Thursday, February 11, 2010

Modern Family, "My Funky Valentine": Strangers in the night, removing clothing

Better late than never (thank you, blizzard), a quick review of last night's "Modern Family" coming up just as soon as I repurpose a boa...

Though the Dunphy kids were mostly sidelined, "My Funky Valentine" gave everyone else in the cast at least one moment to shine, whether it was Gloria's confusion about why David Brenner might be funny ("Does he have a mallet?") or Mitchell's supreme pleasure at getting to use his "SHAME!" closing argument on Manny's rival, or Cam getting deep into his role as the phone survey guy.

And speaking of role-playing, the episode's highlight - and probably the best sequence that the show has yet given Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell to play - was Claire and Phil's attempt to spice up Valentine's Day by pretending to be strangers, and all the ways it went right, then wrong, then right again.

However, the climax of that story with the escalator mishap was a little flat, in part because it felt like the kind of thing "I Love Lucy" might have done 55 years ago if Lucille Ball were allowed to refer to her panties. "Modern Family" comes from two veteran sitcom writers, and the dialogue (like Mitchell and Cam's "I had to settle" / "Your mom might think so, but many people think I'm a catch" exchange) often has the rhythms of a traditional sitcom, just disguised by the absence of a laughtrack. But much as I love a lot of the old sitcom tropes(*), I tend to enjoy this show the most when its comedy comes more from behavior than wacky hijinx. (That, or the hijinx have to be perfectly-executed, as they were in "Fizbo.")

(*) Speaking of which, Ken Levine has a really interesting post on his blog where he embeds one of the most famous scenes from "The Honeymooners" and asks, without judgment, whether people (particularly those too young to know or care about "The Honeymooners" legacy) find it funny. There is, of course, no right or wrong answer, but it's a fascinating snapshot of evolving comedy tastes and how a show that's inspired so many other shows can seem really flat to those who might only know it's descendants.

Still, a very funny episode, and worth if if for no other reason than Ty Burrell's amazed delivery of "This is way better than cheesey garlic bread!"

What did everybody else think?

48 comments:

Alan Sepinwall said...

Also, given Steve Levitan's recent comments about his belief that the show is not supposed to be a documentary about these three families, why did Phil keep looking at the camera during the scenes at the hotel bar?

Cameron Hughes said...

For a married couple with a child, Cam and Mitchell aren't very affectionate to each other. Not even a kiss on Valentine's Day?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Cameron, I'm pretty sure we've never seen the two of them kiss - and I would not be surprised at all if that was a dictate coming down from the network.

jeffrey said...

julie bowen...wowza.

rachelmed said...

Another highlight for me was when Manny came over and immediately started pouring himself a drink as he told the story of the poetry stealing.

As far as Cam and Mitchell, I think we might have seen them kiss on the cheek or air kiss, but that's about it. I'd guess a network decision too.

Dan said...

Per usual, Phil stole the show. His nametag and detailed story brought the scene to a new level. The turtleneck and blazer didn't hurt either.

MitchP said...

You're right. I'm sure it's the network's mandate that Mitchell and Cameron neve kiss. That being said, it seems like so many episodes feature Mitchell being cold towards Cameron. Usually Michell will then apologize and warm up by episode's end, but it seems like they need some couples therapy.

Anonymous said...

I would not be surprised at all if that was a dictate coming down from the network.

I never noticed that they hadn't (don't watch every week). If what you say is true...well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I am.

Anyway, I found this episode pretty dry. You can only get so much mileage from lovelorn Manny, age differences, and Phil's ineptness. When all of the people they knew showed up right then at the escalator, I just shut off the episode.

Fizbo was great, but too many episodes already feel rehashed.

LA said...

Manny pouring drinks was epic. But so was the scene in the restaurant between Cam and Mitchell when Mitchell asked Cam, "could you be any more dramatic?" and Cam repeated his last line with great flourish. I laughed out loud which was perfectly synched with the cut to the David Brenner audience laughing scene.

I adore this show.

LA said...

How could I forget... CLIVE BIXBY!

Robin said...

I couldn't agree more with your analysis of the Dunphy valentines plot

Anonymous said...

Maybe it was just me, but it looked like the David Brenner stuff was green screened, with the show using an old performance. He just looked too young to me. I've seen him recently, and, well, time hasn't been that kind.

The great irony is that his jokes about Jay could be used even more effectively against himself. I believe his current wife is about 20 years younger than him, not that there's anything wrong with that.

pbrl said...

