After the triumph of “Las Vegas,” which is the sharpest and the most self-contained Modern Family has been in sometime, I expected a step down, and in that regard, “A Hard Jay’s Night” met my expectations. It isn’t a terrible episode of the show, but it does return to season five’s meh-just-okay baseline. Also, as has been the case with a lot of this season’s episodes, “A Hard Jay’s Night” feels like it was cobbled together from spare parts that feel more like retreads than callbacks.
What I will give “A Hard Jay’s Night” credit for is its character development, which has generally been spot on this season, even when the plot that gives rise to the forward movement doesn’t completely work. The trend continued here, with several emotional payoffs that felt somewhat satisfying, even if the journey felt like a road trip through the Kansas flat lands.
Most of the Dunphy-Pritchett-Tucker clan are corraled at Jay’s for the family tradition of Jay’s Night, when the grandkids come together to show Jay how much they love him by watching an old movie they’d sooner die than watch of their own volition. (Tonight’s selection: Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.) We last saw Jay’s Night in “Great Expectations,” but things have changed quite a bit since then. A more mature Haley isn’t scheming to sneak out of the house, and it’s Luke who is trying to weasel out of the tradition while Manny tries to dissuade him. The adults turned up too, which confused me, because I thought it was a sleepover for the kids, but whatever.
The issue with Jay’s Night as the foundation for the episode is that it’s reminiscent of Modern Family at its season one peak, but rather than feeling like a welcome return of a forgotten story element, it feels like “Awww, this show used to be awesome and now it’s just fine.” “Great Expectations,” after all, was the episode that introduced Elizabeth Banks’ Sal and, in one of the show’s most delightfully absurd stories, Edward Norton as a former bassist for Spandau Ballet.
Nothing in “A Hard Jay’s Night” was quite that inspired. The Jay and Claire story is oddly paced and never stops feeling like it’s lurching in search of an idea. After seeing Claire prattle on to the kids about her professional adventures in the rough-and-tumble world of high-end closets, I was glad to see that it didn’t wind up being yet another “Claire is the worst” plot. Instead, it took on a sweet dynamic not often seen between all three of the Dunphy women, with Haley and Alex comforting Claire as Jay withholds his praise for her hard work. But it felt all over the place, and by the time Jay and Claire began chucking food at each other, I couldn’t quite remember what turns we made to get there.
The same can be said for Phil and Gloria’s non-Jay’s Night story, with the two of them pitching in at Gloria’s old hair salon while Gloria dithers in selling the old apartment she used to live in with Manny before marrying Jay. I wish I had liked the execution more, because I like the idea of building out Gloria’s back-story, but the exposition felt labored. That said, I laughed more at Phil’s shampoo-boy antics than at anything else in the episode. Ty Burrell, much like the character he plays, can sell just about anything.
Where “A Hard Jay’s Night” really got interesting is with Mitch and Cam’s story, which started out with everyone’s favorite engaged frenemies squabbling over a cake topper that makes Mitch look like a kicky-legged queen. It felt like a fight we’ve seen Mitch and Cam have on so many occasions that I was disappointed with it right out of the gate. These two have fought so much about which one is “the lady,” I would have expected them to elect to stop having that argument. The reveal that the whole thing was Cam’s long con to get Mitchell’s wedding singer booted was a delightful twist, even if it didn’t entirely redeem its set up.
That put it on par with Claire and Jay’s story, which was a means to reveal the strong-and-silent Jay is having a little more anxiety about handing the reins over to his ambitious daughter than he’s capable of admitting. It was a well-earned moment, but the lead-up to it wasn’t terribly exciting. Gloria and Phil fared much better, with a pretty funny plot and a nice payoff, revealing Gloria was also having some anxiety about giving up a piece of her identity.
Perhaps it’s a case of “Las Vegas” being such a tough act to follow, but “A Hard Jay’s Night” left me slightly cold. That said, when the show returns in three weeks, it does so with an episode called “Australia.” Can Modern Family knock out two consecutive destination episodes? (That is, assuming it’s not some sort of conceptual homage to the Nicole Kidman movie.)
- I also enjoyed Manny and Luke’s story, with Manny realizing he’s gotten to an age where some of his peers are finally starting to pick up his wavelength.
- Not mad at the tag either. Not mad at all.
- There’s a regulatory framework in California is there not? I’m pretty sure you can’t just walk into a salon and start putting your fingers in people’s hair.