Thursday, March 04, 2010

Modern Family, "Fears": Under Ponce

A review of last night's "Modern Family" coming up just as soon as you hand me the Itty-Bitty Book Light...

"Fears" was the first "Modern Family" in a while that I enjoyed a lot even though it kept the families separate (and, as often happened, sub-divided the Dunphy clan into two groups, this time by gender). I still prefer episodes where there's some crossover, as the unlikely combinations tend to feel fresher, but "Fears" (written by co-creator Steven Levitan, and directed by Reginald Hudlin) showed that there's still plenty to be done with the more traditional family units.

Cam and Mitchell's "mommy" panic was the broadest, and funniest, storyline of the night. Usually it's Phil who's inserting his foot deep into his mouth, Michael Scott-style, but here it was the guys' attempt to not sound racist even as they tried to pass the whole thing off on "the giant panda in the room" that was the pediatrician's Asian-ness. Loved Eric Stonestreet's pained delivery of "Mommy!" in the talking head after Lily said it a second time, as well as the payoff to the doctor's line about becoming an Asian stereotype, followed by her turning out to be a horrible driver.

Manny, meanwhile, is such an effective, unique character that he works in any combination, including with his mom and stepdad. That he has his own specific fishing outfit (with cap and cable-knit sweater) feels very Manny, as does Gloria assuring him that "your salmon is legendary." And I about did a spit take when Manny told Jay, "Wake up, old man!"

Though the male and female Dunphys were separate, I really appreciated the use of Claire's "three deep breaths" advice to tie the stories together, as we saw Luke do it before he dove under the house. That kind of subtle stuff works better for me at establishing the show's heart-warming side then the closing voiceovers do. And Luke and Phil make a great comedy team because Luke is so much his father's son. The tag at the end with them speculating on what they could buy with the hypothetical treasure in the attic was priceless.

What did everybody else think?

54 comments:

Michael said...

I was hoping your jump line was "just as soon as I try some legendary salmon". I was laughing so hard about Manny's outfit that I barely caught that joke. Then I rewound the whole scene and continued to laugh

Badlands said...

I loved that episode so much. I really agreed with your assessment of the little groups. I thought the Mitchell and Cam stuff was a bit weak, but I did appreciate Cam's overreaction to being jilted by his daughter. He is so Blanche Dubois it is comical!

I thought that the discovery of the bones at the end was a great Scooby Doo moment. I think Phil and Jake are Shaggy and Scoob in many ways.

I too had to rewind it when Manny told Jay to wake up. Manny is who I aspire to be...a mature older gentleman. A true gentleman at that. Real old world. I half expected him to walk from the other room with reading glasses as he had his book under his arm with his finger a placeholder in an early scene in the show. Excellent episode!

forg/jecoup said...

I love Cameron, Eric is really bringing it, I'm torned between him and Manny for my favorite Modern Family character. I think this is the first time he mentioned that he quit his job to be a stay at home parent :D

Anonymous said...

manny always reminds me of Bobby Hill, an old soul in a round body. love him.

Josh M. said...

I think they finally threw up their hands at the documentary format, by having "the crew" underneath the house. Best not to think about these things any longer.

Eddie Sassoon said...

My absolute favorite line of the episode (and maybe the series so far): "I told you to stay in the present!"

Brian said...

"Now you and Dad together makes so much sense!"

Even though it was a much smaller part, I really liked how they dealt with Alex there. Nice touch for her character.

Q Ball said...

Very funny episode even the ending narration didn't bother me much. Manny has to be the front runner for best new TV character because he nails it every episode. Modern Family has been really strong as of late.

Miken said...

I was hoping the jump line was "just as soon as I try to coax you into a threeway."

Adam said...

What Josh said -- having the camera crew in front of them in the crawl space just ruined the verite for me, but aside from that what a great episode. The Giant Panda in the Room.

Jen said...

I wasn't blown away by this episode. It was solid but not one of my favorites. I think there was only one thing that really made me laugh out loud, and that was the discovery of the skulls under the house.

Also, Manny was sporting more of a Nordic colorwork sweater. No cables. (His people are nordic?)

Glen J Stroup (WiredTiger) said...

I thought Manny looked like Ernest Hemmingway. Old man and the sea,e tc.

Laurel said...

I LOVED this episode. So many great one liners. I saved it on the dvr to watch again. The true sign of a good ep.

