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‘Modern Family’ Review: “A Fair to Remember”

Modern Family A Fair to Remember
ABC

Modern Family‘ returns tonight with an all-new episode, in which the whole family heads to the school fair, but things aren’t all fun and games. Everyone gets something to do this week, jamming just a little too much story into one half-hour, and not giving us nearly enough of special guest star Jordan Peele of Comedy Central’s ‘Key and Peele.’ 

“A Fair to Remember” is kind of a mess. There are six — count ‘em, six – plots going on this week, and none of them seem like they’re given preference over any of the others, when they should be. It’s Phil and Claire’s 20th wedding anniversary, which deserves an A-plot all its own, especially given the few laughs we do get from it: Claire’s anniversary gift of a ‘Planet of the Apes’ China plate and Phil’s attempt to woo her with a love ballad by performing with a band called the Dad Beats. And while sufficient time is given to the Dad Beats stuff later on, the plot doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be — at first it’s a repeat of Cam and Mitch’s attempt to surprise one another with a proposal a few episodes back, and then it’s just Claire and Phil at the fair. It’s almost worth the fumbling for Claire’s 20th anniversary gift of “China”: Chinese acrobat performers.

The other plot that deserves A-status is Jay and guest star Jordan Peele, playing a fellow dad at the fair who butts heads with Jay. The two are teamed up in mismatched buddy cop style as police for the school fair, and there’s not nearly enough of their homage to classic buddy cop dramedy, though what little we do get is great.

I guess if there’s an overall theme to tonight’s episode, it’s about proving your worth or believing in yourself … or something. Manny enters a cake competition populated by dweeb types and little old ladies, which predictably rubs Jay the wrong way, but winds up sort of putting Gloria off, too — she starts to wonder if maybe he shouldn’t be trying to hang out with other boys his age instead of baking cakes with old ladies. Gloria doesn’t typically fret over Manny’s personal choices, so it’s a little bizarre to see her sabotaging his cake, and given that this plot — like the rest — suffers from a lack of screen time, there’s no real development or contemplation. Just a quick scene later and Manny has fixed his cake and Gloria’s decided she was wrong after all.

And then there’s Cam, who’s confronted by a dad of one of his football players, threatening to pull his kid from the team if they don’t start winning. Honestly, I want to see more of Cam’s hilarious coaching techniques (“That’s the worst call since casting Russell Crowe in ‘Les Mis’!”), but instead we get Cam sort of freaking out and trying to intimidate his team into being better players — not at all being himself.

Alex isn’t quite being herself, either. In her efforts to impress Sienna, the girl who recently transferred to her school and is, so far, seemingly oblivious to Alex’s social standing, she’s trying her hardest to keep Sienna from finding out that Luke has a crush on her — lest Luke say or do something stupid that might reflect poorly on Alex. Luckily for Alex, Sienna’s a nice girl, and although this plot (good lord, like the rest of this episode) is a mess, it’s good to see Alex making a genuine friend.

Deep inhale … and back at Jay and Gloria’s house, there’s Haley, sidelined from the rest of the action (once again) because the writers sometimes have no idea what to do with her now that she’s sort of grown other than make a joke of her underage drinking on a regular basis. She meets the male nanny (a returning Adam Devine) and the two make fun of each other, with Haley teaching him to loosen up a bit, and there’s much ado about broken glass in the pool — it really has nothing to do with anything.

So tonight’s episode of ‘Modern Family’ is all over the place and definitely could have benefited from trimming some of the plots down. This show falters when they try to cram too many stories into one episode, and always seems to shine when they have either a couple of solid A-plots and a B-plot, or a few plots that unify into one plot later on (for instance, anytime the family has reason for a big gathering). Usually an episode with four plots is problematic, but six?! This is insanity, and although we get a few good laughs, “A Fair to Remember” is not an episode to be remembered fondly.

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