ABC’s Modern Family is unique in that it is a sitcom with a lot of heart, and that it gets the opportunity to show a lot of different family relationships. Families are not simple, and cannot be boiled down to the average twenty-two minute episode. When Modern Family began last year, it was the most realistic group of kin that had been on air in quite awhile, and as the interactions between various character reveal deeper and deeper the connections between them each week, I’ve grown quite fond of it. It is no wonder almost every single adult actor and actress was up for an Emmy this year.
This week’s episode, “Strangers on a Treadmill” was an excellent example of the series at it’s best. Phil (Ty Burrell) was invited to speak at a big realtors’ convention, and his wife, Claire (Julie Bowen) was worried that he would embarrass himself. While it was never explicitly addressed, I feel that Claire was more worried about being embarrassed to be with him, than worried about him. I do believe she loves him, but she sometimes underestimates him. Anyway, Phil was writing lots of jokes for the event, but Claire thought that none of them were funny. She didn’t want to confront Phil herself, because she knew he is sensitive about that sort of thing, and didn’t want him to be mad at her.
In the meantime, Claire’s brother, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) had his own problems with his partner. Cam (Eric Stonestreet, who actually won the Emmy) had been going to the gym of late, and he wore very tight bicycle shorts on these excursions. Mitch was proud of him for working out, but did not approve of the shorts, which left nothing of Cam’s genitals to the imagination. Like Claire, he knew that telling Cam directly would lead to a marital fued, and so he’d been avoiding it. Hence the plan concocted by Mitchell and Claire where they would gently correct each others’ significant others’ issues.
Of course, even though Modern Family stretches the sitcom boundaries in a lot of ways, it is from the sitcom mold, and so the plan went far less than perfect. Claire went through with her side of the deal, devastating Cam. Mitchell couldn’t bring himself to say anything to Phil. When Claire called to chew him out, Cam overheard the discussion, and found out that he had been set up. This led to a fight between the two men. But their ensuing makeup and declaration of why they are together was so sweet and unexpectedly quick. It showed a loving, strong relationship. It exemplified the best qualities of the series.
Phil never did find out about the deal, but Claire decided to act on her own to stop him. At the dinner, she stole his note cards. He was forced to get up on stage and wing it. Yet, even though Claire can’t always see it, Phil is inherently funny. Not always intentionally so, but Burrell is such a gifted actor, he makes Phil endearing despite the buffoonery. And hilarious. So Phil killed, with everyone at the dinner enjoying him immensely. Claire got to see how other viewed her husband, and she fell in love with him all over again. Her pride in him, and her honesty when he confronted her about the theft, as well as his immediate forgiveness not only illustrated another very strong couple, but allowed an examination of the differences in two duos.
While Cam and Mitchell and Claire and Phil all had strengthened bonds by the end, each couple’s story was very different in how it played out. Two similar situations with two similar end results, but very different journeys to get there. It’s a testament to the writers and actors that these four people are so well defined after barely over a season of development.
There were also a couple of pretty funny subplots. Mitchell and Claire’s father, Jay (Ed O’Neill) argued with his wife, Gloria (Sofia Vergara) over how well he knew his employees. They attended a party and he schemed to try to prove to her he was caring, even though he didn’t recognize anyone. Gloria quickly realized they were at the wrong party, and Jay made a huge fool of himself.
Claire and Phil’s daughter Alex (Ariel Winter), who is brainy, but doesn’t have a lot of friends, tried to be popular. She was assisted by her sister, Haley (Sarah Hyland), who usually has no use for her younger sibling, but saw the quest as a worthy goal. Haley was able to help her quite effectively, but by the end of the episode, the whole thing had fallen apart. No matter how hard you may try to change, you are who you are. A valid conclusion.
The fact that all of the above was condensed into such a short amount of film should show you just how good the show is, and why it deserved to be watched. Catch Modern Family Wednesday nights at 9pm on ABC. And do yourself a favor and stick around for the lower rated, but also excellent, despite it’s poor title, Cougar Town at 9:30.