Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 11, 2013)
Another fall, another package of Modern Family episodes on Blu-ray! I’ll look at all 24 Season Four shows in broadcast order. The plot synopses come straight from the Blu-ray’s menus.
Bringing Up Baby: “It’s Jay’s birthday and he makes it well-known that he wishes to keep it as low-key as possible. Dylan moves into the Dunphy house temporarily, Mitch and Cam look into adopting a cat as they cope with their failed attempt to adopt another child.”
“Baby” picks up literally where Season 3 finished, though don’t expect it to end there; the show’s final segment advances the characters about three months into the then-future. As a season-starter, it works fine, as it catches up those dangling S3 threads and gets us up to snuff. It feels schmaltzier than I’d like, though, as it tends toward treacle and away from comedy. A few funny moments still result, but it’s not an auspicious launch to the year.
Schooled: “Phil and Claire drop Haley off at college… and really embarrass her. Manny forces Jay and Gloria to take a baby class. Lily gets into a tussle with a little boy on her first day of Kindergarten, causing Mitch and Cam to meet his confrontational parents.”
S4 bounces back with the pretty witty “Schooled” – well, at least until its sappy conclusion. Most of it amuses, though, mainly via the various forms of conflicts and inappropriate behaviors. I could live without the sentimental finale, but it’s still a good show.
Snip: “Phil and Claire plan to vacation and enjoy like once Luke goes to college. To keep that on track, Phil goes in for a vasectomy. Jay and Gloria disagree about learning the sex of the baby. Mitch steers Cam toward a part-time job to occupy his free time.”
Some of the inevitable schmaltz appears here, but it doesn’t seem as bad as the prior two shows. The episode also doesn’t have the highs of “Schooled”, but it’s a bit more consistent. It ends up as a fairly positive program.
The Butler’s Escape: “Luke wants to quit magic and Phil just can’t accept it. One of Gloria’s pregnancy symptoms is snoring and she’s keeping the whole house awake. Mitch and Cam’s household dynamic is put to the test when they decide to swap duties.”
“Escape” brings us a fairly average episode. It keeps us with it but doesn’t ever threaten to become especially memorable – how can a show that focuses so much on snoring come with much potential? It’s not a bad program, but it’s fairly forgettable.
Open House of Horrors: “Claire has overdone it in Halloweens past, so this year she’s being forced to keep it ‘kid friendly’. Phil has an idea to hold an open house on Halloween night. Mitch and Cam host a costume party while Lily wonders who her real mom is.”
Back in Season 2, the Halloween episode delivered one of the year’s best shows. “Horrors” doesn’t quite live up to those expectations, mainly due to a few detours like the Lily thread. Still, it comes with a generally good mix of elements and gives us a rebound after the lackluster “Escape”.
Yard Sale: “Jay and Gloria hold a yard sale to help Manny and Luke with their school’s charity fundraiser, and the entire family pitches in.”
The yard sale theme allows for some interesting and unexpected tangents. What’s in Gloria’s mystery case? How does the show divert into a 127 Hours parody? The elements combine well for a funny episode.
Arrested: “When Haley is arrested for underage drinking, Phil and Claire bring the family lawyer to the police station. Cam watches Alex and Luke, but they get into crazy mishaps under his care. Jay gets out of baby shopping with Gloria but ends up dealing with a visit from Dede.”
I think the last couple of episodes worked better than their predecessors because they avoided the standard sentimental ending. “Arrested” embraces the schmaltz at the end but does pretty well up until that time, even if it does exist largely as a gimmick to bring Haley home from college.
Mistery Date: “When Claire takes Manny and Luke to Alex’s academic decathlon, Phil attempts to throw together a boys’ night. Manny and Luke bar mitzvah-hop at the hotel, trying to find a cute girl. Cam and Mitch arrange for a surprise birthday gift for Jay and Gloria.”
