“The Musical Man” was a particularly messy episode of Modern Family, an odd and new problem for the show. One of Modern’s greatest strengths through its first 43 episodes was its ability to tie together three, if not more, separate plots, leading to a satisfying and surprising final act. Not last night, though. It felt like watching three different shows, actually, with subpar plots distracting from some great lines and plenty of “of course” moments.
On the first show — “Brothers in Harm” — Jay’s brother Donny (Jonathan Banks, who scared the shit out of me as Mike the Cleaner on Breaking Bad) comes to visit, and rather than having an open, honest relationship, the two boys, well, act like boys. They pull pranks on one another, like the classic Collapsing Chair gag, and roughhouse, but don’t talk about their feelings and those icky emotions. Gloria, who had some nice one-liners, including “More toast, Emma?”, wonders why and essentially demands that Jay try to have a “real” conversation with his brother. Once he starts prying, it of course turns out that Donny has cancer, and although Jay tries to shy away from the fighting and insults, that’s not what Donny wants — he wants his brother to treat him like normal. By itself, this story could have worked, but paired with the other two plots, it felt out of place and its emotional resonance didn’t really hit.
Elsewhere, in “Phil Up the Pimp Cup,” Phil has debuted a new slogan for his real estate company, “I can’t be satisfied until you’re satisfied,” and once Claire said, “You heard your father, he’s not just selling houses, he’s selling us,” you knew exactly where this was heading. Phil shrink wraps the ad and puts it on their van, and although he meant well, to the rest of the world it looks like Claire “can’t be satisfied” and Haley wants to “make your dreams come true.” What followed was conventional sitcom double-talk and an ironically unsatisfying conclusion where of course Claire’s not as pissed as she should be because the perverts in town were calling for her, not her younger daughter.
In the worst of the three shows — “The Queen and I” — Cam becomes interim musical director at Franklin Middle School, where Manny and Luke both attend. The power of course goes to head, and the only real humor that comes out of the story are both unrelated to Cam: Luke gets stuck hanging over the musical (I couldn’t hear any of the lyrics to the production other than when it’s set in China and the kids sing, “…his name is Jackie Chan”) and stays there the entire time, and when the students hold up cards which should have spelled out “WE LOVE THE WORLD,” but ended up reading, “WE LOVE THE F WORD” (Donny laughing hysterically at this was my favorite moment of the episode).
Mid-way during the musical, Mitch runs out of the auditorium, and the camera briefly catches him fuming to himself about Cam’s egomaniacal ways before returning back inside. It felt like the most honest moment of the night because really, how many more times can the writers go back to the well of “Cam thinks Mitchell bosses him around too much” and “Mitchell thinks Cam lets power go to his head” before the two reconcile at the end of the episode? To paraphrase Cam, it’s hard to be supportive when you’re making a fool out of yourself.
Josh Kurp’s favorite Luke moment of the night: “One foot in both worlds, wanted by neither!”