“Dash, Flash, Crash”
November 17th, 2010
Last week I posted about concerns regarding Modern Family’s relationship with questions of race and ethnicity (albeit focused on the former), and over at TV Overmind the commenters were…well, they were angry. My point was not to say that the show is racist, but rather that there are moments when questions relating to sensitive issues are located within the production of the series rather than character actions.
Let’s take, for example, Phil’s “If you ain’t white, you ain’t right” t-shirt which angers an African American taxi cab. It’s highly offensive, sure, but it plays into his cluelessness in ways we recognize. It is the intersection of his inability to realize what his words mean with questions of race in today’s society, and its continued presence (“And this year I predict total White domination!”) makes it seem less like that single flashback is necessary in order to construct the joke. It seems like something Phil would do, makes me laugh, and happens to transition into the best episode since “Fizbo.”
In other words, next time you hear me ragging on Modern Family? Manny’s birthday.
I love a lot of moments in this episode: Manny’s calling the skateboard the second thing to slip out from under him, Gloria saying she could unbutton his shirt with the B.B. gun, etc. However, my favorite is Julie Bowen’s performance as Claire puts two and two together. It’s the moment she realizes that Luke chose to go with his father in the case of a divorce, and the fun and competition of their race to Manny’s birthday stops dead. To that point, it was your basic sitcom storyline, but as both Phil and Claire pull over to the side of the road it starts to be something more. Instead of seeming divided and unconnected, the division of the characters creates almost mini-bottle episodes which isolates them and allows them to do the kind of introspective character moments the show doesn’t often do (and that it often does through trite voiceovers at episode’s end).
And so each story got to be its own little arc: Phil realizes that his daughters are too old for family camp, Claire realizes that Luke in all of his klutziness knows more than one might expect, Cameron realizes that Mitchell isn’t a total stiff, and Manny realizes that he has time to be a kid after all. I don’t think that Jay and Gloria learn a comparable lesson, but I also think that Gloria with a B.B. gun was more than enough content to sustain an entire season of the show. Each story had its own purpose, its own lesson, that was found entirely within each individual storyline. Yes, Manny’s speech at the end sets off a chain reaction of reconciliations, but the moral was placed within the story: the characters all heard it, and it inspired them directly as opposed to the producers casting a single moral every storyline through some sort of montage.
“Fizbo” was an example of the show putting all of the families together and allowing the chaos to unfold. Here, the storylines remain separate, but they all have something approaching direction and focus. Sure, Mitchell and Cameron’s storyline wasn’t a laugh riot, but the moment where they realize they’re dealing with adultery is great, and I really quite enjoyed the relative complexity of Cameron’s reaction. Mitchell thinks he will be pleased about his letting loose, but not including him is just as much of a betrayal – it’s a valuable layer to their relationship, one which lets Jesse Tyler Ferguson show off a bit of his Broadway background. Mitchell’s effort to play against type also ties in with Manny trying to cherish his childhood before it’s gone, the sort of investigation of identity that a show like this one rarely gets into.
Sure, it will all disappear next week, but within the episode there were important connections: you had both Luke and Phil missing their shoes, you had the return of Phil’s white jokes, and you even had the nice return of the key search (and B.B. gun) after the “resolution” at Manny’s birthday. The episode may not have deeper meaning, something that would actually help the show, but it has a sense of history: family camp goes back to last summer, while Claire’s discussion of the importance of not having two fun parents implies a sense of time the show sometimes avoids. The storylines, transient as they may be, do not feel transient as they are happening. They have weight in ways that I don’t normally see from the show, a pleasant surprise coming off of a few lukewarm half-hours.
I still think the show has some issues, but I thought this one was pretty unimpeachable – more like this, please.
- Okay, how were two cars heading in two directions on a two-lane road? That seems…improbable.
- Look, I know the interview thing is imaginary and I should accept this, but Gloria being “late” for the interview seemed problematic.
- Line that made me laugh more the second time: “Why did I get you such a big watch?!”
- If I wasn’t so jaded, Luke’s “He’d probably need me more” might’ve have broken me.
- Love that Manny’s prank call backfires on him – Rico Rodriguez rocked his way through this storyline.
- No, seriously, Sofia Vergara needs to leave this show and find a show where she can hold a gun more often. Can she become a cop? Gloria could get a job as a security officer!
- Probably no review of Cougar Town, which was blissfully silly this week – sorry!