Thursday, November 19, 2009

Modern Family, "Great Expectations": Nobody gets off The Rock

Spoilers for last night's "Modern Family" coming up just as soon as I slut it up with Driving Miss Daisy...

The concept of sweeps months (using November, February and May to help set ad rates for the next year) is outdated and silly, but the networks still pay attention to them because their affiliates do, and that means we get a certain amount of traditional sweeps stunt programming, like bringing in guest stars like Elizabeth Banks and Edward Norton to hang with the "Modern Family" regulars.

Now, I'm always happy to see either of them. Though "Scrubs" never knew quite what to do with her, Banks always brings a spark to the stereotypical girlfriend roles she has to play in the movies, and any chance to see Norton display a lighter side (ala "Keeping the Faith") is welcome.

That said, I thought Banks fit in much better last night. Norton got to wear the floppy '80s haircut and speak in a (mostly consistent) silly accent, but his storyline was pretty clearly an excuse to bring in a name guest star and let him be goofy. Phil and Claire had a moment at the end - and it was a rare Phil story that gave some hints as to why Claire would want to be with him - but it was mainly about the spectacle of Norton doing a private bass concert of Spandau Ballet tunes.

Banks' plot, on the other hand, felt more organic, and the sort of thing the show could and would have done even with a lesser-known guest star. Every new parent, gay or straight, struggles with maintaining a good relationship with their friends who are single and/or don't have kids. It was nice to see glimpses of a less responsible Mitchell and Cam - when Sal asks Mitchell if he wants to feel her new breasts, the usually uptight Mitchell says, "I'm gay, not dead!" - before their paternal instincts kicked in. And Cam's First Child Syndrome theory put a nice bow on the whole thing - Sal's not (that) bad, just understandably jealous.

Frankly, though, my favorite subplot of the whole episode was Jay's Night, which just had a bunch of our regular characters bouncing off each other: Gloria sounding like she's being strangled (and, briefly, sounding like she's about to sing the theme to "The Great White North") as she sings to the baby, Manny crushing on his cousin (and Jay calling him "Jethro" in response), and, especially, Jay's superhuman ability to stay one step ahead of Haley.

They've done such a good job in short order of establishing this ensemble and showing how different configurations of it work that guest stars often seem besides the point. I'm not saying the show shouldn't have them. The Shelley Long episode was one of the best so far, and both Banks and Norton were funny last night. I just want it to be an occasional thing, that's all.

What did everybody else think?

58 comments:

Alan Sepinwall said...

I should also say that Phil's list of acceptable gifts - "speakers that look like rocks!" - was hilarious.

AbbyG said...

This show's totally got me hooked. So many of the characters have a great dynamic that it's funny just to watch them go at it. Though I do have my fears about Manny... what's hilarious now can probably get old pretty quickly. (Him with a cup of espresso at night was awesome though)

Christian said...

Was I the only one who heard the "f-word" slipping by the network censors at the very end of the episode? (the sound coming from the western on TV). But I agree, that episode was brilliant and made me laugh out more than once.

sean said...

Very funny episode of a very funny show. Great to see Phil as the more stable one when it comes to gift-giving. The look on his face when he got the coupons was so funny.

Favorite part of the night is towards the end though. Jay goes outside and yells "Dylan?" and Dylan comes out from the bushes. Then when they get inside he wants to stay because of the Sloppy Jays and movie time. His line to Hayley was great: ".....but.....Cowboys."

Jobin said...

I thought Elizabeth Banks was perfect in her role. Ed Norton was more distracting than anything - ridiculous outfit and hair, horrible accent, terrible music. That reeked of "sweeps stunt" to me, as you said.

All in all, still a good episode for a very good show.

Omagus said...

Isn't Manny technically Haley's uncle, not cousin? And I share AbbG's wariness about Manny. The running gag with him and coffee has kept so far but I wonder how much life his unique quirks have.

Matt said...

Ed O'Neil's delivery of "that's how I first met Phil!" was awesome. But I definitely agree that Norton left me a little cold--Spandau Ballet was a very 80s band, and while its name is funny, Norton's age isn't right for that. The actual bassist is 48, and Norton's 40 and arguably looks a little younger.

This also makes me question why Elizabeth Banks isn't a much bigger star than she is.

Anonymous said...

