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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Modern Family- "Earthquake"

This week on Modern Family we got three separate stories, which seems to upset some people. But really, even the closest families spend some time apart, no? Not only does the separation lend some versimilitude to the plot, but it also makes the episode-ending voiceovers less unnecessary. (I would never call them necessary.) When we've seen the family together supposedly learning some life lesson, it becomes redundant (and a little obnoxious) to have it regurgitated for us at the end.

This episode finds all three branches impacted by an earthquake, which is treated with a surprising lack of danger. I guess Californians are used to them by now. A quick three-way phone call provides the only connection between family members, as Mitchell's awkward phrasing leads Gloria to believe Phil is dead, and Phil is sweetly ecstatic when he realizes how glad Gloria is that he's alive.

Phil's plot line gets the most time, and is a little out there, but the writing sells it. With Claire trapped in the bathroom, Phil realizes he has a chance to do the repairs he told his wife he had already done. (A cabinet he was supposed to have secured to the wall has fallen down, just missing Luke.) Phil's confesses to the camera, about his wife's nagging: "Sometimes it just gets so bad I have to roll up my sleeves and just tell her I did it already."

Luke steals the spotlight in this story. Between running into the wall to avoid falling objects and presenting his mother with a cookie sheet full of soda ("I couldn't find straws, so you'll have to drink it like cats.") he had a great episode.

Mitchell and Claire use the earthquake as an excuse to avoid another one of their friend Pepper's theme-brunches. (Oscar Wilde and Crazy.) Mitchell's tired of lying for Cam (an analogy comparing Cam to a mob wife is brilliant) and forces Cam to make the call. But Cam overdramatizes the situation, leading Pepper to rush to the rescue.

Pepper is played by guest star Nathan Lane, and it's a role well-suited too him: a big-hearted, narcissistic, vain, flamboyant gay male. Lane still almost manages to overdo it, but its a very well-written part.

The last storyline featured Jay and Manny skipping church, must to Gloria's consternation (which is of course, fiery.) Gloria thinking the earthquake was God punishing Jay was a little stupid. (They should be more careful not to make her a cartoon.) But this storyline was made by Manny's increasing panic once Jay proves unable to answer his questions about the afterlife. "You're playing pretty fast and loose with my soul here, Jay."

Each storyline focused in on a little conflict in the marriages, but rather smartly didn't tie them up in cliche resolutions and pat lessons. Phil doesn't pay a price for not listening to his wife, and in fact enlists his children to lie on his behalf. Cam and Mitchell get through the intitial embarrassment over being caught in their lie by telling an even better one. And in the most un-traditional fashion, Jay still skips church, asking Manny to "put in a good word for me."

Modern Family seems to get a lot of flak from "hipsters" for being too traditional a sitcom, but if it can work within that framework while slightly tweaking the rules it can be that rare thing: a truly original show that reaches a mass audience.

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