For a show that has found itself sputtering at times, consistently trying to return to the high level it once made look so easy to operate on, “Lifetime Supply” is maybe the best episode of MF in a long time. Perhaps the showrunners made a New Year’s resolution to get things back on track and decided a good blueprint for that would be to make a Phil-centric episode. Works for me.
Phil is the show’s most consistently hilarious character, but he tends to really shine when he has to throw himself into a certain role or project (like the Clive Bixby episodes) or when he is put in a situation where he gets to overdramatize things in his life (like in “Lifetime Supply”). I think the reason for this is that Phil needs something to perpetuate his inherent extreme, “dreamer” nature so when he has something to build on that, it just gets exponentially funnier as the episode goes on. There were multiple hilarious ways this trait manifested itself in “Lifetime Supply”, but I think my two favorites were how his percentage of “making it out alive” kept getting increasingly smaller each time he was asked and while a bit contrived, I really loved the sight gag of various Dunphy family members going about their business until the camera pans out and you realize that Phil is sitting there creepily staring at them, soaking in his last moments on earth.
I felt the Phil storyline was so strong and elicited enough laughter that I was willing to overlook and not really care about the Manny/Manny’s dad/Jay subplot or the Gloria/Haley thread (which was just shrill and annoying). Even the Mitch and Cam storyline wasn’t as annoying or unfunny as it initially appeared it might turn out, plus as I’ve said before, Alex and Mitch need more screen time together, their personalities and insecurities mirror each other in very funny ways.
Also, I was very happy to see Phillip Baker Hall back as the Dunphy’s cantankerous neighbor, Walt, and even happier to see how he has cultivated a relationship with Luke. It makes sense for a crotchety old man like that to gravitate towards someone like Luke who is so simple and genuine that it’s impossible for him not to appreciate something like hanging out and playing first person shooter video games. It also helps that it was pretty funny too.
A strong central storyline goes a long way. I’d rather have one big homerun to buoy an episode than a collection of singles and I feel that “Lifetime Supply” illustrated this very well.
“Egg Drop” wasn’t as strong as “Lifetime Supply”, but it was a nonetheless solid episode. Almost every storyline could be wrung for some laughs and the last bit over the credits was one of the funniest Haley-Alex interactions the show has ever done.
I’ve talked about Claire and how the show is schizophrenic in terms of how they utilize the character. “Egg Drop” was one of the better uses of her as any time Julie Bowen gets the chance to indulge in something like being ultra competitive (especially with Jay), it’s always a highlight. One of the best examples was when Claire tried to bribe Alex into giving her the design for her egg drop mechanism. Bowen displayed the perfect mix of desperation, insanity, and creepiness in this sequence. Bowen is a strong comedic actress so I’m always pleased when the writers give her good material to work with.
I haven’t talked as much about Sofia Vergara on here as I probably should, but her comedic prowess shouldn’t be underestimated either. The two that jump to mind from “Egg Drop” are when she’s talking frantically in Spanish on the phone with her mother and the batshit insane laugh she does had me cracking up and her trying to adamantly convince Haley that the “towing zone” sign was put up after she parked. Vergara is awesome to look at of course, but she brings a lot to the table as a comedic performer.
Phil’s storyline was decent and had its moments and was even surprisingly kind of sad, given that we never see Phil genuinely hurt or upset by anything. Most of it is generally childish or exaggerated, but Ty Burrell is so skilled that he can effortlessly slide from one spectrum to the other and always have it be believable.
“Egg Drop” is exactly what I mentioned before in that it was a collection of singles, but no home runs to be found. This keeps it from being transcendent, but it’s nonetheless a solid B-level outing for Modern Family.