Modern Family – “Not in My House”

“Not in My House”

January 13th, 2010

Sometimes, when I write something particularly critical show about a particular show, I wonder if people think I’m difficult to please. Because, while I may be deluding myself, I think I’m actually quite easy to please. I might be very particular about what I want from a show like Modern Family, which I feel isn’t living up to its potential, but that doesn’t mean that when it actually happens I’m just going to find something new to complain about. When a show listens to me like Microsoft listened to all of those annoying people in Windows 7 commercials and does exactly what I tell them to, it’s pretty much enough for me to ignore any other problems and sing from the rafters.

So while I do, yes, have some issues with “Not in My House,” which isn’t as riotous as the show has been in the past, the fact that two of the families interacted in an entirely natural, non-dysfunctional fashion without the show imploding into contrivance demonstrates how this should happen more often. It’s my Windows 7 moment, and it was enough to elevate this far above last week’s episode for me.

Oh, plus it has a Dog Butler. I would NEVER complain about a Dog Butler.

There was a moment in “Not in My House” where it seemed like we were getting three separate stories again, and I was admittedly a little bit frustrated. Yes, Jay and Gloria had a dog Butler named Barkley, and yes Phil was worried about his son getting skewed perceptions of sex and agri-business, but especially with Cameron and Mitchell I think I’m at the point where I feel like I’m having their dynamic drilled into my skull. I get it: Mitchell is stuckup and likes Russian puppets, and Cameron’s a big softie who likes water slides. They’ve given the same basic interview about fifteen times by now, and as much as I like Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson their stories are really frustrating me. And I think this was an example of a story, as they bring their Spanish gardener into their house for comfort only to discover he’s got cold feet on his wedding day, which would have died if not for the idea of having Mitchell take a road trip to his father’s house to pick up Manny for the Moscow Marionettes.

It was an episode where characters interacted when it felt logical: of course Mitchell would want a further excuse (Manny) to revisit his childhood with Lily, and of course calling Gloria would be the logical thing to do when you have a Spanish-speaking gardener in serious emotional crisis locked in your bedroom. For the characters not to do so would be contrived, not the other way around, and Mitchell and Jay’s conversations was one of my favourite moments on the show in quite some time. It wasn’t broad, it wasn’t big, but it showed a humorous but realistic conversation between a father and a son about how lucky they really are even when their respective others are either too nice or too disrespectful of a Dog Butler (“That’s a Dealbreaker!” [/Liz Lemon]). And the show nicely let the emotional moment resonate while still undercutting it with Jay’s declaration of love appearing to be to Barkley as opposed to Gloria, which became a nice runner leading up to Jay at the Altar with Barkley when Gloria walks in the door at Mitchell and Cameron’s. The two families had a shared story that made sense thematically, and led to heightened laughs once the two came together.

The Phil and Claire story this week was weaker, although it also had its moments. I think it’s one of those stories that lost me as soon as Claire gave a way-too-sappy voiceover about how she just didn’t want Luke to be growing up too fast: the producers admitted at TCA that they didn’t know they were coming across quite as sappy as they were, and I think this is an example of a voiceover that isn’t terrible but does seem to damage the comic impact of the story. The Mitchell/Cameron story managed to say just as much about their family dynamic without devolving to the same point (plus they got a hilarious coda that didn’t even knock it off the rails), and I think Phil’s awkward sex talk would have been enough of an ending to the story to make it work. I liked seeing more of the dynamic between the three siblings, and while the entire thing was a bit interview heavy (Luke’s interview about Hailey’s diary seemed like it shouldn’t have been there) it didn’t feel like we were being dragged out of the better story or anything.

Or, maybe it did, since it didn’t have a dog butler. Barkley is a very simple joke, but I nearly lost it when we first saw him, and both Gloria’s overreaction and Jay’s absolutely love of the thing was just really “fun.” Sometimes the show seems a bit laboured when it tells its stories, but Barkley was a joke machine, and it led to great physical comedy (Gloria carrying it up the stairs, including the tray falling off on the last corner), great silly comedy (Cameron providing Barkley’s voice) and the greatness that was Barkley’s ears flopping out the window.

So, basically, so long as the show listens to me and includes Dog Butlers, we’re all good.

Cultural Observations

  • I know the tone of this review is almost obnoxiously light for me, but that’s Barkley’s fault. It was a Dog. And a Butler!
  • Thanks to the Comics Curmudgeon, I knew that Gil Thorpe working in Phil’s office was funnier than I probably would have found it otherwise, even if I don’t entirely get it still.
  • Some of the dialogue on the Phil and Claire side was a bit strained (the Frodo/Mordor stuff), but Luke’s “Some of them can be real, like Anne Frank’s!” and Claire’s reaction just about killed me. I love a good Anne Frank joke.
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3 Comments

Filed under Modern Family

3 responses to “Modern Family – “Not in My House”

  1. Simon

    On a note unrelated to this show.
    Have you seen the first episode of The Kids in the Hall’s Death Comes to Town. I felt that the first half of the episode was fairly soft – but that the second showed a lot of potential and some of the Kids’ old brilliance. I’d be interested to hear your opinion.

  2. Luke’s “Some of them can be real, like Anne Frank’s!” and Claire’s reaction just about killed me. I love a good Anne Frank joke.
    EXPLAIN HOW AN ANNE FRANK JOKE CAN BE IN ANY WAY JUSTIFED AND EMAIL ME at danbloom AT gmail DOt com, thanks reporter

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