Summary : Modern Family remains funny, but it needs to be careful not to let stunts overshadow the authentic emotional heart of the series.
ABC’s Modern Family is a thoroughly charming, pretty funny, completely typical sitcom. For an example of the last descriptor, you only need to look at the recent season finale, “The Wedding, Part 2,” and its first half. Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) are finally able to get married because California has OK-ed gay marriage, but all manner of mishaps, from wildfire to a runaway bride returning, force multiple changes in venues. An event episode plagued by obstacles is a hallmark of sitcoms, and in this, Modern Family fails to distinguish itself.
There’s a very telling sequence in “The Wedding, Part 2” for which I wish the writers had listened to themselves. Phil (Ty Burrell) is preparing to officiate the ceremony, replacing Sal (Elizabeth Banks), who has gone into labor, of course, and he tries to work a magic trick into his monologue. His wife, Claire (Julie Bowen), gives him sound advice, saying that he doesn’t need to be flashy, just let the emotion stand on its own. Phil does, and it’s a very moving moment, seeing the love between Phil and Claire, and among the family in general.
I think the rest of episode should have taken note of this bit and more widely applied it. Sure, it’s funny when Pepper (Nathan Lane) has butterfly issues and Sal claims she’s only four months pregnant as her water breaks, and even when Manny (Rico Rodriguez) and Luke (Nolan Gould) unintentionally have a faux marriage, but we don’t need natural disasters and such to get in the way of that. The smaller jokes, built on relationships and the dynamics of a loving clan, are much better than when the series goes to extremes in what seems to be an obvious ratings ploy. Did Modern Family really need two weeks to stage a wedding?
The best part of “The Wedding, Part 2” by far is Jay (Ed O’Neill) trying not only to come to terms with Mitchell and Cam getting married (something with which he has made great progress), but also to make up with Mitch, who is miffed over an unintentional comment. Jay is old-school living in the modern era, and to his credit, he tries very hard to accept Mitchell for who he is. Jay is not 100% on board, but neither would he ever do anything to impede his son’s happiness. You can absolutely tell that this Jay is not the same one that has raised Mitchell, and it’s resonant for many older men today, struggling to adjust to an unfamiliar world. Some of the craziness of fleeing the fire could have been better spent further developing this relationship, which is well served, but should have been delved into deeper.
An interesting twist, which has built for some time is concerns Haley (Sarah Hyland) falling for Andy (Adam DeVine), who is not her typical type of guy. Andy is a lot like Phil, though, so viewers should see this coming, and Haley being attracted to this guy who reminds us so much of her father (something she doesn’t see) doesn’t seem too creepy. Yes, Haley basically rejects him late in the season finale, but that may only be a temporary setback. She lets him go because her sister, Alex (Ariel Winter), asks her not to be cruel, and Haley is trying to do the right thing. But Andy could be her chance at not only a solid relationship, but also in maturing and growing as a person. I hope this thread is picked up next season.
Even with its stunts, I still love Modern Family. It does make me laugh, and it almost always nails the emotional stuff. I just wish it cared more about the feelings than the jokes. and let the humor flow more naturally. Much of the time it does, but often enough it seems to sell out. It is mostly watchable, but could be better than it is now, sliding in quality with age.
Modern Family has been renewed and will return to ABC next fall.
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