I like the show, and I thought this episode was solid. However, I agree that the part with Jay was best, which is true almost every week. I get what you're saying about the different configurations of characters, but so far my three favorite are Jay, Gloria, and Manny. So, plot lines without them can drag.

Also, they need to do something better with Claire's daughters. They are such stock characters that I get irritated by stories that focus on them.

I for sure thought your tag line would be about making yogurt.

Carmichael Harold said...

I think I had more patience for the Norton guest appearance than others, but it may just be that I couldn't stop laughing at the idea that his version of a concert of the band's songs featured the backup vocal rather than lead vocal part (except with "True", I think).

kathy said...

Agree the Norton storyline was weak but the term "Fandau" was hilarious. Overall, his appearance felt very forced. I have high hopes for Bejamin Bratt as Manny's dad and Fred Freaking Willard as Phil's dad though.

I watched "the Bicycle Thief" episode at 8pm, that's the only episode I hadn't seen yet. Awe.some. I love the Cam show!

Anonymous said...

"You should kill that baby". Something no other show would allow to be said. And Cam and Mitchell's disbelief was awesome. That whole scene was great. And I loved Alex saying that Grampa was going to die, and her brother checking his pulse.

Anonymous said...

Not my favorite episode over all but I thought the ending scene was my favorite so far...it didn't feel forced like some of the other ones, it struck the right mix of funny and loving without feeling sappy.

Some funny moments throughout and I just really like these characters...the boys' reaction to those 'killing Lily' comments were too funny.

LDP said...

Here's my question, though: Is Edward Norton really such a draw? He's a good actor, but I can't imagine anyone who ordinarily doesn't watch the show tuning in just because Norton's making an appearance.

Robin said...

This might have been my favorite episode to date. I laughed so much I'm going to need to re-watch to catch all of the little things (only other show that does that to me is the Office).

And as a woman who CANNOT buy good gifts to save her life, the opening scene with Phil and Claire was gold.

srpad said...

This was the first week I got more laughs from Couger Town than Modern Family but I still enjoyed this episode. The Claire-Phil story was definitely the weak link but the others made up for it.

"I'm scared"

Fairview said...

When this show first aired, I thought Julie Bowen WAS Elizabeth Banks. I was expecting a plot last night about how Sal was somehow Mitchell's replacement sister.

George said...

I actually thought Elizabeth Banks was good in Scrubs. Granted they screwed her over with the "OMFG, she faked a miscarriage! ABSOLUTE BITCH! Poor J.D. :(" storyline, but she had some great lines and her timing was impeccable.

IMO, she was the highlight of the episode and I thought she was really believable and funny as Cam and Mitchell's BFF.

Good to see Dylan, too bad he couldn't sing again. I really hope they explore the Jay/Hayley relationship some more, that has potential.

Really great character development for Phil. In the talking head after he got the coupons he just seemed the image of Michael Scott (like more than ever), but as the evening progressed you could see him in a different light and why he and Claire have lasted so long. Nice to see that he isn't completely oblivious, then again I suppose that's what The Office writers do with Michael from time to time. Phil is nowhere near as tragic as Michael though.

Edward Norton came way out of left field, he was pretty funny even if it was a contrived. Why mess with Spandeau Ballet to fit Tyler Duerden into your show? Makes no sense.

Solid episode.

Dan said...

Just a totally random FYI--the (Great White North) song Gloria was singing is "Cucurrucucu Paloma"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHW-q8oD3gE

forg/jecoup said...

It was a solid episode Manny's crush on her "step-niece" was awkwardly cute. And Luke's paranoia over his gran dad's life is adorable as well.

Gloria singing to Lily was funny haha.

I was not bothered with the stunt casting, I think both did a great job. I love Elizabeth's line refering to Lily as Yoko haha. Norton was really game and since this is the first time I saw him on TV series I think he did a fine job although they could have used a better

Does anyone have the list of what Phil wants, I was laughing when he said those stuff.

I actually find the Phil-Claire moment sweet

Anonymous said...

Loved the episode. Like Elizabeth Banks and thought it was great Ed Norton was on since he hasn't done much comedy. Norton being the bass player and only playing the bass part of those songs had me on the floor just from being absurd.

I can relate to Jay's Night as I spent some evenings with my Grandpa and we would watch Lawrence Welk when I wanted to watch something else.

Sam Sevr said...

Solid ep but not my favorite. I could've done without Norton or Banks. The Spandau Ballet bit just didn't work for me, tho Norton did get a good line with "You got married to a break up song".

