I tend to like it when Modern Family pairs up characters who don't usually share a storyline. I'd imagine that writing an ensemble comedy like Modern Family is like playing with a chemistry set: Mix a little of this character with a little of that one, and see if anything sparks. For the writers, it's an effective way to generate fresh new ideas; for the viewer, it's a useful reminder that these characters are individuals with relationships of their own, not just component parts of their own nuclear family.
Tonight’s episode, “Me? Jealous?,” charts some new ground by pitting the show’s two drama queens and temporary housemates, Cameron and Gloria, against each other. Cameron is jealous of Gloria’s girly bonding with Lily, and Gloria, in turn, feels like Cameron is undermining her skills as a homemaker. While we’ve seen these two butt heads in the past, their relationship is hardly as played out as, say, the non-stop bickering between Cameron and Mitchell. But what really makes the story work is that their hostility is driven by genuine insecurity, rather than mere competitiveness or passive-aggression: Cameron worries about Lily not having a mother, and Gloria, in turn, feels like a domestic failure.
Manny tries to resolve the various rifts using some newly acquired conflict-resolution skills. He invents a needy friend called Danielle whose behavior suspiciously mirrors that of Cam and Gloria, but neither realizes the obvious parallel; they just think Danielle’s a little tyrant. Manny’s not a character I always love, but the Danielle side plot really worked for me, mostly because of how the joke builds through the episode until, finally, we find out that Manny’s been spreading the “Danielle” fiction far and wide. “Manny told me a story about his friend Danielle. It made me realize I take myself a little too seriously,” Mitchell tells Jay. “She sounds like a real piece of work, by the way.”
In the end, all is forgiven once Cameron gets his very own leopard-print apron and once Gloria realizes that, yes, maybe the cheese grater does belong near the cutting board. To illustrate their newfound accord, Cam and Gloria share a cute, impromptu kitchen tango. (Highlight: Gloria kicking the oven door shut with her 4-inch-high black stilettos. Good cook or not, the woman is undoubtedly a domestic goddess.)
Jay is a character who frequently gets relegated to the sidelines on this series. Unlike his scene-stealing wife, Jay’s funny in a quiet way, a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy who mostly grumbles terse one-liners under his breath. One of the running jokes on Modern Family is Jay’s seeming invulnerability, so it’s nice to see a little more human—and, frankly, corny—side of his personality in “Me? Jealous?” Jay is giddy when he discovers that Mitch is representing his talk-radio idol, “Booker Bell,” on a case. Mitch, already irritated by his dad’s incessant lawyer jokes, loses his patience when Jay shows up at a lunch meeting with Bell and gets starstruck. (“Booker Bell, I’m Boz Scaggs,” he slips up.) It’s a plot that works in part because it’s such a convincing glimpse into Jay’s personality. I mean, of course Jay is the kind of guy who listens to bad talk-radio and cracks up over prank calls about kitty litter. Of course. To cap it off, Mitchell’s goodwill gesture—getting Bell to call Jay and tell him his car’s been stolen—is touching in a non-schmaltzy way.
By the way, as contrived as it is, I actually like the Cam-and-Mitch-living-with-Jay-and-Gloria storyline. It could make for a fun multi-episode arc, if Modern Family were the kind of show to do something like that. (I don’t mean that in a bad way, necessarily, but Modern Family is a decidedly episodic show.)
Tonight’s episode also features a guest appearance by Greg Kinnear, otherwise known as “that nice-looking actor who was in that Jack Nicholson movie with the little dog and the gal from Mad About You,” according to my mom (and yours, too, probably). He plays Tad (a name that, along with “Brad” and “Chad” is universal shorthand for “douchebag”), a high-powered real estate broker Phil is trying to woo. It’s a spot-on bit of casting—no one is better than Kinnear at straddling the line between smarmy and charming—and the plot also proceeds in a refreshingly counterintuitive way: Instead of Phil getting jealous of Tad, Claire gets mad that Phil is whoring her out for a commission. After dinner at the Dunphys, Tad gives Claire a goodnight kiss on the lips. Phil, too caught up in his professional triumph, doesn’t much mind, but Claire is freaked out.
Cut to the next day. Phil comes home to find Tad, looking hunky in a tight-fitting white undershirt, fixing the kitchen table and getting Claire drunk with a nice bottle of Malbec. (Related: Am I turning into my mother if I am totally attracted to Greg Kinnear?) “I thought I’d stop by with that tool you said your wife needed,” Tad says, sounding like the male lead from the latest Vivid Video production, but the porn-ishness of it all is, of course, lost on Phil. Later, he is also too distracted by Tad's sleek home to notice Tad's habit of kissing every single living creature on the lips. Phil is unfazed by Tad’s affectionate habits, but he does get bent out of shape when Claire laughs heartily at one of his jokes.
In the best moment of the episode, Phil tries, and fails, to express his feelings of jealousy:
“You can kiss my wife, you can take her to bed, but you cannot make her laugh… I’d like to go back. You can kiss my wife, but only I can take her to bed and make her laugh. Only I can take my wife to bed, comma, and make her laugh.”
It's that rare thing: a funny punctuation lesson.
- Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like this episode actually looked different. I noticed several shots filmed from unfamiliar angles—like when Phil and Claire had Tad over for dinner, or when Luke threw his tantrum and stormed off into his bedroom, which (who knew?) is connected to his sisters’ room. It’s refreshing to (literally) get a different angle every now and then, isn’t it?
- The Alex-Haley C-plot is mostly just more of the same, but the revelation of “Betty Luke” makes it all worthwhile.