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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Modern Family: "Strangers on a Treadmill"

Busy, busy, busy. Busy. Four because that’s the number of storylines we got this week from Modern Family. Usually the show breaks into three plots, most often one each for Jay and Gloria, Mitchell and Cameron, and the Dunphys. “Strangers on a Treadmill” throws in a separate plot for Haley and Alex, and the result is an episode that undermines its excellence through overindulgence.

The real “extra” plot last night was Jay, Gloria, and Manny’s ill-fated trip to what they thought was a quinceanera. All three characters are great, and I too would have been disappointed not to see them, but this felt underdeveloped. There were a few good lines, like Jay’s “Hey, Carlos” but there wasn’t enough Manny. I think the show should recognize that it doesn’t have to keep everyone involved every week. If you think about it, it would be a little more realistic. Even the zaniest families can’t have hilarious misunderstandings every week. A good compromise, which also might have been pretty funny, would have been to use the scene with Jay trying to clear his DVR (Manny promises he’ll get to Antiques Roadshow) to let everyone know that it wasn’t going to be a busy week for the Pritchetts. It gets them a little screen time while also clearing more room for the three genuinely interesting plots.

As for the other plots, all of them were fairly typical sitcom fodder, but I don’t feel that necessarily has to be a criticism. The exchange of favors between Claire and Mitchell could have been cliché, but they amped it up by equating it to Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train.” Claire’s “You owe me a MURDER!” was tremendous. This was a good episode for Julie Bowen, between the opening bit about not laughing with her eyes, to the emotional resonance of her confession to Phil. It was also great to see Phil get a win, seeing his jokes succeed at the conference was predictable (they were exactly the right type of jokes for a professional gathering like that) but still enjoyable.

The Mitchell and Cameron half of the “Strangers” plot wasn’t as funny, depending on how hilarious you found Cameron’s pixilated bike-shorts, but it ended sweetly and sincerely. Cameron’s oversensitivity to comments about his weight was played well, especially the scene where he thought Mitchell was giving him an encouraging look for eating fruit.

As for Alex and Haley, their plot may only have existed to provide an emotional capper for Claire and Phil, but it was a very good one. And the writers of this show can’t do anything with making me laugh. The pained dual-scream after Alex blew it on the phone with McKenzie, the popular girl, was perfect. It was nice to see the sisters working together. Modern Family seems to really get the sibling relationship, Mitchell and Claire also work really well as siblings. They annoy each other and may fight, but tend to present a united front to the outside world. Haley’s claim that she only helps Alex because an unpopular sister “is bad for the family” encapsulates this idea.

It seems like Modern Family is avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump.

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