Thursday, November 05, 2009

Modern Family, "En Garde": The cutting edge

Quick thoughts on last night's "Modern Family" coming up just as soon as I charge my phone...

"Modern Family" has very quickly reached a level of likability that makes me happy I've watched episodes even when I don't laugh a whole lot. "En Garde" was far from the funniest episode they've done - though it had some good comic beats, like Cameron freaking out over the orange slices, or Jay saying "Duuude" to Manny, or Jay and Gloria's increasing horror at what Manny was doing to his opponent(*) - but I've grown to enjoy spending time with these people, and to get a goofy smile on my face when I see moments like Claire and Mitchell acting out their ice skating routine, sans skates.

(*) I actually think I would have enjoyed the punchline to the fencing story more if I didn't spend several minutes wondering if Mo Collins was hustling Jay and Gloria so they would get Manny to throw the match. I feel like I've seen that beat too often on a lot of sitcoms, and was relieved in the end that "Modern Family" didn't go there.

I do have a couple of ongoing issues, though. First is that Phil needs to start demonstrating that he's not an utter moron in every aspect of his life, and soon. I suppose it would just make the Michael Scott comparisons even more obvious, but I was hoping it would turn out that Phil had conspired with Luke to sing the praises of the house and help close the sale. Instead, Phil was (at first) as ignorant about it as everything else. (In fairness, I did laugh at him saying Luke was gonna drink your milkshake.)

Second is that I'm losing patience with the heart-warming voiceovers at the end of each episode. I appreciate that a lot of the show's broader appeal (as opposed to something like "Arrested Development") is that it's clear these people, for all their quirks, love each other. And I have no problem with warmth in my sitcoms. Some of my favorite moments on "The Office," or on "Frasier" or "Cheers" or any other comedy I've loved, have come on those occasions where the writers set the jokes aside for something a little sweeter. But there's plenty of warmth in these episodes without Jay or Claire or whoever having to spell out the moral of the story for the audience at the end, and it's starting to feel both obligatory and forced.

What did everybody else think?


Indeed said...

Not the best episode but still enjoyable. Cameron just kills me. I love his looks when he and Mitchell are during the interviews. He has this way of looking straight into the camera as if to say "am I right here?". I just love it.
I loved the I drink your milkshake moment too. I happened to catch the end of There Will Be Blood earlier that evening so I got a great double dose of that awesome line.

Michael said...

couldnt agree more about the voiceovers.

funniest part for me was the shirt Jay made for Claire: "Claire and Present Danger"

Otto Man said...

"You somehow found a way to make figure skating sound even gayer."

Unknown said...

Always Be Closing. Don't Ever Forget Great Home Ideas Just Keep Lurking...

Matt said...

Weakest episode they've done so far. The figure skating bit (while admittedly funny and giving Bowen and Ferguson a chance to work together) felt over the top and like something out of "Arrested Development." I loved AD as much as the next TV dork, but this show has already established that it has a different tone and level or reality.

Josh said...

Yeah, I've had an issue with the voiceovers from the very beginning. That aspect of the show has always made me feel like the show's not as brilliant as a lot of other viewers think; it feels like I'm watching the end of a bad episode of Scrubs or The Wonder Years.

Also, was this the only episode with a voiceover that didn't end with a joke within the dialogue? I know this one ended with the silly picture of the brother and sister in their outfits (more shades of Arrested Development there, a la Buster and Lucille), but I feel like this was the most blatantly treacly voiceover.

However, the T-shirt gags and the There Will Be Blood reference both made me laugh harder than anything else the show's offered yet, so there's that.

Matt said...

I also have less a problem with the treacly voiceover when it's earned--for instance, the episode that wound up with them all in the pool authentically tugged at the heartstrings anyway.

LA said...

I'm surprised to find myself not minding the voiceovers. I know they are unnecessary, but something deep down inside me enjoys them.

The "Claire and Present Danger" T-shirt was priceless, glad somebody else noticed, and I hope they keep up the joke in later episodes.

I loved the scene when the family walked out of Manny's final match to find Mitchell and Claire in the parking lot doing ice-dance moves. Jay and Cam's expressions, especially, were comedy gold. Cam and his "film" camera, ditto.

Love this show more every week.

Kathy said...

Guilt fades. Hardware lasts forever!