Loved Jay's Night. Enjoy the cat and mouse game with Jay and Haley, Jay threatening to hose Manny down, then coming back later with the spray bottle. Jay's stories are always great, followed closely by anytime 2 branches of the family interact.

Haley: "That was easier than I thought it'd be."
Alex: "You have no idea what really just happened, do you?"

Wes covington said...

Phil wnats:

1. Robot dog
2. Night vision goggles
3. Bug vacuum
4. GPS watch
5. Speakers that look like rocks

Kubrick's Rube said...

Did anyone else think "Hondo" as soon as Jay mentioned watching a western?

ryan said...

the take by rico rodriguez the third time ed o'neill sprays him in the face with the water was maybe the funniest thing this show has done.

it was perfectly timed to RIGHT when he turned around after getting sprayed the first two times and i rewound it two or three times.

Rinaldo said...

This episode didn't feel like "stunt casting" to me as I happened not to recognize Edward Norton (or care if I did, though I've liked him in movies), and Elizabeth Banks is nobody to me (another of the gazillion pretty blondes that inhabit TV, she's certainly not a megastar or anything).

So I straightforwardly enjoyed the episode for the new, more rounded views I got of Phil and Jay (both of whom have been in danger of becoming one-note cartoons -- Gloria is still there for me -- but filled out nicely now), and the new interactions among them all. Nice stuff.

Anonymous said...

Kubrick's Rube said...

Did anyone else think "Hondo" as soon as Jay mentioned watching a western?

+ 1

dez said...

The actual bassist is 48, and Norton's 40 and arguably looks a little younger.


He said he was the bassist in between Martin Kemp and whoever took Martin's place later, so I could believe it. Plus: "Fandau." BWAHAHHAHAHA!

I loved it when Sal spit up on Mitchell and Cam wiped it up, then Mitchell burped her. Perfect! And Jay is an awesome grandpa.

Phil also wanted a yogurt maker (said in a later talking head from the first list of items). He could think of things he wants all day, lol!

J said...

I thought Norton was doing Ricky Gervais, by accident, and was irritating. Too much presence for the room; this is the first time (I've missed the past couple eps) that I've actually liked Phil and Norton was a distraction from that.

Weren't "speakers that look like rocks" a suggestion from a Best Buy ad?

Everything else worked just fine. It's admirable how this show can consitently get sweet without feeling cheap. Also, funny! Deserves its success.

Phil Freeman said...

I kind of want to re-watch this episode because on first viewing last night, I found the Phil-Claire plot so hacky and clichéd (and Norton's portrayal almost SNL-level lame) that I muted the volume every time they cut back to that storyline. The Jay-and-the-grandkids stuff was awesome, though. And "but...cowboys" was probably the funniest line of the night for me, because I'm a guy who will, if I'm zipping through channels and it turns up, quite happily drop everything and watch Tombstone from whatever point I come in all the way to the end.

Murph said...

I had no idea that was Ed Norton either. This show is so consistently funny it's easy to forgive a weaker plot. Loved Jay's night. Great throwaway line in there somewhere about Claire running off to parties to chase boys, and Mitchell too. Love this show.

sean said...

Phil Freeman said: "I kind of want to re-watch this episode because on first viewing last night, I found the Phil-Claire plot so hacky and clichéd (and Norton's portrayal almost SNL-level lame) that I muted the volume every time they cut back to that storyline."



So in an episode that lasts roughly 22 minutes (without commercials) where the Phil-Claire plot takes up a third of that, you muted the volume on their sections because you didn't like it? How long did it take you to decide you didn't like it? Did you give it a chance or just judge it right from the first shot of Norton at the front door? Just curious.


Also, casting Edward Norton wasn't really stunt casting (to those that have called it that). It's been reported online that Edward Norton and Ty Burrell and Norton are good friends and have worked together on film and on stage, and when Norton saw the pilot of Modern Family he liked it so much he wanted to be involved. So while it is during "sweeps" it isn't like many other shows where they say "let's get some big name celebrities and stick them in roles". It was more like "Edward Norton likes this show and wants to be involved, how can we possibly say no?".

floretbroccoli said...

There was a story on This American Life, not too long ago, about a mid-level musician who was hired by a guy to play a private, living-room, concert for the guy and his recently-ex girlfriend.

The story was was told by the musician, and was quite entertaining.

I wonder if the writers of this episode heard that story and used the idea here.

