‘Modern Family’ Review: “Yard Sale”
All three divisions of the family are brought together this week on ‘Modern Family‘ to throw a yard sale for charity at Luke and Manny’s school, but as these things go, you just can’t get everyone together without a little conflict.
‘Modern Family’ often excels at something beyond humor and sentiment — it’s the way it treats the kids on the show. In the opening of this week’s episode, Haley makes a comment about being drunk via Skype, and Alex talks about making out with her presumably gay boyfriend and copping a feel of his smooth chest. The show doesn’t condemn these things, even though most parents would disapprove of both girls’ actions, and instead does two things: First, it relies on the general knowledge that these things happen, and it’s not saying that they are necessarily okay, but we can joke about that, just like we joke about so many other things. And second, like it doesn’t talk down to its youth audience, it doesn’t talk down to us, the adult viewer, by assuming we need some moral lesson, thus avoiding the cliches of so many 90s sitcoms.
That said, there are a lot of secrets circling about at the yard sale. Gloria is overprotective of a mysterious piece of luggage, which the boys discover contains a dummy that she used in the talent portion of a Colombian beauty pageant. Alex’s boyfriend is probably gay, but no one is sure how to confront her about it. When Claire, Mitch, and Cam finally do, Alex decides it’s not like it used to be and she can just ask him about it, but he angrily balks at the charge and reminds her that he took her to prom and kissed her, so he couldn’t possibly be gay, even though he’s busy fawning over Justin Timberlake’s home collection in a magazine.
As for Phil, he’s taken Jay’s motorcycle out for a ride and crashed, leaving him stranded and disconnected from the main activity, which may be the show’s only misstep this week. It’s always great when the writers find ways to get the family all together, for a holiday or some other important gathering, but leaving Phil behind feels like a cheat, especially when his whole gag is a video camera he’s taken to document his ride, which he’s now using to document his time stranded, like ’127 Hours’ or something. He eventually returns in the last few minutes only to prove Claire right in her belief that he doesn’t need a motorcycle. The conflict is neatly resolved with few laughs from Phil this week — and with that motorcycle in play, you’d think they’d rely more on Ty Burrell’s penchant for physical humor.
Jay plays yard sale dictator, trying to negotiate with fellow penny-pinching, wealthy neighbors over knick-knacks and arguing with a hipster about a toaster (“I can get the same information I need from a bagel or a frozen waffle”) before the guy refers to Jay’s dog as a pot-bellied pig. But the real fun here is that Gloria brings out her dummy to put on a show for the family, and it turns out that the wooden old man has a lot in common with Jay. More importantly, it’s a relief to see that they’ve given Gloria something to do this week that isn’t a result of the way people misunderstand her or her inability to accept that she’s a hot head.
Mitch and Cam’s conflict is less prominent — basically, Cam wants to sell his jeans now that he’s lost weight, but Mitch laments that every time he’s gotten rid of his “big jeans,” he gains the weight back and has to buy new ones, which of course has Cam thinking Mitch just doesn’t have any faith in him.
All plots are relatively minor this week, but the sheer force of combining all the members of the family in one place is always instantly more entertaining than most episodes — the writers create more solid one-liners with each character getting a few small moments to really shine. This episode feels tighter than most, and that’s undoubtedly due to necessity, but it’s not a bad thing.