Am I the only one bothered that Jay and Gloria – who are wealthy enough to buy whatever they need - have a baby gift registry? Maybe, but that’s not the only fault with the erratic “Date”. With lame innuendo, the “boys night” feels too Three’s Company, and other segments sputter as well; sending Manny and Luke on a pubescent Wedding Crashers doesn’t work. Like most Modern Family, it still has its laughs, but it’s a bit of a dud.
When a Tree Falls: “Mitch joins Cam’s effort to save an old tree in the park, but just how far will they go? Jay and Manny attend an Olympics-themed birthday party, and Claire brings Gloria along on an eventful Costco run.”
“Falls” doesn’t dazzle, but it bounces back after the flat “Date”. Gloria’s “pregnancy brain” delivers laughs and other elements also work well. It might not be a great episode, but it does fine for itself.
Diamond in the Rough: “Manny and Luke’s Little League team makes it into a playoff game, so Claire and Cam scramble to find a location and do a makeover on a run-down field. Gloria tries to sing to the baby in utero, which definitely incites a reaction from Jay.”
Like “Falls”, “Rough” has its ups and downs. While the segments related to the house-flipping amuse, they feel contrived, as if they exist mainly to allow for future plot lines. Still, the episode works well enough on its own.
New Year’s Eve: “Jay is excited for the family to celebrate New Year’s Eve together at a hotel in Palm Springs. When the hotel turns out to be less than stellar, everyone branches off to do their own thing, leaving Jay dejected – until he runs into Billy Dee Williams!”
Holiday episodes tend toward gimmicks, but “Eve” finds a way to seem pretty fresh. I’m glad S4 avoided the usual suspects of Christmas and Thanksgiving, and it takes us down some interesting paths. All of this adds up to a fun show.
Party Crasher: “With the baby coming soon, Jay and Gloria plan to throw Manny a special surprise party for his birthday. Phil and Claire deal with an older guy that Haley has started hanging out with. Cam becomes jealous of Mitch and Lily’s special bond.”
With the arrival of Jay and Gloria’s baby, “Crasher” threatens to become an “event episode” buried in schmaltz. It does tend toward sappiness at the end, but it does okay much of the time. Nothing here dazzles but it comes with decent amusement.
Fulgencio: “Gloria’s mom and sister visit from Colombia, and they come bearing traditions, baby names and a lot of family baggage. Lily has picked up some bad habits so Mitch and Cam try to mind their Ps and Qs to set a good example.”
Another up and down episode arrives here. The Phil segments amuse, as his attempts to solve problems deliver good comedy – and a fun Godfather parody. On the other hand, the stuff with Gloria’s family fizzles. That leads to a spotty show.
A Slight At the Opera: “Cam is putting on the school production of The Phantom of the Opera, but when the star falls ill, Manny fights to land the lead. Jay teaches Phil to golf. Gloria takes Alex along on unusual errands. Claire’s adventures in babysitting becomes a comedy of errors.”
What’s up with Haley and Dylan? Are they supposed to be dating? Wasn’t she with old Kenny a few shows ago?
Those confusing elements aside, we get another semi-spotty episode. The golfing bits work well, but Haley/Dylan goes down a predictable path, and I could live without more of Cam’s Broadway fetish. It’s not a bad show, but it falters a little too much.
Heart Broken: “A Valentine’s Day romp between Phil and Claire’s alter egos takes an unexpected turn. Gloria and Jay’s attempts to be romantic keep getting interrupted by the kids. Cam and Mitch host a wild lonely hearts party that leaves them dazed the next morning.”
“Broken” comes with an unusual structure, as it doesn’t mesh its stories. Instead, each act focuses solely on the three different couples – while some cross-pollination occurs, we don’t cut between them like usual.
While that’s an interesting change of pace, it doesn’t make “Broken” a good episode. The show sags mainly because it becomes too serious. Claire goes through a health issue that casts a pall on the entire episode and blocks the emergence of much comedy.
Bad Hair Day: “Claire flies to her college reunion and runs into a professor she once dated. Jay is obsessed with winning his bowling tournament. Gloria is running ragged with the baby, so Mitch offers to take baby Joe for a while, and Cam uses him in an elaborate photo shoot.”
