Watching Modern Family: “The Old Wagon”


Ever worry that a show you found yourself hooked into during its first season is gonna come back for its second and bite the big one right out of the starting gate?

You tell yourself it’s just a singular misstep.  A random fluke.  Any show can suck once, right?  You assure yourself that next week it’ll be back up to its peerless standard of pathos/action/comedy/mythology or whatever it was that grabbed you back when it was still a newbie in the network woods.  But it doesn’t happen.

Was it just a one-season premise that couldn’t be stretched any further?  Were a few pivotal writers replaced?  Did the network step in and demand more creative control and promotional tie-ins?  Did a sassy street kid suddenly appear?  Was there, God forbid, an all musical episode?

Someone in television always wants to fix what isn’t broken.

I wondered if that might happen with Modern Family last night.  What if its season 2 premiere didn’t make me laugh?  Actually, I expect more than laughing from Modern Family. I expect to guffaw… loudly…  that trademark “Gary guffaw” people I work with have heard so often they openly tease me about and do their own impressions of.

I wondered enough about whether or not I would “Gary guffaw” during last night’s Modern Family that I actually waited until my DVR had finished recording it before I played it back. If I wasn’t going to guffaw, I was at least going to not do it without commercial interruptions.

Well, break out your trans fats, salt up your chocolate milk and grab your buckety!  Happily, Modern Family is not going to become the Prison Break of the TV comedy world.  Tonight’s season premiere was fantastic, and it didn’t even seem to be trying.  It didn’t feel like a typical season premiere that bends over backwards to try and remind you of what you loved and missed about it over the summer hiatus.  It just felt like a regular old episode of Modern Family.  The kind I like to guffaw over… “like a coked-up kangaroo.”

How could anyone not love Mitchell’s barely-contained excitement over building a play castle for Lily and his complete obliviousness to his own power tool deficiency?  I have on several occasions accidentally lit dish towels on fire while cooking dinner.  I can’t hammer nails into walls.  I’m afraid of lighting the pilot light on the stove, and when MG does it for me, I stand in the other room with the 9 and the 1 already dialed on the phone.  I can’t draw straight lines.  I can’t even paste.  But if I were in Mitchell’s place, I’d do whatever it took to build the biggest and best castle any adopted Vietnamese daughter had ever seen.

Best lines from this story –  Cameron: “Every home improvement project that we have undertaken has been a near death experience.”

Jay’s response to the memories of having to build a bookshelf with Mitchell: “That was my Vietnam.  And I was in Vietnam”

Meanwhile, eternally hopeful romantic Manny has a female classmate Kelly coming over for a study date. Mama Gloria is, at first professing nothing but her desire for Manny to be happy and loved, but when Kelly refuses Gloria’s empanadas because of the trans fats and Manny sides with her, the possessive  “Columbian mother” in Gloria is unleashed.  Watching Manny sip his chocolate milk with a painful slowness in order to avoid declaring a preference between Gloria’s “unsalted” and Kelly’s “salted” versions… guffaw!

And Claire pushing Phil into selling their old clunker of a station wagon, then realizing its sentimental value too late reminded me of the good old times my sister and I had riding to school in my dad’s less than stellar green Plymouth Duster he bought after our snazzy Mercury Zephyr caught fire and burned up at the gas station.

Hours of family memories were made in that car, riding to and from school and listening to my dad’s three 8-track tapes – Peaches & Herb, Kenny Rogers and Vikki Carr – purchased at the Salvation Army where he also picked up a pair of shorts for a quarter.  I can recall it all vividly, so I could completely relate to Claire’s sudden longing for the past represented by the old wagon, and its loss signifying the ongoing march of time.

Claire: “Soon we’ll all be dead.”
Phil: “Woah!  You’re leaving out a few great minutes there.  Retirement… old age… a cool chair that goes up the stairs.”

Speaking of Phil, Ty Burrell is my new comic hero in a cast of all-talents.  I don’t think anyone does spit takes, clumsiness and downright strange better.  Phil could easily just be creepy and off-putting, but that blank smile Burrell throws onto his face after a particularly awkward statement makes him just downright endearing.

It seems like the less Modern Family is about, the funnier it gets.  I’m really looking forward to Eric Stonestreet in bike shorts, too.  Never thought I’d say that.

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2 thoughts on “Watching Modern Family: “The Old Wagon”

  • September 23, 2010 at 5:39 pm
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    I have to say, I’ve never watched A Modern Family but I was really concerned about Glee this season. Okay so it’s not a great show. But after taking an anatomy test. Trust me. It’s just what the doctor ordered. Thankfully the season premiere lived up to my standards otherwise the world would have had one seriously depressed med student on its hands.

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