Modern Family, “Chirp”

I’ve been hard on Modern Family all season, but when it is one of the most popular comedies on television, there needs to be some checks and balances to make sure that it isn’t being completely awful, stereotypical, racist or whatever. I’m not saying it’s only my job to do that, but I think my criticisms are still are valid.

However, there isn’t much to complain about in reference to last night’s effort, “Chirp,” which was not overwhelmingly funny, but featured a number of great moments, particularly those of an emotionally resonant-type. I usually prefer it when the family comes together at the end of the episode and the humorous situations in their individual stories somehow coalesce with a larger problem, but sometimes, like in “Chirp,” keeping the three sects of the family is okay because the writers find enough funny stuff for the characters to do within the confines of their immediate family.

It’s nice to see a Gloria-Jay-Manny story that doesn’t involve Columbian heritage or accidental racism/stereotyping and although the set-up with Manny driving the forklift through the wall was a fairly generic set-up, the rest of the plot sold things in a heartfelt and mostly humorous way. I have no problem with the series making fun of Gloria or having Jay make fun of her, but it can be done like it is here, where her desire to celebrate the anniversary of every little moment in their relationship frustrates the heck out of Jay, without the Columbian undertones. There’s nothing inherently Columbian about Gloria’s want to re-capture old memories and it’s completely in-character for Jay to be ambivalent and forgetful when it comes to these moments, because, well, that’s how most men are unfortunately (me included, sometimes).

More importantly, the end of the story, in which Jay makes it clear that the guy who let Manny drive the forklift is going to stay fired because he put his “kid” in danger, again suggested that the series is figuring out how to hit those “awww” moments without using the stupid voice-over and the even worse “lesson time!” music.

Similarly, although the Dunphy household story is the weakest comedy-wise, it actually succeeds on an interesting emotional level. Phil always acts like an idiot and part of that is he’s trying to make things seem better than they are, no matter the situation. “Chirp” puts that to the test when Phil has to balance Claire’s usual tasks because she’s sick, find which of the damn smoke detectors is chirping (who hasn’t been there?) and deal with losing a few prospective clients.

I’ve been waiting for the series to comment on Phil’s job as a Realtor in this kind of economy — not like leaning-forward-OMG-when-are-they-going-to-discuss-it waiting, but you get it — and this episode finds a really satisfying way to do that by throwing it in the mix of this overwhelming day that Phil cannot really handle, even if he tries to cover it up with a smile.

Thus, at the end of the story when he’s swinging his cheerleading baton in hopes of just destroying all the smoke detectors because they’re basically mocking him and his ability to be a man, it’s not funny, it’s cathartic. Moreover, Claire’s embrace of him and their little discussion about leaning on one another is a really tremendous moment and one that completely pays off the story the episode set up.

It is in these two stories where the episode specifically succeeds with its emotional beats, a place where the series has been improving these season. Despite all the stereotypes and inherent issues I see with Modern Family, the series has been doing a job of moving away from the voice-over nonsense and figuring out ways to tell honest, natural happy endings without smacking us in the face with them. And above all else, that’s what I appreciate about season two of the series and what I especially appreciate about “Chirp.”

However, I can’t get out of here without mentioning the Cam-Mitchell storyline, which though absolutely goofy, was a winner. Save-zilla is a ridiculous idea, but one that would absolutely exist in some small town commercial. They had the least to do this week, but the dialogue was especially snappy — anytime they discuss Cameron being raised in barn, it’s awesome — and the final scene with Cam making the big speech about the commercial being offensive and subsequently picking up the wrong baby is enough on the right line of funny/offensive that I’ll go with it.

This is probably my favorite episode of the season, one that doesn’t attempt to do anything crazy, but sticks to what the series does best and also continues to move past the voice-over hangups of a season ago. Good stuff, Modern Family.

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