Modern Family: “The Wedding (Part 1)”
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Modern Family: “The Wedding (Part 1)”

They do… a whole lot in a half-hour

B

Modern Family

"The Wedding (Part 1)"

Season 5, Episode 23
B

Modern Family

"The Wedding (Part 1)"

Season 5, Episode 23

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Is there more than one way to do a wedding episode of a sitcom, other than to have months of planning spiral into chaos as miniature crises coalesce into an all-out disaster? That’s not necessarily a dig at “The Wedding (Part 1).” It’s really just a question. It would be silly to expect anything else from Modern Family, which has never really been a show to answer the question “How can we tell this story differently?” and is perfectly content with “How would a conventional telling of this story be different with our characters?” That’s totally fair for this, or any, sitcom really, but while it’s easy to excuse someone for not trying to reinvent the wheel, it is interesting to wonder if the wheel could use some fine-tuning.

But for what it was—a very traditional non-traditional wedding episode—“The Wedding (Part 1)” is a pretty good one, albeit one that hangs a lot of funny lines on a flimsy frame. It’s hard to completely fault the structural deficiencies, seeing as this is the first of two parts, and the second half might elegantly braid the whole thing together. But I’m very curious to see what next week’s episode looks like, and whether it’ll make me question the wisdom of airing the episodes a week apart rather than as a hour-long event, which ABC has done with Modern Family on several occasions.

The structural issue with “The Wedding” isn’t so much related to the plots it introduces, though man alive, are there a lot of plates spinning here. As is to be expected at a wedding, the gang’s all here: Pepper and Ronaldo as predictably persnickety wedding planners; a very pregnant Sal and her latest beau/victim; Cam’s folks; even Andy pops up to reaffirm his existence. Considering there are already weeks when Modern Family struggles to smoothly integrate its 11 regulars, to fit in this many guest appearances basically mandated an episode that flits from one story to the next at a breakneck pace. While that could have been a weakness, the episode’s attention deficit worked to its advantage: If there’s a story you can’t stand, you don’t have to stand it for long. 

Let’s come back to all those threads, though, and first talk about what the structural issue with “The Wedding” is, which is the deflating conclusion to the impressively executed faux-cliffhanger of “Message Received.” It wasn’t as if Jay would skip Mitch and Cam’s wedding,  so I appreciate that it wasn’t a serious consideration, but after briefly flicking at Jay and Mitch’s argument toward the beginning, the script doesn’t do much of anything with Jay’s discomfort other than pair him with Merle so they can be squicked out together. But there was no immediate payoff. It’s almost like “The Wedding (Part 1)” is the second part of a three-part episode but with the main conflict jettisoned in favor of the emergency du jour.

And there were plenty of mishaps to be had, beginning with Cam’s inability to retrieve his perfectly tailored tux, Phil’s short timeframe for buying a gift, and Merle and Barb’s completely out-of-nowhere decision to split up, which I’m not convinced is of any import. Oh, and there’s a wildfire encroaching on the venue, requiring a full and immediate evacuation by the episode’s end.

Again, I understand the temptation to follow this model for a wedding episode. All the planning that goes into a wedding, all the selecting, the brainstorming, the compromising, the nitpicking and triple-checking—it’s all for naught because there’s always a curveball, and sometimes there are a dozen. There’s comedy in that, and telling the story that way makes perfect sense. But given how well Ed O’Neill and Jesse Tyler Ferguson sold that fight scene at the end of “Message Received,” it felt like a missed opportunity to immediately shift focus to the other rings of the nuptial circus rather than staying trained on a story with a solid emotional throughline.

But this is part one, a fact the title calls attention to, so it’s necessary to grant the episode a generous amount of leeway. Especially because its as dense with jokes as it is with story, and I laughed consistently, even as I questioned whether this will build to a satisfying conclusion. The Phil/Alex and Claire/Luke stories were particularly delightful, especially considering my expectations were low when the early going suggested a retread of “Good Cop Bad Dog.” (We get it. Phil is the fun one and Claire is the bucket of cold water.) To my surprise, Phil and Alex made a hilarious team, and while the Claire and Luke story wasn’t quite as funny, Luke’s novel solution to their predicament was cute, and having him get there by imagining what Alex would do was especially clever.

“The Wedding (Part 1)” was a solid enough beginning for the two-parter, but I sure hope the payoff on the Jay and Mitch stuff is yet to come. Or maybe there’s a shocking death? That fire sounds like bad news. 

Stray observations:

  • So Shelley Long just doesn’t want to do this show anymore? Or is Dede such a whirlwind she doesn’t fit into an episode as overstuffed as this one?
  • The cold open with Sal was awesome: “It was supposed to be an intervention.”
  • The writers are really pushing this Haley and Andy thing to the limit, eh? I, for one, don’t mind. I think it’s a great use of a character that has never really managed to catch on.
  • Ariel Winter killed this line: “If he feels it’s not the bowl, it’s not the bowl.”
  • Mitch, on Cam’s unsuitable back-up tux: “You wore it to one funeral, and you didn’t even know Bea Arthur.”
  • It seems like it would have been much easier to have Lily just unlock the door from inside the dry cleaners but... whatever. 
  • Who wants to bet Mitch and Cam seal the deal with a handshake and an Eskimo kiss? 

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