“Hair” goes with a wackier tone than its predecessor and delivers more entertainment, though not with great consistency. The ending to the Gloria story seems entirely predictable, and a few other bits fizzle. Still, it’s better than “Broken” and keeps us with it most of the time.
By the way, “Hair” blows a chance for a mini-Married With Children reunion. David Faustino plays a role here but he shares no scenes with his former TV dad Ed O’Neill.
Best Men: “Mitch and Camm’s best gal pal pays them a surprise visit to invite them to be best men at her wedding. Gloria has trust issues with her new nanny. Claire has a bonding moment with Haley. Phil helps Luke with a girl he likes.”
Though infused with some of the series’ standard schmaltz, “Men” manages to be fairly funny. It does tend toward “life lessons” and the like, but it comes with decent amusement. Add in a fun guest spot from Elizabeth Banks and it works.
The Wow Factor: “Claire and Cam are entrenched in the house flip. Phil decides to teach the kids basic fix-it skills around the house. Gloria spends quality one-on-one time with Manny, leaving Jay alone with baby Joe. Mitch helps Lily deal with a schoolyard bully.”
Though some aspects – okay, most of them – follow predictable paths, that doesn’t make “Wow” a bad show. It develops antagonism for good comedic ends and becomes one of the better episodes we’ve seen in a while.
The Future Dunphys: “Phil and Claire encounter a family that is basically their future selves, and they’re not sure they like what they see. Manny drags Jay on a visit to a prospective private school. Mitch and Cam organize a fun ‘girls day’ for Gloria and Lily.”
The notion of the “alternate Dunphys” offers a fun one but it doesn’t quite live up to expectations; though it gives us some laughs, it falls short of where it could’ve gone. Still, the episode comes with reasonable entertainment despite a little disappointment.
Flip Flop: “Phil is confident he can sell Claire and Cam’s flipped house, but when it proves to be harder than he thought, he recruits the whole family into taking desperate measures. Javier visits Manny and brings along his new girlfriend, which doesn’t sit well with Gloria.”
For once, pretty much everything here performs nicely. Rob Riggle delivers a fun guest turn and the different components fit together in a satisfying manner. This becomes a solid show.
Career Day: “Phil is excited to take part in Luke and Manny’s school career day until his nemesis shows up. Gloria challenges Jay’s claims of wanting to become a novelist. Mitch and Cam make a costly mistake while executing Tooth Fairy duties.”
“Day” keeps the hits coming with a strong show. Maybe it’s the Riggle Factor – he adds a lot to his episodes. Heck, “Day” even manages to subvert the standard moralizing to a moderate degree!
My Hero: “Mitch’s ex-boyfriend invites the family to a fundraising event at a roller rink. Claire avoids talking to Jay about inheriting his closet business. Phil teaches Gloria how to skate. Manny and Luke try to figure out whom they’ll pick for their ‘my hero’ essay.”
After a good run, “Hero” falters. While not a bad show, it too heavily embraces the series’ sappy side. That makes it tough to take at times.
Games People Play: “Phil gets a new RV with hopes of going on a family road trip. Manny has misplaced his backpack and Jay and Gloria go with him to hunt for it. Lily’s gymnastics meet brings out an unrivaled competitive spirit in Mitch and Cam.”
“Play” bounces back a bit after “Hero”, but it doesn’t become as consistent as I’d like. That’s mainly because it follows paths that seem rather predictable. It’s not bad but it’s not great.
Goodnight, Gracie: “Everyone flies to Florida to be with Phil after his mom’s passing. Claire helps Phil with Gracie’s last wish for Frank, and the kids reflect on the gifts Grandma left for them.”
Given the series’ tendency toward sentiment, one might expect an episode that revolves around a death to be the sappiest of all. Happily, it counters that trend – to a degree. Of course, we get some emotional content, but it feels more natural and less contrived than usual. The comedic beats work, too, and this becomes a satisfying finish to the year.