Modern Family can be a difficult show to consistently write about. Aside from the fact that they air 20 some odd episodes per season, the main objective is to make the audience laugh. Modern Family consistently achieves its goal which is what makes it quality television, but as far as having anything to consistently write about, the show leaves something to be desired in that what few season-long story arcs there are, they tend to pop up again right as you’re about to forget they ever even existed and on top of that, let’s face it, it’s not like Modern Family is going to provide any profound insight on anything nor will any of its themes or ideas make your brain do cartwheels. It simply is what it is. Perhaps that’s an excuse for putting three episode reviews into one, but just because it’s an excuse, doesn’t make it not true! Ok so, on with it.

“Me? Jealous?”

Definitely one of the lesser episodes of the season, if not maybe the worst. Since the new year started, Modern Family had been on quite a roll, so I suppose it was due for a clunker. Aside from just not being very funny, “Me? Jealous?” also didn’t play to any of its strengths from a character dynamic standpoint. I don’t know if it’s just me, but when we have a storyline involving Cam and Gloria, I want to see them on the same side, not at each other’s throats. I appreciate Modern Family’s desire and willingness to flip the script and try to upend typical sitcom plot lines and relationships between its characters, but this is simply a case of something that didn’t work for me.

Anytime Phil is put in a position where he’s trying to suck up to another male or is behaving like a high school cheerleader with a crush on the captain of the football team is generally fertile ground for some strong comedic moments and even though I thought the casting of Greg Kinnear was a nice touch (few do charming and simmering creepiness better than Kinnear), this storyline just never took off. The whole kissing on the mouth thing and Claire’s obsession with it just seemed weird. I understand that the episode was showing how jealousy was manifesting itself in different ways with the characters, but this seemed to be a bit of a stretch. At least the Cam-Gloria conflict was believable and understandable.

Surprisingly, the most effective thread may have been Jay and Mitch’s interaction and that’s mainly because it’s always fun to see Jay with his guard down. I thought one of the few highlights of the episode was him introducing himself to Booker Bell as “Boz Scaggs”. The lawyer jokes were obviously ridiculous on purpose, but it’s still fun to see Jay in that mode as it so rarely occurs.

Maybe the funniest aspect of the show were all the throwaway lines about Manny’s friend, Danielle. Something about a bunch of adults referring to a girl who is 12 or so years old as “a real piece of work” or “a trainwreck” was pretty funny to me. Of course when I write in the first paragraph that Modern Family’s main job is to be funny and it does this very well, it unloads one of the least funny episodes of the season. Thanks, MF.

“Aunt Mommy”

Solid rebound episode. With what is probably the most consistent storyline and what can probably be described as season three’s main storyline arc is revisited with Cam and Mitch contemplating having another child via a surrogate this time. This thread has been hit or miss, but I’d say the way it was utilized in this episode was a solid effort.

One of the things I think Modern Family does well is even though each episode has to find a way to establish various storylines pretty efficiently and then follow through with them, they still find a way to include plenty of good throwaway lines/moments. The first 5 minutes of “Aunt Mommy” demonstrated this quite well as I absolutely loved Luke’s line of “It’s not rocket science, we’re only reanimating a squirrel” (a line that only Luke could deliver) and maybe it’s because it reminds me of my own father’s ridiculously bad sense of humor, but Phil’s ways of baiting his kids into what he’s going to say next with lines like, “famous Danny from Moonstruck” and “Elton John’s sexual orientation in the 70s” almost make me feel bad for laughing, but they work. Not to mention the various Phil-isms like “commission impossible” and “commission accomplished”. Yes, I’m a Phil apologist. Sue me.

Ok so the centerpiece of “Aunt Mommy” was definitely the dinner table scene between Phil, Claire, Mitch and Cam. Some clever comedic editing and the way the drunken lovefest unfolded elicited plenty of laughs from me. There’s something about watching drunk people on TV as opposed to in person that makes me laugh, I don’t know what it is. Maybe it speaks to my own affinity for alcohol, who knows. Either way, I thought the angle of using Claire as a surrogate was a good angle to take with this storyline. Let’s be honest, the idea of Mitch and Cam having another child isn’t exactly fascinating or groundbreaking, but this at least helps make things interesting given how tight-knit this family is and how involved they are in each other’s lives.

Even though the Manny/Gloria/Jay storyline was a dead end, the reveal of Manny at the dinner table and backing away in an electric wheelchair was a nice piece of visual comedy. Also, the rest of the family’s reaction to the idea of Claire being a surrogate had some excellent lines being thrown around like Jay uttering, “Not adorable…Appalachian” or Gloria saying, “It’s a freakshow, but it’s their freakshow”. Also, has Luke’s veiled animosity about Lily reared its head before? I loved him beating the drum to his family by saying, “Can’t we all agree that she’s a disaster of a human being?”.

Typically, the best way for Modern Family to have a successful episode is to have at least one storyline that takes off and produces plenty of laughs and if it can incorporate the entire family into the proceedings, all the better.

“Virgin Territory”

Better name for this episode would have been “Wasted Potential”, but let’s start this thing off on a positive note. I’m just going to list the things (however minor) that I did enjoy about this subpar episode:

– When Cam falls and hurts his back and Phil offers to him, “Would you like a Swedish massage? Accent optional?”. Nice callback to Phil’s masseuse ways.

– Yet another excellent barb lobbed at Haley courtesy of Alex, “The only stage you’re ever gonna jump on has a pole on it.” It seems like Alex could do this all day, doesn’t it?

– Another great Phil-ism: “We’re gonna have to settle this in court. The food court. The honorable judge Cinnabon presiding.”

– I’ve mentioned how I think Sofia Vergara’s comedic chops often get overlooked because of her boobs always popping out all over the place, but the way she yelled “Surprise!” to Claire was more evidence of her deftness with comedy.

– The conversation about Mitch’s first beer between him and Jay was surprisingly poignant.

Ok now, normally I love a good Manny and Luke pairing. It’s usually a very safe way for Modern Family to get some good comedic mileage out of a specific character dynamic. In this episode, dead end. The Cam looking for tupperware storyline? Slow day at the office apparently, gimme a break. I thought the Phil finding out Haley wasn’t a virgin thread had a lot of potential to be very funny/awkward knowing a character like Phil and how he’d react, but it was mainly just pathetic. Not to mention how Jay’s hole-in-one cover up felt completely unnecessary and aimless, but at least it wasn’t as tacked on as the Gloria-Claire sojourn.

Not as bad as “Me? Jealous?”, but obviously not quality like “Aunt Mommy”. 1 for 3. I guess we were bound to hit some bumps in the road after a strong start to 2012.

P.S. Where the hell is Kevin Hart?

Follow me on Twitter @JeffEightyOne

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