Thursday, March 25, 2010

Modern Family, "Starry Night": Change of a dress

A review of last night's "Modern Family" coming up just as soon as I sfather you to death...

"Starry Night" was a very strong episode, one that provided a nice balance of nuclear family unit action (the Dunphy parents help their kids with homework) and intermingled groupings (Mitchell getting zing'ed by Manny and Jay, Cameron overcompensating with Gloria) and had a lot of funny moments throughout.

There was a stretch of the season where scenes of the Dunphys by themselves really dragged (that, as much as anything, was the main reason I kept pushing to see the families interact more), but the writers have gotten better at making Phil not just be the idiot, and at using all three Dunphy kids both as foils for each other and their mom and dad. Luke was on fire in this episode, from him misunderstanding the concept of noise-canceling headphones at the beginning to him delivering the requisite heart-warming speech at the end and then turning it into a paranoid screed about aliens halfway through. (At this point, the warmth of the show should be so obvious to anyone watching that the only time I want to hear those voiceovers anymore is when the writers have a joke ready to undercut it like here, or like the time Dylan sang his song about wanting to do Hayley.) And the slapstick bits with Phil going for his sunglasses and then Claire wiping out on the bad step were both very well-choreographed, and then played by Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen.

The astronomy storyline was a nice example of how well the show can transcend sitcom cliches. I can think of many comedies where I would have groaned the second a gay character wound up wearing a dress, but here the humor was dry rather than broad, with Mitchell's complaint about how the dress made his hips look serving as a nice rejoinder to Gloria's earlier comment that anyone would look fabulous in it. The idea of Manny being a stepbrother to both Mitchell and Claire hasn't been explored in a while, but the idea of the usually serious and mature Manny zinging his (much) older brother because Jay told him it's what siblings do was a good running gag (particularly Manny reverting to his old self to say, "There's a line, Jay") and then in turn led to a nice moment for the two where cross-dressing Mitchell gave him a pep talk.

The first Cameron/Gloria team-up of the series wasn't as fabulous as I might have expected, but that turned out to be the whole point of the joke: Cam assumes they should be BFFs, but then gets so concerned about not screwing up the possibility that he keeps making things worse. This was a different side of Cam than we've seen, and as well-played by Eric Stonestreet as in the character's usual pathologically exuberant mode.

I also thought "Starry Night" did a better job than usual of letting jokes carry from one subplot to another, not just with things like Gloria's dress, but the moment where Luke compares Van Gogh to an insane-looking Mitchell, followed by an immediate cut to Mitchell looking insane after getting sprayed by the skunk.

What did everybody else think?

37 comments:

seaver78 said...

I absolutely knew what was coming with the cupcakes at the end, but I still laughed as hard at that as anything else.

"Luke was on fire", totally agree.

Lizbeth said...

Mitchell definitely looks like Van Gogh.

But I'm pretty sure Gloria's boobs would never have fit in that dress.

I have to say that Ed O'Neill is superb in this show...and not in a showy way...but even his smallest, throwaway jokes crack me up. I love his delivery.

Josh M. said...

I can't get over how well-cast this show is, particularly the kids. And the writers have done a wonderful fix-it job on Phil as well, as I haven't thought of Michael Scott for weeks.

Anonymous said...

The part about "the woman from Columbia needs to take the little Brown boy back to where they came from" had me in tears.

Anonymous said...

seaver78, in my house we thought she rescued Claire's cupcakes out of the trash!

Loved the bit in the garage with Phil, particularly the split between car and shelves.

april said...

Anonymous, we thought Haley rescued the cupcakes from the trash, too, but I did giggle at Luke saying his mouth was asleep.

All I kept saying is how Mitchell's legs were really fantastic. I wonder who was watching Lily.

jeffrey said...

we were in the camp of cupcakes being saved from the trash too.

i'd be surprised if phil's adult adhd tendencies hadn't crossed claire's mind before.

is there an office pool for when the step might be fixed? if so, mark me down for s3 ep5.

side note - i would suffer through carnitas diablo for a dinner with gloria.

Chasbo said...

I loved the fact that when Claire comes in to see what Phil is doing in the garage, there is a ladder behind her in the shot. Of course Phil wouldn't use that to get the glasses.

Kathy said...

I love this show! From the Columbia misunderstanding to Cam suffering through the hot food.."I ate the sun!" to Phil climbing on stacked furniture to get the sunglasses. I can't wait to see this show every week. And while I enjoy the entire cast, I have to admit that Cam is my absolute favorite and any scene that involves him makes me happy!