LA said...

p.s. Enjoyed the TV critics' debate on Twitter yesterday over top ranking comedies, too.

zodin2008 said...

Ironically, I've still never sat down and watched "There Will Be Blood" (I need to) but that milkshake line is so steeped in pop culture lore now, it made me laugh out loud - and especially coming from Phil.

You know you have fallen in love with a series (and I am in love with this show) when even OK episodes still make you laugh a lot. This was not the best episode, but even OK "Modern Family" feels funny and fresh. I also like my shows to have heart and part of what makes "The Office" so good is that for as crazy and stupid as these people can be with one another, you get the sense that they also care.

Underrated was the reaction shots of Mitchell when Jay was fawning over Manny's sudden fencing prowess. Mitchell is a grown adult, but in the recent episodes, they've clearly pointed out the issues he has leftover from childhood that he never met his dad's approval. Yet despite his tough guy exterior, you do always get the sense that in his own way, Jay really loves his kids.

And Julie Bowen had a ton of great lines in this episode. Not only the "Gayer" line, but the line talking to Mitchell that Jay probably preferred not seeing him in a red leotard. And it's why her marriage with Phil is so funny...she's truly the tough one of the two. Of course, my wife did ask me during last week's episode for a second time, "I'm not sure I buy that Claire would go for Phil".

My guess is that since we've established that phil is good at selling, he had to sell himself to win Claire back in the day.

Laura R. said...

I agree re: Phil. Last night I was got too many "Office" vibes from him - the "Always be closing" alphabet thing felt like such an Andy Bernard moment, and then another line of his sounded kind of like Creed, and on top of his already Michael Scott-based personality it was just way too much. Ty Burrell is fantastic so I hope the writers get a better handle on the character, and fast.

Anyone else wish this show wasn't meant to be a mock-doc? I'll take whatever I can get in order for the studio to refrain from imposing a laugh-track, but I can't help but feel this particular show would work better in more of an "Arrested Development" format, without the talking heads (and, in this case, sans narrator). But it might just be me.

Bobman said...

While I agree that they have a long way to go with Phil, he is already leaps and bounds better than where he was in the pilot or the first few episodes. He's still dumb / clueless but he just feels less and less like a caricature as the weeks go on. Maybe it's just wishful thinking cuz I like the rest of the show so much.

Anonymous said...

The voice overs at the end are fine if they keep them short. Tying it all together with a few laughs at the end isn't the worst way to end a show. I actually said out loud "Oh, he kept it" about the picture of Claire and Mitchell on Jays bureau. Also, Cam's running steady cam work at the fencing match was great!

George said...

Return to form after last week, so many great moments.

"We dropped the ball on Luke", the writers are getting great laughs from me with the surprise punchlines. I thought that segment would just draw to an awkward close, but it left me hysterical.

Phil had plenty of great lines, the ABCs, milkshake, his pain at Jay's "playfulness", but he is a bit 1-D. (Surely, if he was also a master salesman, he'd be even more like Michael Gary Scott.)

The kids were great, Alex got funny for once. Cameron continues to provide the laughs, and Mitchell's growing on me; he's been really funny the past 3 weeks.

I think this is a good level to be at 7 episodes in, only one filler episode so far, and I too am really starting to enjoy the characters.

What are the ratings like, are they still around 9 mill? I think with support like that they can really go for it now, maybe tone back on the cutesy endings and get a few more sight jokes in (Claire and present danger, lol).

Great show, 2nd best comedy this season behind P & R.

UnwantedTouching said...

Regarding Arrested Development, what amazes me about Modern Family is that it feels so much more accessible than AD. I can't say that it reaches the heights that AD did, but Modern Family is still a strong show that I always look forward to. It also feels like there are elements that are broadly written, like Phil's goofiness, which make us a little crazy - but I figure that is part of the show (or network exec notes) trying to make the show's appeal as broad as possible, by clinging to worn comedy archetypes. Maybe as the show's audience grows, the writers will be able to develop their own sensibilities and draw characters like Phil with more verve.

Unknown said...

Here's my concern about the show - a season of a docu-style comedy might work, but will we really buy into multiple seasons of this? I guess ... I guess it's sort of buying into the reality show prevalence in modern society, but I'm not sure it works for multiple seasons. Well, for a few seasons, maybe. They do have to get the children involved in the documentary aspect.

