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‘Modern Family’ Review: “Under Pressure”

Modern Family Under Pressure
ABC

On an all-new episode of ‘Modern Family,’ Alex finally caves under years of academic pressure and decides to see a therapist, while the parents all head to open house. While there, Gloria faces off with a mean mom (guest star Jane Krakowski) and Phil and Jay cut class for a little manly bonding. Meanwhile, Mitch butts heads with an environmentally-conscious neighbor (Jesse Eisenberg).

Alex has a mental breakdown during her sweet 16 birthday party, throwing her hands into her cake and stressing over her upcoming SATs and the 15 year old genius who is studying a cancer cure at Johns Hopkins while she’s having a party. And man, nothing made me laugh harder tonight than Phil’s delivery of the line when Alex tells her parents she’s going to see a therapist: “She’s like a self-cleaning oven.”

But I have to say I’m torn about this week’s episode. On the one hand, I expected more comedy from an episode that touts guest stars like Jesse Eisenberg and Jane Krakowski. The former playing Asher, Cam and Mitch’s super eco-obsessed neighbor, who gets real passive-aggressive with Mitch for not being environmentally-conscious enough. And while I loved Mitch’s line about recycling his own child and the shenanigans he gets himself into in a misguided attempt to prove that he’s actually quite green, there’s just not enough Eisenberg. Likewise, there’s not very much Krakowski, who plays a competitive mom trying to win the favor of Manny’s teacher away from Gloria in an effort to secure a special trip for her own son. Cam’s own story of trying to make his physical education open house memorable by getting the parents to play dodgeball (against the principal’s wishes) gets intertwined when Gloria and Krakowski’s character square off and pelt each other with balls.

And meanwhile, there’s Phil and Jay, who are bonding by ditching class so Phil can use his old A.V. Club skills to rig up the football game Jay’s had to miss by attending school for the open house. They get a cute moment where Jay inadvertently does learn something at school that day: Phil, the kind of guy he made fun of as a kid, actually turns out to be pretty awesome and smart because of what he learned in school. It’s cute and all, but perhaps a little unnecessary given that it detracts from the big name guest stars.

There’s also a very minor plot involving Manny, Luke, and twin girls who flip the script and make the boys feel objectified, but it’s very trite.

But all of this humor is working to counterbalance a very sincere and heartfelt story at the center: Alex’s story. At the office of her therapist (John Benjamin Hickey), she starts off by doing the very Alex thing and diagnosing her self instead of opening up and being honest about what she’s feeling. But then she realizes that for once there’s no pressure, and she’s in a place where nothing is expected of her but honesty and her feelings. Alex breaking down has seemed long overdue, and ‘Modern Family’ gets at something here that perhaps many viewers, similar to Alex’s own parents, hadn’t even considered: what Alex is actually dealing with. Sure, she seems to be a responsible, self-sufficient young lady, but even those of us who have our crap together crack under the pressure every once in a while. That sort of stuff can build up over time. And while Claire has been taking care of her other children because they can’t take care of themselves, she hasn’t really been there for Alex, not even on an emotional level. It’s all pretty damn sad.

While Alex’s story tonight definitely needs humor to balance it out, I’m not sure that choosing an episode with big guests like Eisenberg and Krakowski was the way to go because those two get very little screen time, and it seems like a wasted opportunity. On the other hand, Alex’s story is so wonderful and poignant, and her conclusion with Claire is so moving that any other flaws in the episode seem hardly worth the complaint.

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