Modern Family’s somewhat uneven second season closed on a promising note last night with “The One That Got Away.” Indeed, the episode at times seemed like an actual promise to viewers to address some of the valid criticisms levied against the show throughout the year. The episode was a success, producing lots of laughs and great gags, but it was more interesting for the things it seemed to say about the series going forward.
First, it seemed to promise to be more unconventional and self-referential, a la Community. There were a lot more callbacks than typical in last night’s episode, some of them obvious, like the broken stair, but a lot of them subtle, like Luke asking for his chocolate milk with extra salt, something Manny did earlier this season. And of course, there was the birthday tape Haley and Alex made for Jay, which featured several reminiscences of other plots, from Haley in her catsuit, Gloria yelling at the neighbor’s dog, Mitchell practicing for his flash mob, and Cam getting into character as Fisbo. It was a nice reward for loyal viewers, from a show that has tended to treat each episode as a stand-alone occurrence. It was a tad similar to Community’s recent “Paradigms of Human Memory”, though clearly not as outrageously unconventional.
Second, The One That Got Away seemed to hint at the closing off of certain recurring jokes and plot archetypes that had worn thin through overuse. I for one sure was glad that the show finally had Phil realize, through the help of his college rival Glen Whipple, that his fascination with Gloria was ridiculous in light of how hot his actual wife is. The constant jokes about his fantasizing about Gloria were not as funny as they were creepy. I got a big laugh out of Phil’s “I’ve got Claire” as she and Gloria both started to fall into the pool.
Similarly, I know I’m not the only one tired of seeing Mitchell and Cam spend every week getting into petty fights that even Lucy and Ricky would find hackneyed. Having them adopt another child might at least give them something to do together, even if, coming after all their fights, it seems as though the baby is an attempt to patch together their relationship.
There were of course lots of other funny things in The One That Got Away, things that had nothing in particular to do with the future of the show. I loved Ed O’Neil’s slow burn as his plans for the day went awry, especially his gruff phone conversation where he told the dog groomer she could be replaced by a hose. Claire and Mitchell drunk in Jay’s backseat was quite a treat, especially Mitchell whining that at least they got to have a dog for a while. Perhaps my favorite was the shot of Phil’s recreation of a childhood photo, featuring adult Phil with a bowl of spaghetti turned over on his head. It was just two-seconds, but it got a tremendous laugh out of me.
Even when it’s at its most trite and familiar, Modern Family has always been capable of great one-liners and sight gags like that. If they live up to their tacit promise to be more inventive, the show will live up to all the hype that has surrounded it this year.