It’s been a couple weeks since we last checked in on the Dunphys and Pritchetts, so refresh your memory with my most recent review here.
After a couple weeks off, Modern Family returned this week with a strong outing about the traditional roles people play and how they are often better off as people if they surpass those roles. All of the best elements of the show were present (except for Haley and Alex): witty writing (pretty much all of Cameron & Mitchell’s Act II dialogue), some good physical comedy (Claire slipping as she stormed off after spilling her water, Phil with the cologne), and a nice bit of heart (although that dang voiceover with treacly music was back. I thought we were happily rid of that device!). What was probably the best element of the episode, though, was that a number of the characters actually seemed to have learned and grown by the end of the episode.
I spent the bulk of last week’s review addressing the very issue of characters in comedies growing over the course of a season and a series. For me, the best comedies have characters that show movement, in some direction, over time. I was concerned that the folks behind Modern Family hadn’t decided whether they wanted to have their characters evolve during the series. This inert state, in my opinion, was dangerous because it leaves the show in a state somewhere between Seinfeld, whose characters didn’t change at all (on purpose, because the show was about “nothing”) and Friends or The Office, where the characters have evolved during their runs. Such stasis runs the risk of boring the audience because unless the jokes can be “rolling on the floor” funny every week, the series will become flat: an adjective no creative person wants used to describe the course of their work. Fortunately, with “Dance Dance Revelation,” it seems Modern Family has made its decision, and by my estimation, it’s a positive one.
All of the adult characters in this week’s episode exhibited growth in one way or another. To show that growth, however, the baseline needed to be established. This is where the traditional roles come into play. I should mention, I mean “traditional” in the sense of the traditions these characters have set for themselves or others have imposed on them, not necessarily stereotypically “traditional” roles. Jay is a tough man’s man. Phil always wants people to like him. Claire has a defined role in the school community as the dance organizer. Gloria is the bombshell. Cameron and Mitchell immediately assume that they are criticized because they are gay. All of these roles were subverted by the end of the episode. Jay admitted he wanted his stepson and grandson to be more sensitive. Phil got in a guy’s face and attacked him (albeit with cologne). Claire learned to sacrifice a bit of her power and standing in the community for the benefit of someone else. Gloria admitted she wants to be seen as more than the trophy wife. Mitchell and Cameron learned that sometimes they are just wrong, and people aren’t attacking them because of their sexual orientation. These moments were handled with aplomb as they came naturally in the episode and didn’t seemed forced.
Of all of these developments, however, I found Gloria’s to be the most interesting. When Claire found Gloria in the bathroom, and told her that “everything is your thing!”, Gloria’s reaction was the closest thing this series has come to exhibiting true pathos, as if it was an HBO or AMC drama. We know that Gloria doesn’t take kindly to all of the Colombia jokes, but she makes them often enough herself, that her complaints just register as humorous anger. In that bathroom scene, though, I really felt for Gloria. She is no bimbo, and she can see how she is viewed by the other parents at Manny’s school. Not only is she ogled by the men, but she’s envied and judged by the women, including Claire. Gloria wants to be more than a nice pair of boobs and great set of legs. She wants to be respected, and her desire to help plan the dance was her first foray toward that goal. I know the scene was brief, but what and how it was conveyed (kudos to Sofia Vergara and Ilana Wernick, this episode’s credited writer) really caught my attention, and certainly shook me out of whatever passive viewing I complained about in my last review. The question remains whether the show will continue in this direction for Gloria and the rest of the characters, or whether it will revert back to the common characterizations to which we are familiar. Not that the characters need to show obvious growth every episode, but hopefully this progress will continue moving forward.
So, all in all, I thought this was a pretty good episode with some very positive developments for the series. If I have to dock it anywhere, it was in the use of that voiceover again; especially because what Phil was saying didn’t seem to match up to the theme I had drawn from the episode at all. That could just be viewer error, though. Anyway, it was made up for by the fact that Phil was using his cherished iPad at the beginning of the episode. I love joke call-backs! The true highlights of this episode, however, were the huge number of really funny lines. I don’t want to transcribe most of the script, so here are just a few of the best of the night:
Jay: Does Phil have a green pocket square?
Claire: I don’t think Phil is a pocket square kind of a guy.
Phil (shocked): Wow!……..Wow!!
Mitchell: It’s time to play everyone’s favorite game.
Cameron: Let’s Blame the Gay Dads!
Mitchell: You know who had straight parents? Adolf Hitler.
Cameron: Charles Manson.
Mitchell: Shall we go on.
Cameron: Naomi Campbell.
After Jay insults Phil for not being a man, Phil says to the camera:
Phil: I love Jay. Are you kidding me? He’s my boy! Yeah he gives me a hard time, but that’s the deal with a father-in-law. The key is, I never let him see just how much it devastates me.
Cameron, after Lily bites Cameron for a second time: It’s like Twilight back here!
Phil: Guess who fit into the suit on the mannequin and saved us 20%?
Luke: Here’s something I didn’t know about mannequins: they don’t have a wiener.
Manny (seeing Luke’s teal tie): What the heck is that?
Phil: It’s a nicer word for penis.
Mitchell: If she starts biting her playdates, she’s going to be a pariah.
Cameron: Try a piranha.
Mitchell: Really, Cam?
Cameron: It was right there.
Cameron: I am not hiring some hob to come over here and traumatize my child. She’s already prone to flashbacks, if you know what I mean.
Mitchell: OK, you know she didn’t fight in Vietnam, right?
Cameron: I don’t know anything anymore.
Alright, that’s what I’ve got for this week. I should also mention, based on my previous writing on Modern Family‘s use of race jokes, that I noticed Cameron’s “white on rice” joke. This was a case of a race joke that was motivated by the character, and therefore, a preferable use of this type of humor. Cameron was flustered and trying to defend himself and his daughter from the mother accusing Lily of biting her son. He used a common phrase, and then realized its implication vis a vis his daughter’s ethnicity. This was a completely motivated bit of dialogue, and in my estimation, not worrisome. All that said, what did you think about “Dance Dance Revelation”? Did you find it funny? What did you think of the progress the characters showed in this episode? Was it a welcome change, or do you just want to laugh, and don’t care about character development? Please leave your questions and comments below. This was the last new episode of 2010, so my next review will appear in the New Year. Happy Holidays, and until then, I’m off to make a movie about a bad idea.