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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Modern Family- "Manny Get Your Gun"

The greatest strength of Modern Family is in the depth of its ensemble. Each character is strongly defined and each is capable of carrying a plot of their own. All of them can earn big laughs, but not because the characters themselves are inherently funny people, but because the writers adroitly place their characters into situations which spur humor. Sometimes the show can abuse this strength, overpopulating an episode with too many unconnected stories, making the end result too busy to be greatly enjoyed.

Such, I am glad to say, was not the case with “Manny Get Your Gun.” The episode takes shape as a frame narrative, beginning with Manny’s toast to the family at his birthday party. It was pretty great to see him cheerfully deliver his speech to his glum-looking relatives, all while wearing what I am assuming is a tailored suit. From there we traveled back in time to discover what has put each member of the Pritchett and Dunphy clans in their foul moods.

Modern Family gives us four stories this week, each symbolized by a car. Gloria’s car is stuck in the driveway since she can’t find her keys. Jay hectors her about responsibility, and considers the lesson worthwhile enough that he doesn’t tell her he found the keys in his own coat. She sees through the ruse immediately, and becomes especially scary when expressing her anger through Manny’s new BB gun (Manny incidentally, is in crisis mode as Jay inadvertently causes him to wonder if he’s not enough of a kid.). The Gloria plot, though genuinely funny, is something the show should probably ease up on, in the long run. How many times can we see Jay underestimate Gloria without it feeling a little race-based? Also, much as I love to look at Sofia Vergara, I think the plunging necklines are starting to come off as a little desperate.

Cam and Mitch are at the mall struggling to buy Manny’s present, and are running late. But Cam can’t help but stop an elderly couple with romantic problems, going so far as to carry the old lady down an up escalator. The adultery reveal was a nice touch. I was less enthusiastic about Mitchell’s flash mob, although I guess I can’t complain about it being out of character when the character himself admits it. Cam’s selfish reaction was a welcome surprise, especially since upon reflection it made perfect sense for the character. It’s nice when a show trusts its characters enough to have them do bad things, and trusts its audience enough to still find them sympathetic.

The final two cars belong to Phil and Claire, who decide to take two cars, splitting the kids between them, after an argument over which route to take to the party. I found the Phil and daughters story a little overly contrived, since it featured the “family camp” we’ve never heard of before and likely will never hear of again. But Claire and Luke’s plot, where Claire discovers Luke honestly thought his parents were splitting up and his immediate response was to go with his father, felt real and produced great comedy. Maybe Julie Bowen is just better at crying than Ty Burrell.

The sentimental capper was thankfully not a voiceover but instead the continuation of Manny’s toast, in which he realizes, thanks to the behavior of the adults, that he still has plenty of time to be a kid. It was clever, funny, and sentimental, perfect for Modern Family.

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