Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 12, 2017)
Perennially popular sitcom Modern Family returns for its seventh year with more antics of the extended Pritchett family. I’ll look at all 22 Season Five episodes in broadcast order. The plot synopses come straight from the discs’ menus.
Suddenly, Last Summer: “Manny (Rico Rodriguez) is preparing to leave for Colombia for a month to visit family. Cam (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Mitch (Eric Stonestreet) are celebrating the legalization of gay marriage in California. Claire (Julie Bowen) and Phil (Ty Burrell) are trying to synchronize their kids’ summer activities to get the house to themselves.”
Though a little overstuffed in terms of plot points, “Summer” manages to launch the year pretty well. The Mitch/Cam part avoids too much sentimentality, and the show even pulls off a distinctly Three’s Company-style gag at a courthouse.
First Days: “Claire is being groomed to take over Jay’s company and it’s her first day on the job. Luke (Nolan Gould) and Manny are starting their first day of high school. Mitch is forced to confront his jet-setting playboy boss.”
As I’ve noted in other reviews, Cam has always been my least-favorite Modern Family character, and “Days” reminds me why I feel that way, as he provides an annoying personality. Other parts of the episode work better, though, so this becomes an erratic but mostly engaging show.
Larry’s Wife: “After Baby Joe is banned from Gymboree for his aggressive tendencies, Gloria (Sofia Vergara) is convinced that Joe has ‘the curse’. Cam has immersed himself in plans for the wedding. Phil has tapped into a rich vein of new clients: recently divorced moms.”
Even within the not-especially-realistic world of this series, “Wife” goes off the edge with some of its plot segments. We get a funeral for a non-existent cat and Mitch stuck in an air vent. A few segment entertain but too much of the show misfires.
Farm Strong: “Cam feels compelled to hide his upcoming nuptials from his single sister. Jay (Ed O’Neill) goes to great lengths to convince Gloria that she needs glasses. Claire convinces Phil that it’s okay for them to skip one of Luke’s endless soccer tournaments.”
Is it possible for an episode that focuses pretty heavily on Cam to become above-average? Apparently not, as much of “Strong” falters due to its reliance on him and his nearly as annoying sister. We get some laughs but not as many as I’d prefer.
The Late Show: “Jay pulled a lot of strings to get reservations at the hottest new restaurant for a family adults’ night out. Unfortunately, everyone is running late.”
Is it just me or does Modern Family often seem to be about the petty problems of the relatively wealthy? Though I guess it’s supposed to be about “regular folks”, they sure do get wrapped up in “issues” that aren’t always that relatable.
That’s an issue with the lackluster “Late”. Though it does broaden its theme to complications in relationships, it feels gimmicky and doesn’t really connect.
The Help: “When Gloria hires a too-good-to-be-true male nanny. Jay and Manny are dead set against it. Frank (Fred Willard) is feeling lonely, so Phil and Jay take him out to her get his groove back. Mitch and Cam commission Pepper (Nathan Lane) to plan their dream wedding.”
Guest stars become a focal point of “Help”, with varying results. On one hand, Willard and Lane add spark and humor, but on the other, Adam Devine’s Andy the nanny turns into an annoyance. The good tends to outweigh the bad, though.
A Fair to Remember: “The family attends the annual school fair and Phil has a big 20th wedding anniversary surprise planned for Claire. Gloria signs Jay up to be a ‘fair cop’ for the day. Haley (Sarah Hyland) has an awkward first encounter with Andy.”
Like “Late Show”, “Fair” goes gimmicky, though with better results – outside of the Haley/Andy connection. Their relationship will mar many a future episode, and their first meeting demonstrates the cloying qualities that’ll I’ll come to know and loathe. Still, a fun guest spot from Jordan Peele helps make this a mostly good program.
Closetcon ‘13: “With some urging from Claire, Jay begrudgingly agrees to return to Closetcon. Cam takes Mitch and Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) to the Tucker family farm for the first time. Phil, Gloria and the kids get into mischief involving Hay’s delicate Apollo 13 spacecraft model.”
Inevitably, “Closetcon” offers a parody of Apollo 13, one that doesn’t really sizzle. It has company, as most of the rest of the show seems spotty as well. It’s not a bad show, but it never gets into gear.
The Big Game: “Cam is determined to become the first rookie coach in the school’s history to win more than two games. Mitch attempts to find the right moment to tell his boss he’s quitting/ Phil is facing his first month ever without a sale.”
Try as I might, I don’t think I’ll ever find Cam to be anything other than annoying. He seems even more irritating than usual here, which seems impossible. Other aspects of the show fare better, even when it indulges in goofy slapstick.
The Old Man and the Tree: “Jay takes Manny out to cut down their own Christmas tree. Mitch is forced to do last minute shopping when they didn’t get Lily the right gift, and Cam takes Lily to a charity event where they experience the true meaning of Christmas.”
A Christmas episode that starts with smutty double entendres? That seems like a stretch, though I guess I’m glad “Tree” attempts to avoid the usual cheap sentiment. Those elements give the episode a good edge.
And One to Grow On: “Phil tricks Luke into taking a dance class. Jay and Gloria are throwing birthday parties for both Manny and Joe. Mitch and Cam get a rude awakening in the cutthroat world of booking a wedding venue.”
