A husband is afraid to tell his wife that she doesn’t have a good singing voice. A man doesn’t listen (literally!) to his partner. A teenage girl lies to her parents in order to get a car. A married couple has a fight where the husband doesn’t know what he did wrong. What do all these have in common? They’re all storylines that have been beaten to death in the comedy world, and they all were featured in last night’s episode of Modern Family, “Regrets Only.”
To add some specificity: Jay buys Gloria a karaoke machine, and she becomes addicted to it, much to her husband and son’s dismay, who can’t stand the way she sings, which sounds similar to a metal spoon in a garbage disposal; Mitchell’s habit of not listening to Cameron nearly ruins a benefit the former has been planning for weeks; and Hayley, in a dollar-for-dollar matching deal with her parents to get a car, lies about having a job, which only Alex figures out.
The fourth trope — clueless husband wonders what he did — is slightly redeemed by its Memento-style telling. The episode begins the morning after a fight between Claire and Phil, a fight he’s ready to put behind them — mainly because he doesn’t remember what it was about in the first place. We know there’s an upset Claire, broken microwave, smashed vegetable bag, and a general state of disarray in the kitchen (in a different context, it would have been really depressing for Luke to come down to see the remnants of his parent’s fight), and that’s all he knows, too. Slowly, and with the help of his new barber Gloria, Phil thinks he’s figured out why his wife is so mad at him: it’s because he’s forgetful. Although that conclusion is probably also true (evidently one of the things Phil forgets is to buy cauliflower, so during a dinner, he says, “Every beautiful women deserves flowers…cauliflowers,” presenting her one, complete with a red bow), it’s not what Claire’s actually pissed about. It’s because as many times as Claire suggests a wedge-salad (am I the only person who had NO IDEA what a wedge-salad was before Google’ing it last night?), he’s always refused — but now he’s obsessed with them because his new friend, Skip, likes them. Note to husbands everywhere: never listen to a guy named Skip over your wife.
Although the execution was borderline sexist (a recurring problem for the show actually, where Crazy Claire is showing up with more consistency, which would be fine, if it weren’t coupled with Gloria stating that all women are vindictive because “when you least expect it, we make you pay”), the story of a husband or wife listening to the recommendation of a friend over that of their partner, even if they’re both suggesting the same thing, is an interesting one, and one that I wished had been more rooted in reality, rather than a joke about a human being mistaken for a raccoon.
During Phil’s chat with Gloria, Jay is at the mall with his daughter, who’s trying to relax from the night before. The way Claire does that: getting a massage, which she enjoys so much that she sounds like, in her father’s words, a “Tijuana hooker.” Yeah. I think the writers are struggling to figure out what the hell to do with Jay. Because Ed O’Neil was the biggest name coming into the show, due to his 11-season stint on Married with Children as Al Bundy, Modern Family feels they need to give him more of a role than he probably should have, like Chevy Chase on Community. Usually, though, that something is him forgetting an event or a gift when it comes to Gloria, or giving the end of the episode moral voiceover. The show is clearly running out of old-man-with-hot-wife jokes and stories, and only when he’s conversing with Manny, like at the end of the episode (“You keep this up, and it won’t be the only plug I pull”), does Jay feel necessary.
The Mitchell story, about him trying to make up for not sending Cam’s invitations in the mail, was pretty ho-hum, mostly because if I were Cam, I wouldn’t have forgiven him so easily. He screwed up mightily, and just because he wrangled up a few disinterested musicians doesn’t mean the problem should be forgotten. The better story here was the interactions between Cameron and Luke, who’s trying so hard not to screw up (“C’mon, Luke!”), because Cam’s demanding ways work well with his nephew’s clumsiness. Luke also had my favorite moment of the episode: “Hi there. Is your father home?” “I think so. Why?”
Considering last night was another fine-but-nothing-special episode, I’m beginning to wonder if we gave Modern Family too much credit for its first season. It felt so refreshing to have a quality sitcom with likable characters that updated tired comedy storylines, and it was rightly praised, but more than halfway through its second season (can you believe last night was already the 16th episode?), the show is at a loss for what to do next. It’s not bad in any way; it’s just that it’s spinning in a circle and can’t get out of it the way other shows can. For instance, when The Office started slipping, they added new characters (Erin, Gabe, etc.) that revitalized the show — and that’s not something Modern Family has the luxury of. The 11 individuals that make up the show (including Lily) are really the only 11 characters we’ll ever know (unless they add a new kid at some point, but I think the show would have bigger problems if that ever has happens). Think of this way: as much as you love your family, you do grow tired of them from time to time.
Josh Kurp will now refer to air quotes as “air bunnies.”