Not only is Modern Family reveling in its undefeated, five-straight Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy wins, it’s basically gloating about it. “The Long Honeymoon,” the title and the story that inspired it, could just as easily apply to Modern Family’s charmed Emmy run, in which it continues to dominate over Louie, Girls, Veep, and Parks And Recreation, just to name a few more ambitious shows. And hell, that’s just the new stuff. Never mind the fact that Modern Family has already won more series Emmys than Cheers, and should it continue to another victory for this season, it’ll surpass Frasier to become the most awarded comedy series in Emmy history.
If it sounds like I’m joining the pile-on—Twitter was flooded with Modern Family invective following the most recent win—I kind of am. Kind of. The frustration is understandable, given how many really interesting things are going on in television comedy these days, and given how dramatic television wins praise for being more daring, while comedies always seem to fail upward. It’s for good reason Modern Family’s five consecutive Emmy wins is the stuff of snippy think pieces heralding the death of Emmy relevance.
Here’s the thing though: The comedy nominees randomly send out three pairs of episodes to the Emmy voters. That’s six episodes. There has never been—and may never be—a Modern Family season from which you couldn’t cherry-pick a half-dozen phenomenal episodes, the kind of episodes that make you remember why there was a time when the show was the obvious and deserving winner. No, it isn’t as consistent as it once was. No, it doesn’t feel as fresh as it once did. Yes, Nolan Gould’s pubescent voice is nightmare fuel. But at this point, here’s the question, which will hereafter be referred to as The ModFam Conundrum: Is it worth watching 24 episodes to get to the six or so killers?
“The Long Honeymoon” answers with a resounding “Um…yeah? Y’know…yeah. Sure.” It’s unlikely the episode will rank in the top tier of season 6—probably no Emmy tape in its future—but it performs solidly and none of its three plots is disastrous. It plays with some fun, mischievous story ideas, and it’s pretty funny throughout. Modern Family’s B-game is far from perfect, and probably shouldn’t be breathing the same oxygen as Louie, but what it does, it still does well.
That said, the reason “The Long Honeymoon” doesn’t fare better is because Modern Family’s consistency problem is as prevalent from a plot-to-plot basis as on an episode-to-episode basis. The breadwinners this week are the Dunphys, who are having the best summer ever because Alex is off volunteering. I couldn’t help but think of Family Guy while watching these scenes. The story mimics the Griffins’ rhythms, using cutaway gags more as commas than periods, and that show’s savage tone. (At one point in my notes, I actually typed “Meg” in place of Alex and didn’t notice until after I read them back.)
But as mean as the Dunphy story is this week, it’s just as funny. This show can be great at its most absurd, and the idea of having the family’s blissful flow disrupted the very second Alex enters is pretty great, and Danny Zuker’s script executes it well. And yet again, it’s a reason to marvel at the casual brilliance of Ty Burrell, who managed to elevate a story accurately summarized as “Phil enjoys plums.”
The Tucker-Pritchett and Pritchett-Delgado stories don’t work quite as well, but neither was distracting, and Mitch and Cam’s story was pretty funny, even as it strained credulity. Sure, Cam is histrionic and has a tendency to go way overboard, but I’m not sure he would sexually assault his husband in front of new co-workers. The payoff was worth it though, as Mitch comes home to stumble through a “three-monthaversary” romantic gauntlet that resembles an obstacle course designed by Nicholas Sparks. Plus, Cam’s explanation for his behavior made larger emotional sense even though the individual beats were wobbly, assuming you’re willing to just accept the idea that the year leading up to the wedding was Mitch and Cam’s romantic zenith. I didn’t see much of that last season, but okay, fine.
Gloria, Jay and Manny didn’t have quite as much to offer, with Manny mostly sidelined and Gloria and Jay squabbling about Jay letting his appearance go while Gloria strives to look her best. It wasn’t a strong story, but then again, it’s impossible to imagine a room of professional comedy writers in which no one ever says “What if we made Sofia Vergara frumpy?” While Garbage-Pail Gloria felt new, the concept behind the story didn’t. I’m not sure I can stomach too many more stories about Gloria and Jay’s May-December growing pains. It worked when Jay was anxious about becoming a father again at his age, but this story felt like deleted scenes from season 2.
Modern Family is dead, long live Modern Family.
- Bonus points for the tag, which probably ranks among the show’s 10 best.
- The episode was directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller, who also won an Emmy for her work on “Las Vegas.” She earned it.
- Gloria’s fanny-pack reveal was pretty good.
- Lily, on the family’s umpteenth surprise party collision: “Just a thought: Maybe we should stop doing these?”