“Grow” brings back my all-time least favorite running character: Andy the nanny (Adam Devine). Even though he’s only in the show a little, he annoys enough to drag down the show. A few laughs ensue otherwise, but this one seems less than great.
Under Pressure: “At the high school open house, Claire finds herself stressed out, Gloria encounters a ‘mean girl’ mom and Jay teachers Phil how to play hooky. Mitch gets defensive when he encounters his environmentalist neighbor. Alex sees a therapist.”
While the thread with the neighbor proves predictable, it’s funny, and embellished by the presence of a high-powered guest star: Jesse Eisenberg. Throw in another guest spot from Jane Kaczmarek and “Pressure” rebounds from “Grow”.
Three Dinners: “Phil and Claire take Haley out to dinner to discuss her future. Jay’s friend Shorty and wife Darlene visit. Mitch and Cam decide to have a nice, romantic dinner date where they don’t talk about the wedding or Lily.”
The Cam/Mitch dinner follows a semi-predictable path, but it’s still pretty funny – and the best of the three threads. The others sputter more and lack the same investment.
Ispy: “Haley has a college photography exhibit that she’s being evasive about. Luke and Manny spend time with a boy who may be a bad influence, forcing Claire to track the boys electronically – which makes Phil uncomfortable.”
The episode goes with a theme of privacy and prying. This doesn’t really work, as the show stretches too hard to fit the overall concept. As usual, we get a handful of funny bits, but it’s not a great program.
The Feud: “Phil’s old nemesis Gil Thorpe strikes again when he unseats Phil as the social chair of their local realtors’ association. An outbreak of lice at Lily’s school brings out the worst in everyone.”
While the lice theme goes for cheap gags, they’re still pretty good laughs, so I’ll take them. Add to that fun guest turns from John Heard and Rob Riggleman and “Feud” works pretty well.
Spring-a-Ding-Fling: “Phil excitedly plans for the annual realtors’ banquet. Claire is unable to attend and Haley steps in to be his date. Mitch starts his first day at a legal aid society founded by a law school friend. Cam helms the Springs-a-Ding-Fling.”
Because I dislike Cam, I like to see him upstaged, so I enjoyed Will Sasso’s turn as the competing flamboyant teacher. Other parts fare less well, though, and that leaves this as an inconsistent show.
Other People’s Children: “Claire and Gloria have been tasked with finding Lily the perfect flower girl dress. Mitch and Cam take Manny and Alex to an art exhibit where Cam feels ignorant. Jay gives Luke a lesson in woodworking.”
As much as I dislike Cam, he’s a winner compared to the ever-annoying Andy, so his prominence here becomes a real drag on the show. Otherwise, the episode works pretty well, especially when we see the “hierarchy of intelligence” at the museum.
Las Vegas: “The adults are Vegas bound when Jay hooks them up with ‘Excelsior Level’ hotel accommodations. Claire hits the table to win back money she lost years ago. Cam ducks out of a spa day with Mitch to join their friend’s bachelor party shenanigans.”
Too much of the episode relies on confusion and mix-ups, but these moments still provide some good laughs. Throw in a fun cast of guests like Patton Oswalt, Stephen Merchant and Fred Armisen to make this a mostly effective show.
A Hard Jay’s Night: “Mitch and Cam reach an impasse over a hard-carved cake topper from Cam’s dad. As Phil helps Gloria sell her old condo, she begins to reminisce and realizes that she misses aspects of her old life.”
Hasn’t the series already beaten the rivalry between Jay and Claire to death? Those elements sag, but a few others add mirth – mainly via the predictable but amusing sight of Gloria and Phil at the salon.
Australia: “Phil’s attempts to embrace his native land are met by a lot of rejection. Jay and Claire let work eat into vacation time. Mitch and Cam get reacquainted with an old friend they can’t stand.”
Episodes that go to unusual locations tend to feel gimmicky – and that becomes even more of a factor when we just got one of those shows so recently. “Australia” offers some humor but it feels a bit desperate.
Sleeper: “Phil fails to stay home and wait for the repairman. Gloria obsesses over the family portrait she is organizing this year. Claire accuses Cam of being too snobby to use her girls’ hand-me-downs. Jay secretly enters Stella in a dog show.”
“Sleeper” goes out of its way to create silly forms of conflict, most of which lack much punch. As usual, we get a smattering of laughs but most of the show sputters.
Message Received: “Jay, Gloria and Manny challenge each other to try something new. Mitch and Cam’s wedding is getting too big and costly so they resort to selling a few prized possessions. The kids play a joke on Phil and Claire.”
Family doesn’t usually attempt actual drama, so the scene in which Mitch and Jay argue seems out of left field. I know it exists to set up the season finale, but it still feels forced.
The Wedding: “Mitch and Cam’s big day is finally here and nothing can ruin it – until ‘nothing’ turns into a whole lot of ‘somethings’ and puts wedding planner extraordinaire Saltzman (Nathan Lane) to the test.”
Is it a surprise that Family embraces wacky insanity for the big wedding? No, but it seems like an iffy choice. The episode comes with some redeeming moments – Lane helps – but it becomes too absurd for its own good.