Nobody has mentioned two of my funniest parts yet:

Jay only gets 20% of what goes on. So funny. Well delivered.

and Phil wants "to be that rock that they grab onto in a stormy sea. Wait rocks sink. A floating rock. Let's start over"

ok ok i am paraphrasing from memory but something along those lines and it was funny.

kathy said...

It is amazing the comic delivery that the actor who plays Manny has at his young age. In a group of very talented and funny adult actors, he can not only hold his own, he can take a few words and just kill it: "Wake up old man!" was great but I'm particularly fond of his "Could not be a worse time Claire" in the epic Fizbo episode (my pick for best episode of the season).

Anonymous said...

As someone who's Asian I found Mitchell and Cam's story to be the most hilarious (especially that panda line).

Good episode, but I think it might actually be time to not have those end of episode heart warming VOs.

Dan said...

I thought of Hemmingway right away too

LA said...

Josh and Adam - The camera crew wasn't underneath the house... the footage we saw was the tape from the video camera Phil duct-taped onto Luke's truck.

Cam and Manny KILLED this episode. Loved the opening where Manny's fear is an existenstial one (to die alone). Of course it is.

reginadido said...

I love that Luke and Phil were making fun of Ponce de Leon's name, not because "ponce" is a slang word meaning an effeminate man, but because it sounds like "pants."

Lauren said...

I laughed out loud at this exchange, them telling their fears:
Cameron- "my fear is life without Mitchell"
Mitchell- "mine is hotel bedspreads"
Cameron was definitely expecting some reciprecation from Mitchell...loved his facial expression!

Melissa said...

I loved the whole Salmon Joke: Remember, you were afraid of the BBQ, but then your eyebrows grew back and now your salmon is legendary!

I know some people have complained of how each episode is wrapped up in a little bow and problems are solved, but that is one thing I love about this show. Phil expressing the biggest fear is for our kids to be OK made me tear up.

I am loving this show more and more each week.

Bookster said...

Yet another great episode! I think there's only been 1 so far that wasn't hysterical. And I agree with Kathy, "Fizbo" is still my favorite.
This is one of the few sitcoms that I can watch repeats and laugh as much as I did the first time.

Indeed said...

This show puts me in such a happy place. I simply adore it. Manny's fishing outfit is legendary.
Best cast on TV right now. There. I said it. Who's going to disagree with me?

Andrew said...

As I loved the doctor's come back noting that Pandas are from China, I gotta say, the driving joke is an example of writers that don't know how to do racial jokes that fails writing one. It's hard to find the humorous point in people talking about asian stereotypes then having the show display one of those stereotypes in action. That'd be like a scene if they were discussing black people being good at basketball then personally reprimanding themselves for that thought, only to see some black guy walk by with fried chicken and watermelon in their hands. Which is clearly racist.

Alan, hope you understand the point I'm trying to make here and don't automatically take this down because it ventures into a tenuous subject. And I can assure you there is no heat behind this comment but I'm just trying to bring insight when racial comedy fails and ventures into the 'just plain racist' catagory.

Vic DiGital said...

Who's the youngest actor to win an Emmy for being a series regular?

Every other character is reminiscent of a previous sitcom character, but Manny seems to be a complete original, and as has been stated, he nails it every episode.

Alan Sepinwall said...

No, Andrew, I see where you're coming from. The joke was definitely not PC. I thought it worked because of the set-up (the doc saying her mom would only accept her as an Asian stereotype, and then she immediately embodies one of the cheapest Asian stereotypes there is), but I can also see the network shying away from it were the doctor black or Latina.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Manny seems to be a complete original

I don't know if you can call him that, given the existence (as other posters have noted) of Bobby on "King of the Hill."

But he's still a great character, and Rico Rodriguez nails it every time out, the best of a really impressive bunch of kid actors they've assembled.

Kelly said...

I loved this episode with Manny's "Wake up old man?" line being my absolute favourite.

Can someone help me out though - I was helping my husband pack for his trip to South Africa and missed if Jay and Manny did the roller coaster. I assumed they did and am curious about what happened. Did Manny throw up? Fall out? Did Jay throw up?

Anonymous said...

Having seen what was under the house I still don't understand the cable guy's comment that "you've got a great collection down there."

I also absolutely love the Alex character. Her line tonight about even getting hand-me-down advice had me cracking up.

Elreyalto said...

