Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 28, 2011)
When I watched Season One of Modern Family, I found myself pretty amused and interested by its events. I’d never checked out the series until the Blu-ray landed on my door, so I was relieved that I liked it so much.
This meant a review of Season Two became inevitable – and more highly anticipated by me. To recap the show’s premise, the series revolves around the Pritchett family. Patriarch Jay (Ed O’Neill) married much, much younger Colombian sexpot Gloria (Sofia Vergara) six months earlier and took on her son Manny (Rico Rodriguez) as his stepchild.
The show also follows the lives of Jay’s two kids. Daughter Claire (Julie Bowen) leads the more conventional existence. She’s been married to Phil (Ty Burrell) for 16 years and has three kids: 15-year-old Haley (Sarah Hyland), 13-year-old Alex (Ariel Winter) and 11-year-old boy Luke (Nolan Gould).
Finally, Mitchell (Jesse Typer Ferguson) lives with his partner of five years Cameron (Eric Stonestreet). At the series’ start, they adopted a baby from Vietnam. Family follows various events and interactions in the characters’ lives, with an emphasis on the latter. I’ll look at all 24 episodes in broadcast order. The plot synopses come straight from the Blu-ray’s menus.
The Old Wagon: “Phil finally agrees to sell the old station wagon, but only after a family trip down memory lane. Cameron asks Jay for help when Mitchell decides to build a life-size princess castle for Lily.”
All three plots found here work pretty well, though the station wagon piece fares the best. It provides the best combination of comedy and sentiment, as we see the “memory lane” jaunt in an amusing light. Both of the other components – including Gloria’s jealousy over Manny’s female friends – go nicely as well, so “Wagon” starts Season Two on a good note.
The Kiss: “Gloria decides to honor her late grandmother by cooking more traditional Colombian meals. Claire finds out Alex is interested in a boy, and Mitchell’s aversion to public displays of affection causes an argument.”
When we look at that comedy/sentiment balance, “Kiss” tips a little too close to the latter. That’s partly because it includes so much focus on the lackluster Alex character; she’s not enough to carry even a decent subplot. I do like Phil’s attempts to curry favor with Jay; those moments offer the best amusement.
Earthquake: “When an earthquake hits, Claire gets stuck in the bathroom with the plumber, and Manny experiences an existential crisis. Mitchell and Cameron uses the quake as an excuse to get out of going to a party.”
S2 rebounds with “Earthquake”. The minor disaster allows for some good comedic situations, especially when Phil delights in Claire’s entrapment. All three subplots blend well in this fun program.
Strangers on a Treadmill: “Claire and Mitchell try to spare their significant others from embarrassment. Meanwhile, Haley tries to teach Alex how to be cool.”
Ooh – fat guy in bicycle shorts? Thank God the censors blocked Cameron’s privates or this would’ve been the most painful 22 minutes in TV history.
That unpleasantness aside, “Strangers” delivers another good show. It picks up good relationship insights and brings them to us with the expected humor. Even the usually painful “teen girl” side of things fares well.
Unplugged: “Phil and Claire announce a family challenge after noticing how busy everyone is with electronic devices. Elsewhere, Cameron and Mitchell try to get Lily into the right preschool.”
If I ever have kids, I’m not dealing with this competitive preschool thing. I might not send them to school at all – I might just let them roam the backyard and learn for themselves. Worked for me!
As absurd as the preschool machinations may be, that side of things makes “Unplugged” amusing. I like the craziness involved, and the other two subplots work nicely as well. Even Gloria’s over the top Latin stereotype benefits the program for once.
Halloween: “Claire prepares to decorate the Dunphy house for Halloween, but Cameron does not like the holiday due to a traumatic childhood incident. Jay and Manny tease Gloria about her accent.”
Mitchell’s subplot gets a little too goofy to work, but the others are more successful. Granted, I don’t get why Halloween has become such an adult-oriented holiday, but at least we get to see some hot girls in skimpy outfits. Add to that the hilarity of Gloria’s attempts at an American accent and this becomes another strong program.