Steve said...

This is the most rewarding comedy on television. It's hilarious, it's warm, and you care about all of the characters. Most comedies hit their stride in the second season or so, but this has been an unexpected treat.

Several seasons down the road, the characters may become stale. But for now, it is fantastic.

The writing is so clever and complete. The Columbia/Brown comment, the "sfather comment," the fact that Gloria said anyone would look great in the dress, but Mitchell hates the way he looks in it. It's so well-thought out. Old school How I Met Your Mother used to achieve this, but now, Modern Family stands alone.

Jimmy said...

"My mouth is asleep like at the dentist"

Michael said...

There is always a risk of the ADD joke to get too cliched (see last week's 30 Rock where Tracy changes words mid Attention Deficit Dis....) But the way Phil noticed the sunglasses sitting there was just true brilliance/perfect timing by Ty Burrell.

Also, as hard as Luke worked, there is some morbid undertones to gluing a dozen severed ears onto a poster board, and all of that money. The whole episode cracked me up.

Adam said...

Can we lobby for an Emmy nomination for Rico Rodriguez? Please?

Marc said...

Alan,

I assume you're not a huge fan of The Middle. But i know you loves you some Turk dancing on Scrubs. If you're interested in watching Neil Flynn rock out to a little Wang Chung, check out last nights ep. I actually think you'd enjoy it too. was really good

mrt said...

This is the best comedy on television. Excellent cast and top notch writing. I'm a big fan of NBC's Thursday night line up and if you'd told me at the beginning of the season that MF would be the comedy I most look forward to each week, I wouldn't have believed it.

Matt Wilstein said...

My favorite part was the beginning when Phil talked about "sfathering":
http://bit.ly/cu1lvn

Anonymous said...

I still can't decide if I liked this episode or not. The backstories on top of backstories was an interesting way to develop the plot, but it was rather jarring sometimes because we didn't see that technique in other episodes. I also don't think it worked for all the story lines. The Cam/Gloria story seemed flat to me because Gloria seemed so out of character (she did seem grumpy with Cam in the car and I'm not sure the expensive dress story works as a reason).

dez said...

Luke was on fire

So was Cam!

I loved Gloria banging on the windows to find out who stole Cam's tires. The thieves were probably too afraid of her to come outside.

I also thought Hayley fished the cupcakes out of the trash.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm against the rescued-from-the-trash theory, because Claire did, after all, bake that batch. At the risk of sounding like George Costanza, even if they'd been sitting at the top of the trash can for a minute or two (remember, the rest of the family bailed instantly), they wouldn't taste that nasty right off the bat.

jeffrey said...

my "cupcake from the garbage theory" was blown the instant they all gagged when she left the room. claire's cupcakes would undoubtedly taste great.

my initial reaction when the scene started was that they came from the trash.

SaraK said...

I totally thought Haley took the cupcakes from the trash, too.
This show is Amazing, Awesome... I cry from laughter every single week. Cam's gaffe while Gloria overheard was hysterical. Mitchell/Van Gogh, "I ate the sun!"; there were way too many awesome lines and moments.
If the writing doesn't win an Emmy, there is no justice.

Anonymous said...

I think it makes more sense that Haley tried (and failed) to make her own cupcakes. Juxtaposed against Luke's success it shows that neither Phil nor Claire always have the right answer for how to deal with kids.

Anonymous said...

I missed that the dress Mitchell was wearing belonged to Gloria, but my husband caught it....he who laughed hysterically at Phil's piling up all that stuff to get to the sunglasses because it reminded him of himself. As crazy/funny as the show is, one reason it works so well is that it's based in reality...but presented with a gentle touch.

dez said...

my initial reaction when the scene started was that they came from the trash.

That's also what I meant. I knew she hadn't when Claire & Phil started gagging.

I know more than a few people (including myself) who would stack furniture rather than grab the ladder because the furniture is close by and the ladder isn't.

Yellowdog said...

I can't say enough about the subtle greatness of the show. I predict that after it's been on the air for 8 seasons or so, it will go down as one of the best sitcoms of all-time.

sanjay said...

Can't stand the actor who plays Luke. Makes me pine for Jake Lloyd in Star Wars.

Becky said...