Alan just in case you are unaware "fob" is also a derrogatory term for Asians, though as a noun not verb. I'm sure you weren't intending anything like that but you might want to edit that sentence with another verb.

Henry said...

Loved the show, loved the episode (also almost did a spit take at Manny's "Wake up, old man!"), but can someone please tell the creators/showrunners that they are way too reliant on the closing voiceovers? Getting annoying...

Kianna said...

Did not love this episode. There were quite a few places where I predicted what would happen next - one was the use of "Asian-ness", another when Alex admitted her real fear was not being asked to dance. I would have been more interested if she really just thought the dance was a waste of time, because only shallow pretty people like her sister go to them. That would actually fit her character, as well... she does think Hayley has nothing going for her but her looks.

Also wish the skulls under the house had been the previous owners, not their decorations - so maybe I just want a darker humor than this show is willing to give.

Anonymous said...

yeah, I thought they'd reveal the "you've got a great collection down there" by the end. I originally assumed it was the cable guy making some weird pass at Claire that Phil just misunderstood, but it didn't really play out that way (or did the cable guy say it to Haley?)

Miken said...

The cable guy said it to Haley, which I took as him making a pass, and then Phil running with it.

But they could've used a better euphemism that worked as a double standard, so I don't really know.

olucy said...

The cable guy said it to Haley, which I took as him making a pass, and then Phil running with it.

OK, that's it. No more wine with dinner, because that completely went by me. I kept waiting to see what they'd find under the house. Of course Phil ran with it. That makes it even funnier.

Liked the ep. Especially loved the father/son bonding over the adventure.

Bruce Reid said...

Anonymous and Anonymous: I took the collection to refer to the Halloween decorations. Odd phrasing on the cable guy's part, but without it no spelunking adventure.

One of my very favorite moments would have been Claire taking three deep breaths as her daughter backed out of the driveway. Would have been, if Phil hadn't been making that exact connection during his voice-over, less highlighting the point than spraypainting it neon orange and then bashing it between our eyes. Henry's right; the ending sentiments almost always bring me down from the high the show itself generates. They need to go.

LA: "...the footage we saw was the tape from the video camera Phil duct-taped onto Luke's truck."

Of the skeletons, sure; but the truck was in the shot of Luke and Phil

Anonymous said...

I don't know. "You've got a great collection down there" doesn't really work as a pickup line (and is especially creepy if a grown cable man is saying it to a 16-year-old girl), but it also doesn't seem to accurately describe two leftover fake skulls from an old Halloween party.

Anonymous said...

As an asian guy, I didn't find the asian stereotype joke funny at all, not because it was offensive, but because it was so bloody predictable. This is a problem with a lot of the jokes on this show, they're super formulaic and i find myself waiting out the setup to get through the punchline already. the car not being parked after the road test being another example from this specific episode. The show is good for a few laughs here and there, but for the most part the jokes are really stale and predictable, as is the dramatic angle. reminds me of the US office, except the office has much more annoying characters (mainly pam and jim), worse acting (again, pam and jim) and terrible subplots (guess which one?)

Q Ball said...

Anon I agree that the asian driving joke was pretty obvious, but I still found myself laughing primarily for the look on the doctor's face and physical result of the crash. I agree that Modern Family tends to have formulaic set ups, but I still find the show funny because it delivers.

DonBoy said...

I was really brought up short by "Sometimes having a mother isn't all it's cracked up to be". I know all the stuff about adult daughters and mothers, but still it seemed an incredibly sad moment from a minor character. And then she backed the car into the trash cans and all was silly again. (That's Suzy Nakamura, who just last week was the woman Terry regretted sleeping with in Men of a Certain Age, and has been in piles of other stuff.)

Mark said...

I thought this one hit on all cylinders. Laughed out loud a bunch of times.

Some highlights not mentioned: The driving test examiner trying to smile;the argument in the car about use of the word "like," and (paraphrasing) Cam:"I worry that Lilly will not be exposed to a mother's femininity" Doc: " I wouldn't be concerned about that."

Laurel said...

To address the asians as bad drivers stereotype controversy: after rewatching the ep, driving stereotypes were a running theme. In the beginning Cam and Mitchel are discussing their lesbian friends and there was a comment about how they were on their motorcycle. Then haley is portrayed as the typical bad teenage girl driver. Even Phil failed at driving the rc truck (not sure what the stereotype there is aside from Phil botching things in general). So not that it is appropriate to make racist jokes (although I personally did not find it to be racist, it's a legit gripe to those who did), it was more of a running theme than a stab at a particular race/gender/orientation.