The voiceovers don't bother me that much, although I can see how some may feel that they are forced. Actually, like the docu-style aspect, what may be needed, perhaps sooner than later, is to have a kid, or two, do the voiceover at the end, to give a different perspective.

What I found touching in this ending was after Jay holds the trophy, they pan to a shot showing a picture of his kids in their ice skating dress up. To me, it was their way of showing that, whatever their dad may feel about things, Jay loves his kids tremendously. Ed O'Neill does a tremendous job playing the old, cagey guy who, at the heart of it, really cares about everything around him and just wants the best for everyone.

The cheesy line about wanting to be on the same team again worked for me as well, simply because there seems to be so much truth in that in regards to kids growing up in divorced families. I am, and will, always be a Julie Bowen fan and hope that she comes back to Lost one more time.

I think, with comedies, people often complain about the dramatic moments, as they did with Friends in it's latter life. Certainly, there's a point that it goes too far, and Friends certainly did go past the line a few times, but I think what makes a good comedy is a good balance of seriousness coupled with moments of brevity. So far, outside of last week's episode, I'm very pleased with it. We attach ourselves to comedies because there is an element of truth in it, and they, I think, are doing a great job.

dying alone said...

Luke: I saw a ghost.

That was the line that put me in stitches. It was so random, so true to "the dropped ball" character, and the beat was so well timed/edited.

And unlike most of you, I really appreciate the voiceovers at the end. Are they overly sentimental? Perhaps. Do they seem a bit too neat in the summation of the episode? Sure. But if we didn't have those voiceovers, especially coming from the patriarch, we'd have a show with a lot of conflict and not a lot of heart. Because, as Alan already mentioned, it is important that we realize this family really does love each other, despite those conflicts. Because let me tell you, those conflicts will stop being funny once you lose the warmth between characters. (See Everybody Loves Raymond and other similar family comedies.)

It's also important to note that the voiceovers are after the families have separated. If the family came to that conclusion together every week, THEN I would agree that it's too much. But as we already saw with the "Under the Moonlight" kid, this family is dysfunctional and won't see eye to eye... at least not when they're together. By separating the voiceovers, it allows us an unrestricted though still subjective narration to this family.

Plus, I love that Ed O'Neill's character had the ice skating picture on his desk. I thought THAT was the sweetest "throwaway" moment.

Joanne said...

I guess I really like the show, because neither Phil nor the voiceovers bother me. I think he and they are sweet. I find it funny that this show has been on for like five weeks or something and it is already at the point where we can all get really nitpicky about it. That's a good sign!

belinda said...

Fire and Nice was definitely an 'homage' to Lucille and Buster (cue music), I think. But since it's done in such a different tone, I still enjoyed it. Love the routine in the parking lot.

And I really really want a "Who da Manny?" tee.

Still good times. I liked this episode more than last week's, even though I suppose both would be the 'weaker' episodes so far. And ditto on the ending voiceovers - it's just not really necessary and is mildly annoying. Hopefully they'd lose that once they've built their audience.

But Cam kills it for me, every time, regardless of how the episode was.

Hal Incandenza said...

Gladwell shoutout! (The 10,000 hours line)

Strong episode...I actually found the quick cutting baseball sequence to be hilarious.

Hatfield said...

So I guess I'm the only one with the "the voiceovers are an elaborate joke" theory going on? Maybe it's just my way of dealing with how unnecessary they are. Though I like the explanation that it brings some levity to some of the meaner things they do and say.

erin said...

I thought the scene where Gloria went from "Do whatever makes you happy" to snarling woman when Manny said he was quitting because he didn't want to fight a girl, was terrific. I think she's way underrated.

I was really hoping Phil would turn the house bit around, but if he's the show's resident screw-up, I can deal because he loves his family and is trying so hard. But still...I wonder why Claire would go for him too.

Cam as the home FILM director...classic! I enjoy his and Mitchell's interactions, but pretty much anything Cam does or says makes me laugh.

Each week I look forward to spending time with this family!

Manju said...

I agree with it not being a funny episode, but the voice-overs don't bother me at all, I like the sweet side of the show, it is after all about modern families, and as crazy and retarded as they may be, people still care, so there's that.

