“Modern Family” returns from a week off with an episode that is tough to complain about. Although not all of the elements work, for the most part, the humor is strong and the performances from this talented ensemble are as reliable as ever. When it works, it’s an episode that displays the strengths of everyone working on the series, and when it doesn’t work, it doesn’t have much of an effect on our experience of the show anyway.
- Director: Fred Savage
- Cast: Ed O’Neill, Sofia Vergara, Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen, Eric Stonestreet, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Sarah Hyland, Ariel Winter
Episode Title: “After the Fire”
After a local family loses their home in a fire, everyone pitches in to lend a helping hand. However, their good intentions fall by the wayside as they each begin to focus on their own minor concerns. Jay hurts his back but is afraid to accept a massage from Phil, Cameron wants to prove that he can drive a truck that he clearly cannot operate, and Claire remembers a sibling rivalry from childhood when she discovers that Gloria and Mitchell are good friends.
- Phil’s massage: Phil’s earnest quest for his father-in-law’s approval has always yielded some strong comedy for this show, and that is especially the case in this episode. When Jay relents and decides that it wouldn’t hurt to let Phil give him a little help with his back, Phil’s overpreparation and mock-serene attitude earns a lot of laughs, even when the script itself doesn’t exactly call for them.
- Cameron’s driving: Seeing Cameron try to convince everyone that he can successfully operate a large and challenging motor vehicle while clearly failing to do so is funny, thanks primarily to the comedic skill and acting ability of Eric Stonestreet. With this cast, it’s tough to pick a favorite, but he consistently delivers dynamic performances that tend to score the loudest laughs of any episode.
- Cameron’s clowning: Let’s not forget the writers, though. While Eric Stonestreet takes the situations he finds his character in and maximizes the comedy potential in them, we still have to remember that the writers are the ones who get the ball rolling, and often do so in clever, unexpected ways. A minor joke about Cameron’s bizarre sleepwalking ritual at the beginning of this episode ends up paying off big time at the end. Why aren’t more family sitcoms this skillfully written?
- Jay’s concern: Misunderstanding a moment during their massage, Jay worries that he may have said something to Phil that he will never be able to live down. While seeing him squirm throughout the episode as he frets over the situation is pretty funny, it’s one of the less entertaining plotlines this week. Everyone involved does the best job that they can with the material, but there’s just not much to work with here.
- Claire’s concern: As far as unfunny subplots go, this is the worst offender this week. Once again, the actors don’t let us down, but the material just isn’t funny enough for us to care. Claire’s obsessions are often good comedy fodder, but her insistence that the relationship between Mitchell and Gloria mimics the relationship that Mitchell shared with their mother when they were children just doesn’t do much to keep us laughing. It’s heart is in the right place–these characters have a nice moment towards the end of the episode–but it just doesn’t work out for the viewers.
While some elements of this episode don’t provide viewers with the kind of comedy that we’ve come to expect from “Modern Family,” when all is said and done, not only did we laugh a lot, but there were the kind of memorable gags that are sure to be discussed at water coolers across the nation this week. That’s more than we can say for far too many TV shows these days.
“Modern Family” airs ever Wednesday night on ABC!
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