On ABC, Family Matters: “Fizbo” and “Here Comes My Girl”

“Fizbo” and…

“Here Comes My Girl”

November 25th, 2009

Thanksgiving is a holiday about family, which when deployed in television does one of three things. The first is to emphasize the cohesiveness of a particular group of characters who work seamlessly when brought into the same setting. The second is to emphasize the sheer chaos that results from the show’s personalities coming together, to either comic or dramatic purposes. The third, meanwhile, is to demonstrate that the show is a convoluted mess where bringing the characters together is a futile exercise that will fail to provide interesting television.

What’s helpful for ABC’s 9pm comedies is that both of them have built their identity around the idea of family, to the point where bringing the gang together is like second nature to the two shows. Cougar Town has really started to charm me as of late, and “Here Comes My Girl” is yet another fine episode that brings together this group of individuals into a family of sorts that’s just an enormous amount of fun to watch bounce off of each other. And “Fizbo” is perhaps my favourite Modern Family episode yet, taking advantage of the chaos at the heart of this family and bringing things to a satisfying (and also sort of sweet) conclusion.

It made for a really comforting hour of television comedy, which is what the timeslot has been providing (on average) all season.

Perhaps the strongest individual element of the episodes were the show’s fully taking advantage of the strengths of a pair of supporting characters, in this instance Dan Byrd’s Travis and Eric Stonestreet’s Cameron. The two characters have been strong overall, but this episode allowed them to take things to another level. With Travis, this means going beyond his sarcasm and awkwardness to the heart of his relationship with his mother, resulting in Jules losing her sense of self-control and failing miserably at being anything close to “cool.” The result is a really honest, but funny, story of a son coming to terms with the role his mother will play in his adult life, and while it had its broader comic moments (the balloon gag) and its quippy one-liners (the rolling pin would make me feel self-conscious too) it was more about that moment at episode’s end (set to, thanks to the sleuthing skills of Mrs. Sepinwall, Noah and the Whale’s “Give a Little Love,”) where Jules and Travis share a quiet moment preparing Thanksgiving dinner. It was a wonderful piece of acting from Cox and Byrd, and totally sells that Travis is more well-adjusted than Jules but is nonetheless believably awkward. It was a heartfelt and funny little story that really sold me on the relationship.

As for the genius of Fizbo, I don’t really know where to start. Stonestreet’s Cameron has become the show’s breakout character: while Ty Burrell’s Phil stole the pilot (Lion King moment notwithstanding, even, I’d argue), Cameron has been able to show more dimensions and has a slightly better foil in Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s Mitchell. Fizbo was a stroke of genius because of both the sheer commitment of Stonestreet and some legitimately amazing directing choices. Look at the dramatic angles the show uses to introduce the character as Cameron puts on the nose/eye makeup, or the amazing shot of Fizbo’s foot stepping out of the car when Mitchell’s about to get attacked at the gas station. The show worked to create the legend of Fizbo, and while Stonestreet was nailing the smaller moments (like the “something”/”nothing” gag with Jay) the direction was establishing just how epic this ass-kicking, balloon-animal machine really is. It didn’t have the emotion of Cougar Town’s storyline, but it didn’t have to: who needs sentiment when you have legend?

Cougar Town was less interested in creating such a huge sense of destiny, but I thought the comic rhythms the show has established in recent weeks were working in overdrive: there were a number of fantastic scenes with Ellie and Laurie playing off of one another, the dynamic between the three men was as strong as it always is, and both broader scenes (the “Hi Kylie” song and the basketball games) were executed to their full effect. I also like that they came right out and pointed out that both Bobby and Grayson are at the point in their lives where Jules is the perfect woman for them, and that they used this for both comic and dramatic effect. There was a joke to be had in Grayson’s suggestion of buying it deep inside and avoiding it, but it’s also kind of true, and the characters have a strong enough dynamic for me to buy things going slowly. Some shows I’d wish that they’d get the usual storylines out of the way, but I’m so enjoying just hanging out with this family that a Thanksgiving dinner can simply hint at some things before just being about spending time together.

And perhaps the best thing about “Fizbo” was that this same theme wasn’t hammered into our heads. The conclusion did end on a note that Luke got a great birthday after all, one where he (and not the holiday) was the center of attention and where the whole family came together, but it came to be through a series of hilarious circumstances. After complaining about V’s in media res opening this week, it was great to see one where the views into the hospital scene made us on alert for potential maladies, and the result was a lot of brilliant comic tension as you had both legitimate threats (the scorpion, Dylan’s mayo allergy, the crossbow) and hilarious phobias (Phil’s fear of clowns, which was a great piece of acting from Ty Burrell) pulling us in various different directions. When things eventually go terribly wrong, with Manny becoming the great hero (“My dog’s still in there” was a cute touch) only to have Luke end up breaking his arm after slipping on Claire’s “comb sheaves” beads was the sort of wonderfully fitting climax that the show should do more often. The show earned that scene in the hospital in a way that previous episodes haven’t earned their tidy endings, and the result was a really great half-hour of television.

Overall, two families I’d be glad to have Thanksgiving dinner with, so long as there’s no crossbows involved and Fizbo is invited.

Cultural Observations

  • Want to take this chance to wish all of my American readers a Happy Thanksgiving – sure, it’s not as good as the real CANADIAN Thanksgiving, but I hear it’s still a pretty big deal and all that jazz.
  • There were a number of great Fizbo sight gags, but I think the battle for me is the post-badass novelty clock pullout and the running away from the scorpion like a small child. So different, and so amazing.
  • Although there were a few too many Michael Scott style “Make joke and mug to camera” moments for Phil in this one, I liked that the show continued last week’s trend of Phil making fun of Claire as opposed to vice-versa.
  • Andy’s “I’ve got a secret” heartburn was a fun bit of comedy from Ian Gomez, and Christa Miller is as lovely as always in twisting the knife.
  • My one question from the show: while Bill Lawrence’s usual signature touches (the use of music, the oddball comedy, the physical comedy, etc.) are all in place along with a sense of sweetness that the show was lacking in the pilot, I do wonder if the show is interested in investigating actual sadness or tragedy at all. Scrubs, as a medical show was forced to confront it, but these characters are relating to the point where something happening to a distant relative could be played emotionally, but it definitely feels more resistant than Scrubs (or, for that matter, Spin City) to the idea. Just a thought.

1 Comment

Filed under Cougar Town, Modern Family

One response to “On ABC, Family Matters: “Fizbo” and “Here Comes My Girl”

  1. While this episode of Modern Family wasn’t my favorite, it was close. But, this episode of Cougar Town was my favorite for that series. I really hope that this is the show finding itself. Courtney Cox didn’t seem to be trying so hard and things flowed quite nicely. Didn’t seem so over the top.

    Also, while the Travis/Jules moment in the kitchen was sweet, my favorite overall moment in the hour was, as you mentioned above, Fizbo pulling out the large clock at the gas station after telling the guy off.

    I kinda wish that ABC would put Scrubs/Better Off Ted on the same night, as that would be one absolutely great two-hour block of comedy.

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