muses. Then they remember why they didn’t: It started at 8:30, meaning the main act wouldn’t go on until 10, parking would be a nightmare, and those stairs!

I can do without the various resolutions, with the possible exception of Phil charging into the frat party to rescue Haley and finding her with a cup of ginger ale talking with his former backup shortstop from kiddie tee-ball, watched over by the kid’s parents, one of whom is Phil’s doctor. That’s fine, but Haley forgiving her horribly embarrassing dad on the grounds of his good intentions seems way too sweet for her personality as established. Claire getting caught partying by her old high-school friends supervising Luke’s sleepover doesn’t have many laughs (or maybe I’m still just fixated on the arms and legs, Jiminy Christmas). And Mitchell and Cam pulling up to the stolen-Prius owner’s house and getting attacked by a nutty women with a baseball bat was just… shrill.  And weird.

Last week, I thought the situations were promising, but the writing let them down. This week we have some sharp writing in situations that were generally limp and uninspired. At some point, I assume the two sides of this show are going to get together and make some comedy again.

Stray observations:

  • Phil being super-excited about college is never not charming. “College!” he yells, slapping a random undergrad’s raised hand. “He was shielding his eyes from the sun,” Haley observes; “Knew it when I hit it,” Phil confesses.
  • Maybe the very best moment of the night is Phil talking on the phone to Claire while enthusiastically joining in with a cheerleading routine, asking her to hold on when he has to mime lifting a co-ed over his head and put her down.
  • Another example of thrown-away goodness in a plot that doesn’t deserve it: Cam’s fixation on the pot pies he gets to go from the restaurant. “One away from a free pot pie!” he delights when asking the waitress to punch his loyalty card. And when they realize they’re in the wrong car, he sighs, “Our pot pies could be anywhere by now.”
  • Gloria line of the night: “Like the poobertee?”
  • “I’m just saying: The guy’s a judge, he could put a shirt on.”

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