Chirp: “While Claire and Haley are stuck at home sick, the taunting of a chirping smoke detector keeps Phil preoccupied. Gloria and Manny pay a surprise visit to Jay’s work, and Cameron takes Lily to a commercial shoot.”
After a good string of shows, “Chirp” gives us a bit of a dip in quality. Or maybe it’s pretty good but my dog Biscuits’ reaction to the smoke detector chirp distracted me; Bisc hates that sound and she was in freakout mode the whole show. With or without whiny dogs, this is a decent episode but not one of the better ones.
Manny Get Your Gun: “Manny experiences a mini-life crisis over getting older. Phil and Claire engage in a not-so-friendly car race on the way to a restaurant, and Mitch and Cam go to the mall to pick up a gift for Manny’s birthday.”
The mall subplot provides the most amusement here, mainly due to a goofy sequence in which Cameron tries to help out a needy old couple. The other segments are a bit hit or miss, but they score enough to help make this a reasonably positive program.
Mother Tucker: “Cameron’s mother makes Mitchell uncomfortable, and Haley breaks up with Dylan.”
Is there anything creepier than a middle-aged dude with a “man-crush” on his teen daughter’s boyfriend? Yeah – an old lady who gropes her gay son’s partner. “Tucker” capitalizes on these awkward moments for decent comedy.
Dance Dance Revolution: “When Luke and Manny have their first school dance, Jay and Phil take them on a mall run that becomes quite stressful. Elsewhere, Mitch and Cam learn that Lily is biting other kids on the playground.”
“Dance” works best with Jay, Phil and the boys at the mall; the show digs into some great opportunities for laughs there. The other two threads fare nicely as well, and this might be the funniest episode of the year to date.
Slow Down Your Neighbors: “While Phil deals with a difficult client, Claire intends to stop a car that has been speeding through the neighborhood. Jay teaches Manny to ride a bike, and Mitchell and Cameron meet a charming neighbor.”
After such a good show, it’s inevitable that “Neighbors” sags a bit, and it does. It lacks the punch of the last program, and it also relies a little too much on guest stars to do the work for it. Still, it delivers more than a few fun moments and is a generally positive program.
Our Children, Ourselves: “Alex’s dedication to learning makes Claire and Phil question themselves. Gloria tries to make new friends, and Mitch runs into an ex-girlfriend while out with Cam.”
Expect a decent but not great show here. The climax of the Mitchell-and-ex-GF bit flops, and some of the other bits struggle to find their way as well. Too much of the episode feels excessively contrived.
Caught in the Act: “Claire and Phil are caught in a compromising position when the kids try to surprise them with breakfast in bed. Elsewhere, Jay and Gloria’s Vegas vacation is hindered by an e-mail, and Mitch and Cam try to get a hook-up at a how new restaurant.”
“Caught” tends to be a bit too Three’s Company for my liking. It’s also hard to invest in an attempt to get into a hip restaurant. This is a pretty lackluster episode.
Bixby’s Back: “For Valentine’s Day, Claire and Phil decide to reprise their role-playing adventure from the previous year. Jay’s elaborate surprise for Gloria keeps getting held up, and an admirer comes between Mitchell and Cameron.”
Once again, an episode attempts too hard to derive humor from goofs. It also throws out the insane notion that a young, decent-looking guy would have the hots for fat, swishy Cameron. The program even botches chances for amusing Gloria freakouts. While we still get some nice moments, they’re not as frequent as I’d like.
Princess Party: “Cameron’s alter ego, Fizbo the Clown, is disinvited from Lily’s birthday party. Mitchell and Claire’s mother Dede attends the party with Claire’s ex-boyfriend in tow.”
S2 rebounds with the pretty good “Party”, largely due to fun guest turns from Shelley Long and Matt Dillon. They add some good energy to the show, and various fireworks help turn “Party” into a winner – or at least a relative winner after a couple of meh shows.
Regrets Only: “Gloria and Jay try to help when Phil and Claire get into a huge argument. Meanwhile, Cameron asks Mitchell and Luke to help prepare for a big fundraising event.”