This episode had the single funniest line I've heard in a sitcom since the heydey of Arrested Development:

"I'm pretty smooth all over."

I had to pause the show I was laughing so hard. Perfect line and delivery.

Allison DeWitt said...

I'm saving this episode for when I have more time but I watched the first few minutes last night. Maybe it's me..I keep laughing about this exchange, paraphrased:

Claire, purring: "You need to take a nap at work today....."

Phil, trying to sound sexy back: "I alwayyyys do...."

Anne said...

Wait. If the show isn't a documentary, why do they have talking head interviews?

Anonymous said...

this ep highlighted something I keep forgetting to mention about the show. Jay and Gloria work well together as a couple, but it's odd that they've done so much "coal digger"/age difference humor, given that's exactly what we're supposed to believe when we see them together. I'm glad the relationship has depth and humor and intelligence, but realistically, wouldn't that relationship be A LOT more superficial?

I guess that's Hollywood.

Bobman said...

I would not be surprised at all if that was a dictate coming down from the network.

I never noticed that they hadn't (don't watch every week). If what you say is true...well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I am.


I'm surprised Disney even allows a gay couple to have a kid on their network, nevermind kiss.

Q Ball said...

I loved the episode, Phil was able to steal the show and each story was pretty tight. The jacket-escalator sequence was a little too much, but I felt it was redeemed at the end when Phil dropped the bra & panties. Funny, funny stuff.

qtlaw24 said...

"Clive, you need to tone it down a bit."

Anonymous said...

"I'm surprised Disney even allows a gay couple to have a kid on their network, nevermind kiss."

I don't know about Disney's editorial policies, but they have been a fairly gay friendly company, offering domestic partner benefits and having gay-family days at their parks (receiving a lot of heat for it too). I didn't follow too closely, and maybe they changed policy, but I recall them being pretty progressive on that front.

Also, on the second front, that's the crazy thing. They have a gay couple adopting a baby but they can't show them kiss at all? I'm sure ABC has its reasons and has focused group tested what will get people upset, but it just seems so...well, dumb.

rino said...

i really liked the show in general. phil with a name me of randy quaid in 'christmas vacation' wearing a faux- turtleneck underneath his white sweater.
http://showstowatch.blogspot.com/

srpad said...

I just can't help but love this show. Even when it uses a Sitcom-y set-up/joke structure like in the example you gave, it works because on a cheezy sitcom, the joke is obviously for the audience but in this case it is a humorous person, Cam, making a joke to his partner that we are also laughing at.

DonBoy said...

Frankly, I'm concerned about Mitchell and Cam in general, because their interview segments always come very quickly to the same point -- Mitchell being embarrassed by how flamboyant/dramatic Cam is.

dez said...

Cam getting deep into his role as the phone survey guy

"Tarnation!"

Manny pouring himself a (non-alcoholic) drink before relaying his tale of woe was my highlight for the night. That kid is a national treasure.

djf said...

Passwater. Mpft.

Best repeat gag since the chicken dance.

Gridlock said...

Did I catch a shout out to Dom Joly, of Trigger Happy? British sketch show.

Smooth all over; fantastic line.

Jon said...

Laughed out loud a lot this week. Great episode for Phil - "Perhaps I'll be Reginald Appleby" - I'm starting to really believe him and Claire as a couple, totally agree with you Alan, their chemistry was great in this episode.

And though Manny has had better episodes, they really hit the jackpot casting that kid. He's one of the funniest child actors in recent memory. Not sure if it's more the great writing or his delivery/acting chops, but he cracks me up every time.

Just don't call him little guy, he's in the 40th percentile.

BigTed said...

Maybe I've seen too many sitcoms in my life, but everything that happened on this show seemed completely predictable following the set-ups. There were some unexpected and funny lines, but even the wackiest situations had no surprises, so to me, they fell flat.

Anonymous said...

It was definitely a reference to Dom Joly, comedic genius.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dom_Joly

Chip said...

"Pretty kitty has nails" LOL

usty said...

If it's not a documentary, then are the talking head parts supposed to be like Bernie Mac "Breaking the fourth wall" things? That confuses the hell out of me, because they're definitely talking to SOMEONE. They're not just a crazy family who randomly spouts off about things to no one in general, right?

Manton said...

rachelmed: Another highlight for me was when Manny came over and immediately started pouring himself a drink as he told the story of the poetry stealing.

I loved watching Manny sharing the exact same mannerisms that the hard drinking Mitchell was doing. And man, they have really turned Phil into something much greater than another Michael Scott. Even when the entire show isn't clicking, some of those one liners are hilarious enough to keep watching.