David Glasser said...

Am I crazy, or did the whole "Luke slipping on a slippery staircase" thing already happen in another episode?

LA said...

Hatfield - I'm laying odds that the origin of the voiceovers is a note from the network.

Anonymous said...

I think you're too picky Alan. You say 30 Rock has laughs but doesn't have enough emotional connection, then you complain that Modern Family has the exact opposite problem. I think both shows are fine as they are. Not every sitcom can strike the balance that The Office has. And thankfully, neither MF or 30 Rock is trying to do that.

Have I mentioned Arrested Development in this comment yet? OK, here is the obligatory mention. Blah blah blah this show is sort of like Arrested Development blah blah blah but sort of different and not as funny blah blah bob lob law.

(Let it go people!)

dez said...

But Cam kills it for me, every time, regardless of how the episode was.

Cam is my fave character in the show. I was dying watching him run around with the FILM camera. Manny and his very proper manners is a close second for fave.

I'm going out on a limb and saying that Claire fell for Phil because of his innate sweetness. He's goofy as hell, but he's also kind, which is probably what attracted her. I'm not tired of him being a dork yet, either, and the voiceovers at the end don't bother me.

I also really, really liked HUNG and loved AD, FWIW.

erin said...

@Anon 1:06, I agree with you.

And for a lot of us, The Office is not the end of be all of comedy (I know...I'm preparing for someone to shoot me). I find it amusing, but don't find it particularly warm, except PB&J. It's a show I could take or leave.

I loved AD as well, but also thought it wasn't particularly warm. That's something MF has that I think those shows are lacking, and I like it.

What MF does, it does really well. I'm also not really bothered by the VO's, but i wouldn't be surprised if it was note from the network. There's enough vinegar to make up for the sugary sweetness. For the most part, the show seems real to me, and that's also something I can't say for a lot of other comedies (past and present) out there.

Will said...

Like others, I laughed the hardest at the milkshake line and the T-shirts.
I guess it's where my life is now, but I'm consistently laughing my ass off at The Middle. MF is good, but I just can't stomach Cougar Town.

Amy said...

I'm all for the voiceover so long as they keep burying awesome jokes and callbacks there. Last night's was "There's nothing like that golden moment in the sun", over the part when the family gathers around Cam in his yellow shirt that makes him look like "the sun", as Mitchell said. Amazing. Didn't catch it until the second viewing, and THAT'S worth whatever else comes with the voiceovers.

Henry said...

I just like how Alex is so much smarter than her siblings so she goes around getting them to do stupid stuff. She needs more things to do on the show.

I absolutely loved the small, almost imperceptible in-joke of Claire wearing the "Claire and Present Danger" shirt.

I actually think Phil is less of a goofball in this episode than in past ones. That whole talking head with Claire and how they admit they dropped the ball on Luke worked because Phil seemed so human to admit his faults as a parent. I loved his pained, "Why, Claire?!" when Jay slapped him on the back. It's clear Phil still tries to bond with the guy but just can't get through. If the writers could learn to tone down his Michael Scott-like tendencies, there wouldn't be this backlash against the character.

Indeed said...

I'm not nearly as irritate by Phil as others are. He's a goof, but he's generally a likable guy.
His biggest fault is he tries too hard.

Tyroc said...

100% agree with Alan's review.

My only quibble is having a storyline about someone's ability to videotape people while their whole lives are being professionally filmed by the documentary crew is odd.

Hatfield said...

Wow, Alan is getting killed on his comedy critiques today. Hang in there, buddy.

@LA, yeah, that's probably true, or it's the creators' deliberate intent to be so saccharine, but my theory amuses me more and shelters me from the potential cold reality of the other two. Denial rules!

DeeTV said...

I've decided...This is now my favorite show!

- I don't see the Michael Scott comparison to Phil. I agree Phil is dorky/goofy but I don't see the social awkwardness that Michael S. displays so often. MS is oblivious when he's offending people. I don't see Phil offending anyone. He's just kind of dopey and really wants people to like him.

- I missed a few shows, did they ever explain what they were doing with the mock-doc? Or are we supposed to assume that what they're doing? I had the same problem with The Office, I missed a few shows at the beginning and never heard any explanation for the off-camera camera crew.

- I never watched Arrested Development so I don't have any comparison or complaints about how the 2 shows are alike/different.