The best side of “Regrets” comes from Phil’s confusion about what has Claire so upset. The show manages to evoke universal relationship truths from the situation as well as good comedy. A mix of other funny bits turn this into a solid episode.
Two Monkeys and a Panda: “Claire wears herself out trying to make peace between Alex and Haley. Phil sneaks off for a day at the spa, and Cameron decides to write a book.”
I must admit I don’t like Cameron, and I think it’s mostly because he reminds me too much of my best friend’s obnoxious partner. Heck, they even decided to hyphenate their last names to put on their dog’s tag – ugh!
So I find it hard to muck through a lot of Cameron – or to feel sorry for him when he’s been slightly wronged. Happily, the Phil side of things balances out the Cameron moments, and Jay’s mortality finishes off the show in a satisfying way. When we’re not hearing Cameron whine, at least.
Boys’ Night: “Claire and Phil are worried when they learn that Luke has befriended their curmudgeonly neighbor. Jay tries to avoid attending a symphony concert with Gloria and Manny, and Haley baby-sits Lily.”
I could live without the obvious guest casting of Nathan Lane as one of the flamboyant gay friends, but it’s still fun to see Jay camp it up with the tribe over drinks. Other elements seem less interesting, especially when the show goes the Up route for Luke’s new old pal. These combine for a spotty episode.
The Musical Man: “Cameron is relishing his role as interim music director at Luke and Manny’s school, and he’s taking on the upcoming spring musical performance with a little too much zest and fervor.”
Although the plot related to Phil’s bad ad walks down an obvious path, it’s still pretty funny. Cameron’s overly ambitious middle school seems equally predictable but not as successful. At least Jay’s attempt to get to know his brother better shows some life.
Someone to Watch Over Lily: “Mitchell and Cameron are looking to assign a legal guardian who would care for Lily should something happen to them, and are secretly assessing their family members.”
I understand that Modern Family isn’t Seinfeld: it’s gonna get sentimental. However, I think the series can get too drippy at times, and that malady affects “Lily”. Some decent moments still emerge, but we get too much sappiness here.
Mother’s Day: “Claire and Gloria want to spend a nice Mother’s Day outdoors hiking with the kids, but their nonstop bickering and complaining drives Claire to the edge, and she brings Gloria down with her.”
Am I the only one who thinks it’s odd for men to give their wives presents on Mother’s Day? I think the day should be for people to celebrate their mothers, so I don’t get why guys have to buy presents for their spouses.
Editorial rant aside, this episode again favors the sentimental side of the street, though the Dunphy segment gets a bit rougher around the edges. The Cameron/Mitchell side is decent, though I’m starting to wonder when we’ll get another episode in which Cameron doesn’t seem whiny and high maintenance; yeah, I understand why he doesn’t want to be called a mom, but he’s always such a baby!
Good Cop, Bad Dog: “Phil and Claire swap parenting roles for the day: Claire will be the fun-loving good cop and Phil the disciplinarian bad cop.”
As expected, the contrast between Phil’s attempts at discipline and Claire’s moments of amped-up fun give the show its strengths. As expected, Cameron’s whiny neediness leads to its worst. In between, Jay and Gloria’s work with needy people does okay.
See You Next Fall: “The whole family gathers at Jay’s before heading out to Alex’s graduation ceremony from junior high.”
Unless you’re Doogie Howser, there should be one graduation before your twenties: high school. No Kindergarten graduations, no elementary school graduations, and no middle school graduations.
Another editorial over, “Fall” tends to slip down the sentimental side of the street again. We get some sappy bonding between Alex and Haley as well as other sappy moments. A few good bits still emerge, but not enough to make this an above-average episode.
The One That Got Away: “Jay wants nothing more than to have a quiet birthday out fishing on the lake, but he is constantly pulled into everyone’s drama as they frantically scramble to put his birthday party together.”
Modern Family has yet to do a “clip show”, but “Away” kind of feels like one. It wraps a little bow on the season and offers a hint at a future plot point. Expect more sentiment than I’d like but it still delivers a good finish to the year.