“Run For Your Wife”
October 28th, 2009
Last week, I noted that there were elements of the episode that felt like post-pilot syndrome, re-establishing existing traits in a way that indicated the episode was intended to air earlier in the season. And, this week, the same experience repeats itself: “Run for the Wife” plays like the show’s second episode, ending with an emotional beat which confirms while subtly expanding the pilot’s message, its character beats feeling like the pilot on repeat more than anything new or particularly inventive.
What separates the two episodes is that last week’s was an epic family event that brought everyone together, while this week very clearly delineated the three storylines based on the couples (with only a phone call to connect them). And while the show gets some really enjoyable broad humour from those get-togethers, when playing out of order these isolated stories play somewhat better, where you don’t need to worry about adding up what we know about the ways the characters interact and can just enjoy them acting as we expect them to.
It makes for less conflict and perhaps a less unique setup, but part of me was able to enjoy the episode somewhat more as a result.
It’s weird that last week I complained about how the character roles were the same as we had seen before, and then this week does nothing to mix up character dynamics and I’m complaining less. I think it’s because we got to see characters who sometimes veer towards the one-dimensional really gain a new shade of sorts. Phil was still a funny and important part of the episode, but the episode was more a commentary on how much he cares about his kids than it was about how hilarious his parenting style is. And while Cameron’s dramatic side has normally emerged in order to embarrass Mitchell, the episode transitioned from that mode to Cameron’s dramatic side emerging out of fear rather than simply being hilarious. And while Gloria has normally been the staunch defender of Manny’s eccentricities, her perspective shifts when he goes beyond the poncho and even encourages Jay to crush part of his spirit in order to save the whole.
And in the process, every story had its moments that were both really funny and really touching at the same time. Gloria’s sudden shift from blindly supportive to almost rage at the sight of the pan flute was unexpected and as a result comically effective, and Phil’s victory being undermined by his near car accident (with Haley at the wheel) was a nice callback to earlier scenes and a fun bit of comedy for Ty Burrell to play. And there perhaps wasn’t a better scene in the episode than Mitchell in the foreground, on the phone with On Star getting the car unlocked, and Cameron running towards him with a garbage can screaming about how he’s going to break the window, tripping and yelling to the point where the On Star employee tells Mitchell to suggest his wife calm down.
Individually, none of the stories before those points really connected: Mitchell and Cameron’s story had a decent gimmick that worked less as photoshop but better with the Diana Ross getup, but seemed misguided when it went into the “All Asian people know about Asian food, right” gag (although the doctor’s office had the amazing Ghetto Fabulous line), and Jay and Gloria’s conflict over Manny was just the pilot all over again. And Phil and Claire’s storyline was a very basic sitcom plot that only really worked when we saw that Claire, even though she views Phil as another child, cares about him and knows when to let him have a victory. But there were enough clever gags in the midst of those storylines, ones which the show leans on well (Jay’s descriptions of the poncho, Jay and Claire’s different driving instruction styles, etc.) and thus made the episode engaging.
I’ll be curious to see when the show gets back to episodes that are aired in order, because I think there’s room for growth here that these episodes are clearly not reaching towards. However, this one had a couple of nice subtle variations that really connected for me, so consider it a thumbs up.
- I liked the cut from Jay’s comments about Mitchell’s flamboyance in childhood to Mitchell defending himself (poorly) – cuts like that take disconnected storylines and offer a reminder that these people are part of a larger family, which works well both in broad episodes bringing everyone together and in small moments like this.
- And now we await the episode where we see Phil in his bathing suit.
- I like that Phil’s driving instruction is so different from his peerenting strategy – he can’t keep his cool in the setting, and as a result ends up panicking and yelling “AWAY FROM THE KIDS AND FROM THE LAKE.” Fun stuff.
- And just to be clear, “Ghetto fabulous” is ALWAYS medically relevant.