‘Modern Family’ Review: “The Butler’s Escape”
Everyone's on edge in this week's 'Modern Family' as Haley's developed a bratty attitude, Cam and Mitch are trying to adapt to new roles, and Gloria's pregnancy snoring is keeping everyone awake.
It's an episode that doesn't do much to progress a season-long arc and the absence of Alex is surprisingly felt as she sits this week out entirely -- until the end-credits tag, that is. But her absence is also crucial to Haley's storyline this week -- without Alex around, Haley has no one to bicker with, so she's lashing out at her family members, picking out all their dim-witted, Alex-like qualities (read: dumber traits) and honing in on them mercilessly. With Claire, Haley attacks her inability to solve a crossword puzzle and her love of trashy reality television, and it's this particular cattiness that sets Claire off, wondering what it is that's making Haley so unpleasant to be around. It's a clever maneuver that gets forgotten somewhere in the middle of the episode with the time stretched between all three families, but the way they bring it home with the end-credits closer allows us to see how the absence of a sibling can throw a family's entire equilibrium off.
Meanwhile, Luke -- or "The Great Lukini" -- is sick of his latest Phil-endorsed hobby: magic. The trick here is that Luke is actually pretty damn good at it, and Phil struggles to support his son's choices when he doesn't think it's as simple as Luke just hating it. His fatherly instincts pay off later when Luke hints that some of the kids at school are being rotten to him about his magician skills, but instead of Phil giving him a pep talk and Luke continuing to perform magic anyway, Phil gives him a pep talk that ends with him accepting his son's choice to quit anyway. Bonus: we get some great physical comedy from Ty Burrell as he tries to weasel his way out of "The Butler's Escape," a chain and straight-jacket trick from which the episode takes its name.
Over at Jay's house, no one is sleeping because Gloria's snoring from her weight gain and pregnancy-related congestion is keeping everyone up. Manny is sleeping on the couch, the dog has the other couch, and Jay can't possibly confront his hot-headed wife about the problem lest he get chewed out. A brief trip to San Francisco that would allow him to stay overnight turns out to be briefer than thought, so Jay rents a room at a local hotel, but is found out by Gloria thanks to a snitching Manny. There are some cute moments between Jay and Gloria when they make up with each other later on, but mostly their plot this week feels like a weaker rehash of the same stuff we've seen time and again -- either Manny or Jay can't say something to Gloria because of her irrational sensitivities, but then the other one can confront her just fine, and in the end everyone comes out with the truth and everything goes back to normal again. If it isn't broke, don't fix it, but can't we change it up just a little?
Cam isn't letting anyone in his house get sleep, either, as he prepares for his new job as a middle school music teacher (which is also a clever way to get Cam at Luke and Manny's school so we might get to see more of them in that environment). Funnier than Mitch waking up from Cam's singing is Lily stomping into the room with a sleeping mask on her forehead and unplugging Cam's piano so he can't keep her awake anymore. But that's not the end of their trouble (or, as Cam calls it, "treble") -- Cam is so certain he'll be successful and so nervous about leaving some of his dad responsibilities to Mitch; of the first thing, he's wrong, and of the second thing, he's totally on the money. It's adorable to see Cam guide Mitch when it comes to chores and parenting, knowing his partner so well that he knows exactly what he's doing wrong and how to fix it, but he can't seem to navigate his persona as the new music teacher with the same panache. His flashy song and dance tricks do nothing for the apathetic, cooler-than-thou pre-teens, and none of the teachers want to sit with him at lunch just yet. This all leads to Cam arriving home to a repaired light switch, a bathed daughter, and a home-cooked meal, and just when he's feeling even worse because it turned out that Mitch was actually awesome at doing this stuff by himself, Claire pops by in the background in a fantastic visual gag, sneaking out the door with a giant pot and a drill.
The role-reversal with Cam and Mitch has been an ongoing thing for a few weeks now, and here's hoping they keep it up because if there's anything more delightful than Cam and Mitch, it's Cam and Mitch trying to do things they aren't comfortable with and giving their relationship more depth as they help each other and bond.