Is it too soon to declare a Modern Family streak? Yes, it is too soon to declare that.
Sorry about that, seems the least I could do in keeping with the Halloween spirit is build a little suspense, but it’s highly unlikely the back-to-back successes of “Won’t You Be Our Neighbor” and “Halloween 3: AwesomeLand” represent the start of an arc towards greatness. But given Modern Family’s peaks and troughs, which alternate almost invariably, two strong episodes in a row is no small feat, even if it doesn’t become a habit.
There is a sense of momentum in this episode, a product of an appearance from Ronnie and Amber, who pop back up so quickly it’s as if they never left. I’d read the producers booked Steve Zahn and Andrea Anders for recurring roles, but I didn’t anticipate them recurring quite so soon. That’s not a complaint; while I don’t find the class-clash concept intriguing or even all that funny, Zahn and Anders are clearly having a blast, and the enthusiasm is contagious.
I’m hoping there’s a plan to add some depth to the Lafontaines though, seeing as I’ve already had my fill of trailer-trash humor. “AwesomeLand” suggests the plan is for the Lafontaines and the Dunphys to foster a slowly simmering feud, but in a story like this one, maintaining such a rivalry requires one side of the conflict to stay one-dimensional, and that’s no good. If all this story has to offer is endless riffs on “Look what the tacky new neighbors did now,” it isn’t a worthwhile effort.
I don’t want to belie my enjoyment of “AwesomeLand” by putting all my gripes up front. It’s a sharp episode, written by clutch players Paul Corrigan, Brad Walsh and Abraham Higganbotham, with a surplus of winning lines and some subtly elegant plot building. It’s easily funnier than the rest of the season, with the exception of “Neighbor.” It’s also a nice showcase for Julie Bowen, who doesn’t often get opportunities to play Claire’s intensity without being a shrew.
The issue with the Dunphys’ plot is that AwesomeLand doesn’t make a ton of sense. While the concept behind Phil’s hauntless house—which resembles a nightmare brought on by excessive consumption of grain alcohol and gummy bears—makes a certain kind of sense for the character, it’s unclear why anyone would think AwesomeLand was an appropriate thing to do for Halloween. People who are not into ghouls and gore avoid the holiday altogether. They don’t counterprogram.
But while the premise was a bit silly, and there was no surprise to Amber’s reveal that she lied about her time spent in psychiatric care, there were little flashes of brilliance here. Alex’s Working Girl-inspired costume was among them, because the idea of Alex being obsessed with Working Girl is lovable and absurd. Ty Burrell also nailed his line about Claire’s insistence on death and viscera: “Who hurt you? I’m just kidding, I know it was Jay and DeDe.”
Over at the Pritchett-Delgados, Jay finds a new way to be insecure about his age, this time fixating on his hair loss after the wig from his Prince Charming costume revs Gloria up. It was certainly the weakest of the plots this week, despite having an internal logic the other two lacked, but there were some great lines sprinkled throughout. (“You just want to sit home and eat your 10-layer dip.” “It’s just five layers.”)
The Tucker-Pritchetts have the most soundly constructed plot this week, though it also suffers from a logic deficit. My father is an attorney, and he constantly gripes about how little courtroom procedure on television resembles actual litigation, and those are complaints about Law And Order or The Practice. I hope he never sees “AwesomeLand,” an episode of television in which a court stenographer shows up to work in a tarantula costume so elaborate it would drive conversation at an actual costume party, and the only person with any problem with it is one of the attorneys.
Though the premise is flawed, the visual gags involving said tarantula costume land, and it’s a novel, Halloween-themed way to chronicle Mitchell’s latest loss, his fourth. Mitchell’s recent work woes are part of a rough patch that could reveal new shades to Mitch and Cam’s relationship if its played right. There have been many episodes of Modern Family in which Mitchell is crushing it at work, while Cam is having a rough transition or struggling with his identity as a stay-at-home dad. Now it’s Mitchell who, after a long bout of unemployment, is back at work only to find his skills dulled.
It’s an opportunity for Mitch and Cam—whose relationship is so sterile it’s easy to forget they’re married—to act like two people in love, taking turns being the port in the storm, as partners must do. This was an adorable start, with Mitchell proving Cam’s parenting skills to a jury of one. If this was a real case, the courtroom would gasp in unison when Mitchell pulls the flyer out of Lily’s backpack. Damning evidence indeed.
- The tag features all three families! It’s probably been a while since that happened.
- I was impressed with Alex’s take on why a horrific Halloween is Claire’s thing. Spot on.
- I don’t know if I buy Luke making a Temple Grandin reference, but I laughed all the same.
- Cam’s inability to find Waldo is heartbreaking.
- But he had the best line of the night: “I haven’t gone out with a white beard since I took my cousin Sally to the prom. Lily, explain my joke.”
- What would be the 10 layers in a 10-layer dip? Ignore the laws of physics for the purpose of this discussion.