Anonymous said...

I haven't watched network sitcoms in a long time, so it's a shock to see how short this show is! I love the show, but the time limit makes it seem so slight.

Here's my gratuitous wish list:

That it move to HBO or SHO and/or go to an hour and turn into a dramedy. I love the punchlines, but there's little time left over, between commercials, to do much more than that.

That Cam gets his own spinoff show at some point. He's comedy gold.

JERRY said...

I have to keep posting to say:
I'm incredibly grateful to be able to rewatch online. I miss SO many things.

--Mitch and Claire BOTH dated their high school quarterbacks. CANT WAIT for more episodes on this.

--I dont get why the hate for Claire/Phil's relationship. Theyre both very attractive, athletic people who love (already made clear) each other! And I HAVE to assume that Phil is a very smart and successful guy based on the lifestyle they seem to enjoy!

-- The ABC's of real estate!! Brilliant!

dez said...

Forgot to mention my favorite part of the ep: Cam running toward Mitchell so Mitchell could hoist him up the same way he did Claire in the screen cap you used. I loved the cutaway right before the moment of impact so all we got was the noise made. Just perfect :-)

Mongo said...


The obligatory sentimental endings were obvious from the very first episode. It's 100% intentional, and I doubt going anywhere.

My mom watches the show and thats the part of it she loves. And I'm sure many other mothers and grandmothers and women equally smile during those moments. And if the show didn't give them to them, they wouldn't continue to watch. It's the show runners' sad desperate (but sadly neccesary in this country) attempt to not become another Arrested Development or Better Off Ted. The sappy endings have bothered me from the start. I understand them. But they annoy me. And I fear they're just going to get worse.

Mongo said...

Forgot to mention that women rule what goes on tv. Especially ABC (Greys, Desperate, Betty, Practice, Cougar, Dancing, etc etc). And from a lot of your readers, I think you can see what middle aged women want. Sappy crap they can smile at. Sucks cuz its what keeps this show from being truly great. But what do I know? Im not a middle aged housewife who looks to her tv to make up for whats lacking.

Tom said...

My favorite bit: the look on Phil's face as his wife and Gloria hugged. Oh the thoughts that were going through that horny little brain....

I'm dying to know what Cam's vision was. Damn those wheeled cribs!

srpad said...

I love this show but today I have to eat some crow. In the past I ahve argued that Phil was very different from Michael Scott but not in this episode. I also was sure using his son was a set up but nope.

Anonymous said...

I love the performances by Rico Rodriguez II. I think there should be serious consideration given to him for an Emmy nomination.

Schmoker said...

I just buy into everything that Ed O'Neil says, so when he's the one giving the tag at the end, it has always worked for me. He makes it all seem plausible and appropriate.

I also think that it's actually cool that they have the sweet codas. In a world where almost no comedies (or at least quality comedies) can go the sweet and tender route, it's great that this one can and does. The setup allows for it, I believe, and it's worked for me every time so far. I especially loved the jumping in the pool bit in a previous episode.

I feel they earn those sweet tags with all the great snide and awkward moments they nail time and time again during the main body of each episode. If the family was only what we see when they are being funny, then they would not be a family that ever spends much time with each other.

Schmoker said...

I also totally loved that Ed O'Neil had a picture of the kids in their skating outfits on his table of proud mementos. They built him up as having been mortified by his son's skating, but in the end you see that he was proud of that, too, even if it wasn't what he had personally wanted for his son. And they didn't beat you over the head with it. It just there on the table, and the camera panned by it so fast that you could have missed it.

That was maybe the sweetest thing in any episode so far, and I loved it.

Anonymous said...

Still original

R.A. Porter said...

Late comment because I didn't get to this until this evening. I'm a terrible consumer.

I'd like to point out a great directing beat from Randall Einhorn, who's also both shot and directed a bunch of episodes of The Office.

During the first fencing match, Ed O'Neill gets in his trophy joke about Gloria and squeezed Phil's leg hard for two jokes. Behind them, we see Mitchell's reaction shot about, in his mind, being a failure to his father. Three jokes in the span of about four seconds, all spawned from one line. That's great work.

I wish Phil were less of a screw-up but if the show keeps plugging along as it is, I'll still be happy to follow.