Tonight’s episode is unusually concept-heavy, even for this particular show that has demonstrated a remarkable facility with unifying concepts. But I suppose that’s to be expected when you not only have to create a half-hour of comedy but also choreograph a large flash mob. What a nice moment that was—Mitchell suddenly breaking into dance and joining the group. And how crushing that Cam, even though it’s only briefly in the show’s running time, doesn’t appreciate it.
That’s the tension of “Manny, Get Your Gun,” which follows the three branches of the Pritchett family as they make their way to the restaurant where Manny’s birthday party is scheduled. The adults spend the day having childish fights over lost keys, faster routes, and spontaneity, and then rediscover their inner children in time for the party. Or something. What doesn’t quite work about this structure is that the episode begins cleverly by showing each of the Pritchett family members—Jay, Claire, and Mitchell—separately begging their families to hurry up. Wanting to be on time and being annoyed at those who don’t care quite as much is a Pritchett trait, it seems. So the subsequent development of three stories of spousal conflict over three separate issues, followed by the attempted reintegration over dinner, doesn’t feel as effortless as it has in the very best of these unified episodes.
What “Manny, Get Your Gun” does provide, though, are the sincerity blindsides. Rarely has the show managed so much heart in so many unexpected places. There’s Manny in his immaculate suit reclining on the inflatable island in the pool, trying to recapture the childhood that Jay’s offhand “You were born 16” comment has made him realize he’s missed. “Got it last Christmas. Never took it out of the box,” Manny muses in a perfect simulation of middle-aged regret. (Other things Manny missed out on include prank calls and mixing different sodas together to see what they taste like. Neither works out well; the suicide he mixes is disgusting, and his call to Seymour Butz ends with him explaining, “I’m trying to get a hold of more butts. … Very funny, I don’t have time for this foolishness.”)
In their separate cars, trying to prove the superiority of their driving technique to each other, Claire and Phil both end up in tears. For Claire, it’s realizing that Luke thought the marriage was breaking up, and choosing his dad—because he’s more fun, she believes. “Dad’s like crazy fun,” Luke confirms, “but you’re nice.” “I’m nice?!” she fumes. “Well, not now,” Luke mumbles. Tired of being the responsible parent and ceding all the fun stuff to Phil (stuff like Second Christmas and Italian Accent Night), Claire decides that for once Luke will have two fun parents. It’s when Luke confesses that he went with his dad because Phil needs him more that the blindside happens. The way they’ve developed Luke’s character makes him the perfect vehicle for such a moment, spoken with such matter-of-fact clarity.
Meanwhile Phil is dealing with the consequences of insisting that his car is “the cone of truth,” as Haley and Alex acknowledge in a unison monotone. They tell him they don’t want to go to Family Camp this year, which means he can’t defend his Dirty Dancing crown and won’t have another chance to make unintentionally white-supremacist comments based on the fact that his team color is white. It’s more a comic moment than a heartrending one, but I’m still touched by the idea that the girls start bawling as soon as their dad does because they’ve never seen him cry before.
Best of all, though, is that flash mob. I’m as much of a sucker for group choreography as Cam, and let me tell you, the contrast between Mitchell cutting loose with the crowd and Cam on the sidelines trying (and failing) to join in slayed me. I’d be right there, because I desperately want to be Mitchell at that moment (including the clumsy message about becoming what his true love wants him to be), but I know I’m far more likely to be Cam—on the sidelines trying to convince myself it’s just as fun. So it’s probably far more hurtful to me that Cam gets all in a huff about it afterwards and doesn’t acknowledge the awesomeness until after the act break. Mitchell deserves so much better at that moment, even if he did miscalculate, and I harbor some resentment that he gets accused of cheating on Cam “with choreography, which is the worst kind of cheating.”
Maybe this episode is a bit less than the sum of its parts; or maybe the jigsaw pieces have been forced into place a little too emphatically. But the best of those parts are bits we haven’t seen done so well in a family sitcom in a long, long time. I say we enjoy the dance and don’t quibble about any missed steps.
- In an episode that wasn’t so much about the big laughs, the biggest were Luke’s bare feet (“Aw, come on, Luke!”) followed by Phil’s bare feet (“C’mon, Phil!).
- This week in Gloria: Gloria running to the confessional in a blouse that seemed even lower-cut than usual.
- “Dad, that was a stop sign.” “I’ll stop twice on the way back.”
- Manny explaining the skateboard at the bottom of the pool: “It was the second thing that slipped right out from under me today. The first was my childhood.”
- The whole bit with Cam trying to help reunite the elderly couple is an extended gag in a show that is otherwise mostly gag-free, and the punch line where they turn out to be having an affair is a weirdly out of place “waa-waaaaaaa.” You’ve gotta like the little epilogue where Cam brushes the old man aside as he’s fleeing the scene of the flash mob, though.
- “Look at Luke there, making one big straw out of three. Never change, Luke.”