Anonymous said...

OMD's piercing Ed Norton's heart ("Ohhhh!") might have been my biggest laugh of the whole season.

Lizbeth said...

Hey, I happen to have "rock speakers." Bought them to go by the pool and never got around to wiring them so they're in my bedroom in my gym/yoga area.

Phil's list is awesome and I'm just like him. Whenever people say "you're hard to buy for" I can rattle off my own bizarre list. Or I say, check my Amazon suggestions... Amazon knows me better than anyone.

LA said...

Jay, Gloria, and the grandkids were perfection. Just when I think Cam and Manny are running away with this show, Ed O'Neill comes in and rightfully grabs some of that glory. He is just outstanding. Loved the bit with Jay and Dylan maybe most of all.

Wasn't a fan of the Ed Norton segment, but the rest of the show was very funny, as I expect.

Zach said...

I thought that Norton was pretty funny, but I couldn't stop saying "THAT'S ED NORTON".

I also feel that the bassist character would have been more successful with someone like Ricky Gervais making it even more unbearably awkward.

renton said...

I'm pretty sure that this episode ensured that I will never again get coupons for hugs from my wife again.

My other favorite moment was when Norton told Phil he fell in love to a breakup song.

Henry said...

Huh. I guess I'm one of the few people who thought Edward Norton was better here thann Elizabeth Banks. I thought he was just a riot. And I was trying to think of any previous roles he had done where he had to do a crazy British accent (Kingdom of Heaven was the closest I could think of, but that wasn't really British). Not that I have a thing against Banks, who is a great comic actress. I just enjoyed Norton more, probably because it was so outlandish.

I loved that Jay used his parenting knowledge to outwit Haley and Dylan every step of the way. How'd he get out onto the patio so quickly to change the light? Did he just bolt from the poker table as soon as Haley left? Was there some secret passageway to the backyard in Jay's house? And I loved that Jay spritzed Manny for his (out of nowhere) crush on Haley! I liked his calling Manny "Jethro" as well. The crush is a little weird, not only because it seems out of character with regards to Manny, but also because this is the first time it has come up!

This is just a comedy that is firing on all cylinders.

Phil Freeman said...

How long did it take you to decide you didn't like it? Did you give it a chance or just judge it right from the first shot of Norton at the front door? Just curious.

Fair questions all. I laughed right up through the interview with Phil where he rattled off the list of things he wanted, and even through Claire telling him his gift would arrive that night and then announcing in her interview "I am so screwed." But as soon as Norton showed up with the terrible costume and wig (that's the part that reminded me of someone Chris Kattan would have played on SNL), I bailed on the plotline. The reason I say I want to re-watch is because the other comments here are convincing me that maybe it wasn't as hacky as it looked last night.

sean said...

Sounds good Phil Freeman, and I can agree that at first look the costume was pretty silly. What makes it funny is that there are still some aged band members from old bands who hold onto their looks or styles from the time that they were big. It was a little odd at first but I feel the jokes made it work. Especially when Norton began questioning Phil about his band's songs and albums before realizing he doesn't even like the band.

The reveal at the end with Phil explaining what their song is and that Claire screwed up was nice though...made Phil seem more normal and not so over the top.

The Jay storyline was the best though. I'll agree with the majority on that.

Tyroc said...

Worst episode so far, but still funny for sure. They can't all be home runs.

(My dislike for the usually smug Edward -- don't your dare call me Ed -- Norton doesn't help things.)

Gridlock said...

Bass guitarist plays private solo concept and still plays bass and sings only the backing vocals; just one of 100 reasons this show is top of my list right now. OK, one behind Curb but that's hardly faint praise.

No way turnaround on this show supports the stunt casting theory, although they have shown episodes out of sequence. Pilot aired 8 weeks ago so doubt this ep was filmed since then?

Writing a (casually) supernaturally-aware zealous grandparent for Ed O'Neill; genius. Played it 100% right.

I like to think AD had 7 years' worth of plots and jokes in 3 seasons, MF is hitting a lower tempo but really can't fault it.

And Manny's maturity will never get old. All you do is give him adult situations (unrequited love, currently) and throw in the odd inappropriate habit (not only drinking espresso but making it himself) et voilà, humour. Hank Kingsley was dumb and egotistical for 6 years..

Gridlock said...

"Give me a break, I've got to climb a rope today"

Not only the best line yet but easily the best delivery too.

flem snopes said...

