‘Modern Family’ Review: “Games People Play”
It’s the penultimate episode of ‘Modern Family,’ and this week brings out a lot of fussing over a little fun.
Phil has bought an RV to take his family on a trip over the summer, but Claire thinks she knows best (as usual) and is determined to prove that he’ll regret his purchase once the kids start bickering, as kids do. The only problem is that they’re not bickering — they’re actually being wonderful, kind little humans. And now Claire has egg on her face because she’s so caught up in spitefully willing her kids into turning on each other to prove a point that she’s missing out on participating in the nice time everyone else is having. But when the kids do start fighting and Phil goes off the rails, Claire can take no joy in being right, and that’s when something great happens: Phil walks off to commiserate with some other RV vacation dads, while Claire sits down and talks to her kids. Parents look at kids bickering with each other as a common annoyance, but the truth is that kids are people too, and beneath all the yelling and in-fighting, there’s a person that’s dealing with something that’s set them on edge in the first place.
Meanwhile, Cam and Mitch are attending Lily’s gymnastics meet and taking a little too much pleasure in watching six-year-old girls fall down and lose to their daughter. As it turns out, Lily is quite the sweetheart, tending to the other girls and being a good team player, while her dads are busy being catty and causing a commotion among the other parents — due in part to Cam offering to help the other moms with their daughters’ hair, and then being accused of sabotage when their hair comes undone. Like Claire, Cam and Mitch keep missing all the good stuff by focusing on the bad, and they’re so inwardly focused on what Lily’s victory would mean for them and what they want for her that they hardly notice what a great kid they’re raising.
As for Jay and Gloria, they go over to Cam and Mitch’s house to discover they weren’t invited to game night for some reason, causing them to neurotically fret over what they did wrong. Both of them try to pin the blame on each other, but the truth is that Manny forgot to give them the invite, and now he’s distracting them from attending his poetry reading by convincing them to go to a church game night instead. Jay and Gloria love Manny, for sure, but they’ve always sort of been troubled by his resistance to getting into trouble. Most parents, as Manny notes, would be thrilled about having a goody two-shoes for a kid, but these two just want him to show a tougher side sometimes — and tonight he does with a little trickery and manipulation, and while Jay and Gloria catch onto it pretty quick, they’re both just so proud that he didn’t do the “right thing” for once.
I think one of the problems I have reviewing ‘Modern Family’ is that, as a critic, I’m always trying to find a theme or a pattern. With a show that always has three stories going on simultaneously, it’s natural to try and find connective tissue. And what’s frustrating is that sometimes this show has an overarching theme, and sometimes it just doesn’t. I keep trying to fit ‘Modern Family,’ a once-progressive sitcom that has now settled into a familiar rhythm, into a box with everything else. But maybe the problem is me. So, during “Games People Play,” I decided not to look for a theme that unites all three stories, and the results were much more enjoyable.
Among the three plots, Jay and Gloria’s had to be the weakest tonight — it’s all a lot of fussing over nothing and some weird fight over who is better at Pictionary. It doesn’t go anywhere, and the end result (Manny revealing himself to be quite capable of scheming) doesn’t gel with what little of a plot there is for these three. But the show ends on an incredibly cute note, as Cam and Mitch are proud of their daughter for winning first place, and Phil and the kids do a silly dance routine and try to be better to each other.
Tonight’s ‘Modern Family’ pointed out that the show doesn’t need a theme every week because the show’s concept comes with an inherent one: all three branches of this family are a part of the same tree; they’re all connected already.