Episode 4 - Strangers on a Treadmill
28 March 2012
Oh dear, Modern Family has run into a bit of a problem early on in season two. I talked about it in the previous episode but there are too many plots going on at once and they are feeling too familiar. In episode three we saw Phil being incompetent and Claire chasing after him and Gloria pointing out Jay's inadequacies. This week we got the same stories. Three weeks ago was another Jay being insensitive and Gloria trying to put him right story along with both a Hayley counsels Alex and Mitch tries not to hurt Cam's feelings story - all present this week.
Of course characters have dynamics and they work for a reason. I'm not suggesting that logically similar stories don't play out between real couples and siblings. But on a TV show the producers need to watch out for the repetition dragging things down. The overcrowding of plots on the other hand seems endemic. The producers are now adding a fourth plot involving the children to the three adult plots each week. It's too many stories and each one suffers for a lack of air time.
Alex and Hayley are suffering more than the other characters because they have had less development in general. Alex' growing social awareness could be an interesting theme for the whole season but it would be nice to see her given time to develop an actual character beyond her stereotype. Hayley is playing her part really well at the moment and giving shape to the character by being so convincing.
The Jay-Gloria dynamic is getting tiresome, but that's no surprise after three episodes straight of her nagging him. The missing part of this episode was filling us in on what exactly Jay does for a living. Without that detail his inability to recognise that none of the people at the party worked for him seemed flimsy. Similarly Cameron being over sensitive is easy to believe but when he is asked to throw a hissy fit over Mitchell doing literally nothing it becomes hard to take him seriously. Those two cut away gags were poorly thought out and I wasn't best pleased with the bike shorts idea anyway. Between that and the shaving shoulders gag the humour just struck me as too forced.
The Phil-Claire story was the best of the bunch because it made them both look good. Amongst his peers Phil's cringey comedy routine went down a treat. But we can see why it would have been a disaster in another setting and so Claire's concerns seem justified. Their sweet tearful hug at the end would have meant more if the plot had had more time to sink in.
Right now Modern Family feels like its being written to tick boxes rather than flow organically. The last three episodes have built a pattern of jokes and stories which needs to be broken. The show won't do it but they should try leaving one third of the family out of an episode.
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