"I found the guitarist from Spandau Ballet and he only lives 40 miles away."

Playing the Bass part and singing the backup was hilarious and I didn't recognize Ed Norton until about 5 minutes in.

w.v. consho - Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison

dmalato2 said...

Shades of George Michael Bluth and Maeby Funke in the whole Manny-Haley thing? I like the sound of that...

sean said...

Gridlock said: "No way turnaround on this show supports the stunt casting theory, although they have shown episodes out of sequence. Pilot aired 8 weeks ago so doubt this ep was filmed since then?"

Not sure if the theory you're talking about was what I posted....where I said Norton loved the pilot. But in the case that you were talking about my post here's my response:

It's certainly conceivable that Edward Norton could have seen the pilot a long time before it aired. Pilots are made well in advance of when they actually air, and it's possible he saw it before it aired (similar to how critics can view shows weeks in advance).

Below is a link to the article where I got my info from. It was announced that Norton would guest star on the show by Michael Ausiello on September 9th. The pilot didn't air until September 23rd. In this article, Ausiello mentions how Norton saw the pilot and loved it so much he was memorizing lines.

Exclusive: 'Modern Family' adopts Edward Norton.

Gridlock said...

Sorry, was agreeing with you and disagreeing that this was a network-led stunt casting :)

Gridlock said...

..although obviously the network is choosing which eps air when, as Alan already pointed out.

sean said...

lol sorry Gridlock......I was obviously confused by your post. My mistake.

I'll agree with you about Manny's maturity. Very funny stuff.

NumberSix said...

It's funny so many people are saying that Norton's bit seemed straight out of SNL because the only thing I could think of when I saw him was of his guest turn on SNL when his then-girlfriend Salma Hayek hosted. He played a Benatar band member in disguise covering "We Belong". Wasn't that funny then, not that funny now.

Red Delicious said...

"Death to Smoochy" was a much funnier Edward Norton movie than "Keeping the Faith." I will not argue about this.

eightiesologist said...

I've noticed a lot of critics and armchair fans are jumping on the "stunt casting" bit. TV Guide has something about "is it too soon?" (though in fairness, Alan is only saying he's concerned that it will become an issue). I think that's lazy. There is a difference between stunt casting and just employing good well known actors. 30 Rock probably did both, but seemed to do more stunt casting than anything else. All i see Modern Family doing is yet another homage to Arrested Development, a show that employed lots of great guest stars, all of whom fit right into the show's amazing format. Modern Family has plenty of full-time actors who aren't well-known. Sometimes you need someone more visible to play key antagonist parts. That's part of the comedy.

I just don't get it. The storylines demand guest stars. Their mother, a friend, a neighbor, etc. Are they supposed to cast C-list actors in crucial parts? So far, Modern Family has not abused the concept of bringing in guest stars.

Paul Outlaw said...

The first time a show uses stunt casting is always a good sign, because it means that the network is excited enough about the show to spend $ on A to A+ list talent and/or A list talent is excited about appearing on the show, possibly for less $ than they usually get. It means that the show is hot.

I thought Norton was incredibly funny, by the way.

Tausif said...

I felt Ed Norton did a good job of playing Russell Brand's comic persona.

Also, I liked when George Miche, er, Manny made comments about Steve Hol, er, Dylan to demonstrate his love for Mae,uh, Halley. Should Mitch Hurwitz get his lawyer?

the-herkmeister said...

Truth be told, I didn't know Spandau Ballet was a real band, and I just thought that the writers were absolutely brilliant at lampooning the eighties. And having found out that it was a real band, the joke seems even funnier.

Tom said...

So Phil's a Sky-Mall guy. Perfect.

Good episode. Funny and sweet, and no heartwarming homily at the end.

This is a hit because people want hang out with these characters. Each of the three scenarios was funny and appealing.

Jerseychick said...

Another great episode. This has been the first episode that I really liked Phil. I really couldn't get why the two of them were together but this episode showed a great side of him and made Jules look less like Superwoman married to the village idiot.
And I loved the fact that there wasn't a "heartwarming homily at the end".
Super surprised to see Dylan back, I thought the song would make him persona non grata with the family.

Garrett said...

"You're not a Fandau!"

Hilarious concept, though it's about as cartoonish as this show should get. I wish the "30 Rock" writers had come up with it: it would've beat Jeff Dunham.