Josh M. said...

"The camera crew wasn't underneath the house... the footage we saw was the tape from the video camera Phil duct-taped onto Luke's truck."

Nope - watch it again. They cut from the truck's POV to a hand-held camera, and back again.

And yes, the "collection" line was clearly in reference to Haley's tail section.

Matt W said...

My favorite line of the night was Jay talking about Manny:

"Of course he's afraid of roller coasters. He gets dizzy at the the barber shop when he's spun toward the mirror."

Overall, a solid episode. The weakest story line, I think, was Jay and Luke exploring under the house.

Nevada Smith said...

Cam after Lilly's 2nd "mommy" - "she's made her choice". Line of the night.
The show is all about stereotypes: gays, milf's, dumb teenage girls, clueless with-it dads. The thing about stereotypes is that they're based in some truth and usually funny to people with a sense of humor who can laugh at themselves.

olucy said...

I don't see "stereotypes" as the running theme. The ep was called "Fears" for a reason.

andythesaint said...

Here's my nitpicky problem with the episode (or, rather, part of the episode):

How inattentive a parent would you have to be to not notice that your daughter's new doll says the word "Mommy"? I know Lily just got the doll from their friends, but presumably she's been playing with it enough in the past day to pick up the word from it. In all that time, Cam never heard it? Is he never in the room when his infant is playing with toys? Because she doesn't seem old enough for that to be possible.

Jerry said...

Not only a hilarious episode, but beautiful. Call it sappy and cheesy if you want, but I like the heart.

I immediately wanted to read your post,Alan, and comment after I saw Luke take 3 deep breaths before entering the basement/underground. Glad you noted that as well. Funny, subtle, SMART writing and direction.

I'll say it again, can't wait till the Emmys. Wonderful TV season all around! I'm assuming Rico Rodriguez is Emmy eligible?!?

Angela said...

This is the *only* comedy on TV right now that I find consistently laugh out loud funny and a pleasure to watch. And I can watch an episode a second time and still find something to smile or laugh about!
Does anyone have a suggestion on another TV show of similar quality and style of humor?
I'm curious what all of you think would be of the same caliber.
Thanks!

Anonymous said...

one of the freshest sitcoms on TV right now

Anonymous said...

Worst ep of the season. Did not really laugh once. For the first time I thought Cougar Town was better (and that ain't sayin much).

Omagus said...

Elreyalto: Alan just in case you are unaware "fob" is also a derrogatory term for Asians, though as a noun not verb.

To be fair, "fob" is derogatory term used against any immigrant population, not just Asians. And it's usually used by members of that same ethnic group who have been in the US (or Canada or the UK) for their whole lives (for those unfamiliar with the term, "fob" means "Fresh Off the Boat").

Anonymous said...

Manny! Hilarious and too cute! By far my favorite character. I absolutely love the interactions and reactions between Manny and Gloria.

Anonymous said...

When I read the comments about the Asian sterotypes in this ep., I have to wonder what show those commenters have been watching all season.

For starters, the single bad-driver joke pales in comparason to the gay and Latin-American stereotypes that are all over every episode, but even pointing that out misses the point.

What sets this show apart (and makes it really, really funny) is that it is beyond the conservative, white-bread "traditional family" set-up that rings so false in most other family sit-coms. It is grown-up enough and "modern" enough to know that most American families are very non-traditional and yet still very loving and can be source of a lot of humor.

And It's not just that these characters "happen" to be Latino or gay or a "trophy-wife" or adoptive parents but they then do same tired jokes every other show does. Instead they find the humor in those differences

Rather than be upset, you should be happy to be included in the fun.

Schmoker said...

I really thought this was the episode where they embraced their film making technique. We can throw out the documentary questions, because the scene under the house showed us for certain that all they are doing here is breaking the fourth wall--not participating in a doc made about a typical family--because there is no way possible that a cameraman was under that house before them.

I thought this last week when Phil and Claire were having their sexy talk (for them) about what to do for Valentine's Day night, but tonight clinched it.

And that's cool. Breaking the fourth wall is a ballsy, funny choice. Somehow it is even funnier to me if they are talking directly to us rather than someone operating a camera.

Sort of reminds me of John Guarre's House of Blue Leaves--one of the great absurdist plays of all time.