Think of it like it's a documentary, but don't ask the question "where is this documentary going to end up?" It just has all the tropes of a documentary show, cause, well, that's kinda how we view things as "real life" now. Make of that what you will (I kinda sob a bit, personally).

jim said...

Hard for me to believe that the same network that airs Brothers and Sisters would have a mandate against gay kissing on Modern Family.

If true, is it a time-slot/genre issue? That is, gay kissing is OK on a drama at 10, but not OK on a comedy at 9....

James said...

Um, yeah, everyone needs to stop with the "ABC hates gays" meme that's snowballing here.

It's both comical and a little scary to see how quickly it just became a fact that ABC has some standing rule against gay kissin'.

The show portrays a well-adjusted, middle-America-friendly gay nuclear family, where there is no attempt to mask or satire exactly how "gay" they are. And furthermore, it doesn't present gay people as a fascinating "exotic" or "foreign" subculture to be kept at arms length, like some other sitcoms I know of.

Mich and Cam are the perfect pacifier against gay marriage hysteria, and it's on in prime-time! How much more tolerant does ABC need to be?

And the show isn't about budding relationships, it's about family. I mean, how many times have we seen Jay and Gloria make out?

And besides, this episode's storyline is "Michell being decidedly unromantic," so I don't know why anyone is wondering why he and Cam didn't get all "Showtime" in the bathroom of the pizza place.

[/rant]

Anonymous said...

"coal digger"--heh. Yep, ladies love coal.

timb said...

No offense, James, but Modern Family has gay characters for the same reason Tim Whatley became Jewish on Seinfled: for the jokes. There is not one gay stereotype that Modern Family has not used for laughs: drama queens, love for divas, politically correct outrage (look at the baby with the creampuffs), dancing, etc

I'm fine with the show, but short of wearing leather chaps Jay and Cam could come right from a Focus on the Family ad campaign

christy said...

Eric Stonestreet was asked this question in an interview with the Advocate just recently:

Was it a conscious decision not to show any physical affection between Cameron and Mitchell so as to make a gay relationship more palatable for more conservative viewers?
People always ask me why there’s not more affection on the show, but these guys are elbow-deep in raising a baby, so affection gets shoved down the list. That happens in straight relationships too. Talk to any guy with a newborn baby, ask him how often he’s getting some action, and he’ll fill you in.

So should we not hold our breath for a same-sex kiss?
Hopefully our show will still be on the air when gay marriage passes, and I would imagine that Cameron and Mitchell will then get married. They were married in the original script, but everybody thought we should hold on to that nugget for the potentially near future. So as far as a kiss goes, I think it will happen in a real way that doesn’t draw attention to itself, because that’s not the kind of show it is. Jesse has nibbled on my ear in an outtake, so maybe that’ll be on the DVD extras.


It's an interesting answer because it has a logical explanation for the lack of physical affection, but still seems to imply that it's a deliberate decision that's unlikely to change much. Perhaps not by the network, but someone.

A gay couple with a baby on such a mainstream comedy is something new, as opposed to a gay couple on an hour-long drama. The people casually tuning in to something like this have different expectations. It's not right, but just because it's shown on Brothers and Sisters doesn't mean it couldn't be deliberately avoided on Modern Family.

But I adore this show. Cameron is my favorite character--my favorite new character on TV, probably. I laughed a lot this episode. Manny is also very special.

Anonymous said...

I also LMAO when Manny went over to pour himself a drink and he and Mitchell took sips at exactly the same time.

Regarding the physical affection between Cam and Mitchell. I don't see this as an ABC issue. If you've watched Brothers and Sisters, the Scott and Kevin characters frequently make out and occasionaly the scene then fades away while removing clothing. That is a 10PM show, but still on ABC.

Anonymous said...

The kissing stuff. This is a light-hearted comedy. While most Americans are opening up more and more to gay rights it's still a bit too much of a controversial topic to show two guys kissing on a sitcom that airs on one of the major networks. I think it would turn a lot of viewers, who are still very turned off by homosexuality, off to the show. I'm sure it's a stretch for them to accept a gay couple having a baby. Kissing may push them over the edge. Fact is, a lot of people may stop watching if they kiss while few, if any, will not watch the show b/c they don't kiss. A sitcom is not meant to tackle controversial topics. Maybe after the show is more established, but not this early. Dramas are much better suited for controvesy.

Dan said...

