Modern Family: "Mother's Day"
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Modern Family: "Mother's Day"

(For the next several days, some of our writers will be swapping duties on some of our most popular shows. Some of them will like what they see, but for different reasons. Some of them will have vastly different opinions from the regular reviewers. And some of them won’t be all that different. It’s the end of Second Opinions Week at TV Club.)

I could bury the lead, but what for? I am not of the opinion that the second season of Modern Family is in any way inferior to the first. The expectations game is a bitch, as the teams behind both Modern Family and Glee are finding out in their respective second seasons. It’s up for debate, of course, whether the latter show has improved or declined as a result of becoming increasingly unmoored from reality. But there’s no question that the second season of Glee is a very different show from its first season. Modern Family, meanwhile, is pretty much the same show this season as last but has taken as much flak for not having tweaked its successful formula as Glee has for turning from a television show into a merchandise machine.

With a few exceptions (“Chirp,” “Mother Tucker,” and “Bixby’s Back” all come to mind), I’ve found season two pretty delightful and at times surprising. I wouldn’t have expected much out of a story that paired Cam and Luke, for example, but their scenes together in “Regrets Only” and “The Musical Man” made those episodes for me. There’s a confidence about season two that comes with the audience now having gotten to know the world of these characters. A good example of this is the callback in “Dance Dance Revelation,” when the guy who spritzes Phil with cologne turns out to be none other than Longines, the token black guy of Mitch and Cam’s coterie of unfortunately-named gays.

That isn’t to say Modern Family hasn’t bobbled a bit in its second season, but it also bobbled in its first. I found the last five episodes of season one a bit lazy and frankly just not all that funny. After “Game Changer” (which, while funny, was also problematic in its own right for the brazenness of its product placement), I enjoyed the show in principle, but the laughs came too few and far between for my taste. I could watch an episode of The Office like “Did I Stutter?” and still be satisfied by it, since it helped my understanding of the characters and their relationships. Modern Family is still in the blissful honeymoon period in which the writers can basically scamper in whatever episodic direction they want to, so there’s no excuse for less than hilarious episodes, especially given that the relationships between the characters are mostly static.  

I was initially skeptical of “Mother’s Day,” but I came around quickly. My skepticism came mostly from the Phil and Jay storyline. The pairing of Phil and Jay has never been my favorite. There was initially lots to be mined from their relationship: the unavoidable awkwardness between a man and his father-in-law, paired with their radical differences; Phil’s goofy warmth and Jay’s stoicism. Ed O’Neill has sold every zinger the writers have given him to throw at Phil, but the returns were beginning to diminish. But “Mother’s Day,” written by Ilana Wernick and Dan O’Shannon, played with the power dynamic of this relationship by having Jay moved to tears by Phil’s reading of a recipe for a perfect mom that Jay had written as a boy. After so many episodes of Jay ribbing Phil for being too passive, it was a welcome change of pace to see the shoe on Phil’s foot.

I was also wary of the Claire and Gloria plot, because I don’t much like Haley or Alex as background players. Haley’s adolescent ennui and Alex’s defensive sarcasm grow thin for me in a hurry when they aren’t the focus of the story, and they were especially bratty here, entering a pact to completely ruin Claire’s special day by refusing to apologize. (Though I’ll admit Haley’s “We’re your mother now” got me.) But I bought in after the scene between Claire and Gloria in which Claire got Gloria to admit to some ambivalence about parenthood and acknowledge that liking every one of Manny’s many quirks isn’t a prerequisite for being a good mother. It didn’t hurt that Gloria’s assessment included the word “persnickety,” which, like many words, hasn't really been said until it’s been said by Sofia Vergara. Sure, having Manny creep up behind them just in time to hear Gloria clowning his poetry was contrived, but I liked seeing Claire finally get to be right about something, rather than just being a busybody.

The best story of the week belonged to Mitch and Cam, though that probably applies to most weeks for me. I’ve always admired the way Modern Family explores the Mitch and Cam relationship, affirming that their love is just as valid and beautiful as that of any heterosexual couple, while acknowledging the intricacies that make a same-sex relationship different. I did think it was a little silly that someone as light in the loafers as is Cam would realize, suddenly and all at once, that he’s perceived as the Mommy. But it was a mostly spot-on take on the challenges same-sex couples have in defining their individual roles.

A darn good “Mother’s Day” overall, says I. Especially since we were spared a culminating voiceover, a device I’m still shocked to see the series trot out from time to time.

Stray observations:

  • “Mrs. Pritchett loves to shop.”
  • Loved the truncated Big Chill moment.
  • Luke brought the heat as usual: “It’s a spear, and it smells like lemon-lime, a flavor coyotes hate.” “Did you know more people have died hiking than in the entire Civil War?”
  • Yet another brilliant deployment of Vergara’s accent: “You can’t bitch all day because you’re not at the beach all day.”
  • A commercial ran for Jumping the Broom, which stars Julie Bowen, but did not show any of Julie Bowen. Odd.
  • “A bottle of red, a bottle of… what?”
  • This was great fun. Thanks to the gracious Donna Bowman, who will be back next week.

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