I'm far enough removed from childhood that I usually identify with the parents in family sitcoms, but that first scene with the Dunphys took me right back to so many school nights with my sisters and me. It's scary how accurate a portrayal that was.

My absolute favorite part of the episode, though, was when Cam was trying to apologize and explain his Columbia comment, and then nearly choked on the grape. I almost died laughing at that! The acting on this show is just incredible.

Henry said...

I liked a lot of the jokes in this episode, but one in particular was when Cameron was eating the carnitas diablo and in what seems like five seconds of real time, his hair goes from neat to disheveled and his shirt gets soaked with sweat.

And it's funny on a small level how much mileage the writers and actors can get off of the bad step in the Dunphy home (I love that Phil has acknowledged the bad step so many times that he incorporates his credo to fix it into his speech with Claire).

Or I liked Alex's face when she walks out of the kitchen when Luke does something dumb.

And Mr. Potato Head! Luke's dumb, but the show's characters are nice enough not to make it such a broad joke (as a normal sitcom would) and it becomes something endearing instead.

I didn't like the Jay-Mitchell-Manny storyline so much because Manny's zingers felt so out-of-character and it just seemed so predictable (after Gloria explained the dress to Cameron, I said, "Oh no...," fully expecting Mitchell to wear the dress, which he did). But it was a small deterrent to an otherwise-solid episode of this great show.

Henry said...

Oh! But I LOVED Alex's description of ADD and how the show actually applies it to Phil instead of Luke, even though Luke was the intended target of the gag. That was my indication that this show is smarter than so many other family comedies out there.

LA said...

I just love this show. You know, Mitchell kind of does look like Van Gogh.

Anonymous said...

I'm just happy that for once a critically adored show is doing well enough in the ratings for us not to be stressed again with renewal. I'm happy American Idol didn't kill this show. I know ABC is happy that they have this show that could stand well against AI and helps Cougar Town and The Middle as well to gain OK ratings.

The Middle is also a good, simple show that has the heart. I though Alan hate this show since he is not covering it but I just recently read your review on the show's pilot and I'm pleased to know that you liked it somehow. Maybe not enough for you to cover it weekly but at least you appreciate it :)

Cougar Town on the other hand is unfairly judged. It's a fun, quirky ensemble show. The ratings are down a lot from Modern Family but still delivers good ratings against Idol.

I hope ABC could find the RIGHT piece on the missing slot on the Wednesday comedy block

Anonymous said...

http://tvguidemagazine.com/news/first-look-dermot-mulroney-on-set-4489.html

אורי said...

"pathologically exuberant"...great way to put it. And, I agree that this was a strong episode, Alan; in my opinion, the second strongest, after last week's - that hotel scene trumps anything they've done so far. It's the one scene that I actually feel like rewatching, when I think about it. (Well, excpet for that song, but that's a cheat, it's an earworm.)

Rob said...

Am I alone in thinking that Phil's first trip on the steps was not in the script but a real accident that they kept in? I rewound it on my DVR like 4 times and it was so instant it's hard to believe it was staged. Especially compared to Claire's fall in the next scene, which looked good but not on the level of Phil's.

Doubtless Ty Burrell is a fabulous physical comic, as the sunglasses gag proved yet again, but that trip looked real to me.

Also, I'm guessing Gloria can't return that dress now that it smells of skunk.

Great episode, I agree with everyone else. My favorite part was how they upended the cheesy voiceover with Luke's aliens riff. I hope this means we won't get any more of those in the future.

Anna said...

This show has filled the void left by the cancellation of Arrested Development. I don't normally like sitcoms, and some of the sitcom staples I despise (man wearing a dress, bratty know-it-all kids) work very well in this show. I laughed until I was gasping for air during Phil's scene in the garage, while Alex tries to convince her mother that Luke is the one with ADD. The physical comedy in this episode was fantastic; Phil and Claire on the steps was every bit as hilarious to me as Mitchell trying to sit down on the ground in that dress.

I loved that Jay was enjoying Manny's company. I can't say I blame him - that kid grows on me with every scene.

Great casting for this show.

PY said...

Great episode. Best lines:

"I feel like I ate the sun!"
"My mouth is asleep like at the dentist."
"Sfather"

Susan said...

I love this show for so many reasons. But one different than other comedies is that I feel like I'm laughing at myself with the Claire -Phil storyline, even down to the shared hair colors (but sadly not the same level of attractiveness). Phil in the garage? Completely my husband.

There's something a bit therapeutic about it.