Timb previously said:

No offense, James, but Modern Family has gay characters for the same reason Tim Whatley became Jewish on Seinfled: for the jokes. There is not one gay stereotype that Modern Family has not used for laughs: drama queens, love for divas, politically correct outrage (look at the baby with the creampuffs), dancing, etc

I'm fine with the show, but short of wearing leather chaps Jay and Cam could come right from a Focus on the Family ad campaign


Oh come on, ease up on the cynicism. Every single character on the show has exhibited one or more stereotypes to create laughs, not the least of whom is Phil/Ty Burrell. And at the same time, nearly every single character has so far demonstrated qualities that reveal them to be much deeper than mere stereotypes (the only exception seems to be Alex the middle Dunphy child, and we can only assume that her time will come as well).

The gay characters are there to demonstrate that American families are increasingly a reflection of our society as a whole. The only social class missing from the Pritchett/Dunphy clan is a lower income subsection... and it'd be hard to build humor around that without seeming mean-spirited.

Henry said...

I find it interesting that the show is trying to promote Julie Bowen's sexuality more overtly than Sofia Vergara's. Not that I mind...

I dunno about this episode. I gotta watch it again, though I found the comic blithely insulting Jay NOT funny.

Alison D said...

This was the first time the Claire/Phil story really just worked for me, I think Phil has been irritating me less as time goes on, and this time the balance between sweet and idiotic was spot on, I thought.

On Mitchell/Cameron, it's not just the kissing, they seem to me to work brilliantly as life partners (you can see how they love/have pride in each other much better than Phil/Claire I think) but less so as sexual partners, I think (You have to wonder why Claire puts up with Phil, but there's no question the two look like they have the hots for each other). Maybe that's because the show/network feels more comfortable toning down the sexuality, maybe it's trying to say something about the life-stage of a new baby, maybe it's because the actors just don't generate that kind of chemistry. Whatever, it doesn't bother me a lot. The gay-man-obsessed-with-sex has been a well-used stereotype on sitcoms, and it's nice to see a different perspective.

Greg said...

I noticed too that cam and mitch don't kiss but then I realized I couldn't think of one time any other coulles kissed.

Before playing some stereotype card or discrimination accusation I would like to see the total number of times each couple has kissed each other on the lips. That would be interesting to see.

Besides, whether you are keeping a gay couple from kissing because people want you to or making them kiss all the time because people want you to, you are still acquiescing to outside pressure and not writing the show you want to naturally create. They're both undermining your vision.

belinda said...

It's not so much about 'ooh, we have to see them kiss' kind of thing, but I'd love to see Cam/Mitchell in an episode precisely about them trying to spice up their sex life (like Phil and Claire) because they've been so complacent with the baby. Come to think of it, if Cam/Mitchell was Phil/Claire's story this week, I think it might have been even more hilarious.

I think as with any network show, they all have a tendency to desexualize them for fear it's uncomfortable to the audience, which is actually pretty annoying. I hope MF doesn't end up being one of those shows, considering it is about - a Modern Family.

Craig Ranapia said...

It's not so much about 'ooh, we have to see them kiss' kind of thing, but I'd love to see Cam/Mitchell in an episode precisely about them trying to spice up their sex life (like Phil and Claire) because they've been so complacent with the baby.

Belinda: With all due and sincere respect, the couples I know (gay and straight) with nine month old babies aren't "complacent". They're chronically sleep deprived and wondering whether the smell of baby crap and vomit ever comes out or they should just torch the house and contents and start over as soon as the rugrat is toilet trained. :)

And as others have pointed out, I don't think Mitchell is any more (or less) physically "affectionate" than Jay or Claire. The Pritchet Family aren't exactly a PDA machine... (Cameron, Gloria and Phil, OTOH, are epic over-sharers.)

Craig Ranapia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Craig Ranapia said...

Regarding the physical affection between Cam and Mitchell. I don't see this as an ABC issue. If you've watched Brothers and Sisters, the Scott and Kevin characters frequently make out and occasionaly the scene then fades away while removing clothing.

Yegads, if you want to talk about well-intentioned yet noxious gay stereotypes, can they write Kevin a storyline where he's not a insufferably sanctimonious dick?

Kelly Anne said...

I loved this episode except I kept getting distracted by the coat in the escalator thing. It appeared to be just the coat's belt, and if the belt wasn't removable, it certainly could have been cut off fairly easily and quickly. I realize that wouldn't have been as funny, but it's annoying when there are glaring holes in the logic.