Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Hard, Fast, Fall Of Modern Family - Season Six!

The Good: The performances are fine . . .
The Bad: Not terribly funny, Uninteresting character directions, Reworking of prior plots
The Basics: Modern Family falls into a rut in its sixth season and tries to get out with some creative episodes that nevertheless fail to garner laughs.

Last year when the Primetime Emmy Awards were announced, perhaps what was considered the biggest surprise of the night was that Veep defeated Modern Family for Outstanding Comedy Series. I have not watched Veep since its first season (reviewed here!), so I was fairly surprised that it would beat the usually stalwart Modern Family. Modern Family Season 6 was the season that was represented in the latest Emmys and after finally getting around to watching it, it is far less of a surprise that the season did not take home the night's big prize.

Modern Family is, objectively viewed, pretty terrible. To wit, after starting the season on DVD and watching three episodes, it took me another two weeks to force myself to watch the rest of the episodes. The season is problematic in that it is not very funny and the characters almost all seem to be in ruts. Comedy is based on surprise and in its sixth season, Modern Family seldom surprises. To wit, when Alex is competing with her high school nemesis for the valedictorian position, he tells he "likes" her and when she tells her parents, they immediately suspect it is a tactic from the boy's very demanding parents. At that point, my wife turned to me and said, "Of course they're wrong; they are always wrong." And she was right. The whole season was like that.

Following the wedding of Mitch and Cam, the Pritchetts and Dunphys settle into their normal routines. Alex prepares for college, which leads to a lot of mixed feelings from Claire and Phil. Jay and Gloria deal with their language divide and Gloria's citizenship and Mitch and Cam begin to worry that Lily is a mean girl.

The season relies much more on gimmicks in its sixth season, with episodes where the entire episode is assembled from skype chats from Claire to the rest of the family when she is stuck in an airport and comes to believe that Hayley has run off to Las Vegas and gotten married or where Phil is determined to be present for Alex's graduation, so he is embodied in the episode as a tablet computer affixed to a rolling tripod (? where the hell did the family get the money for that rig?!).

The season continues the deadpan documentary style for most of the episodes and that generally works. Unfortunately, the show starts to show some serious wear. The farce "Three Turkeys" feels very assembled (good farce feels energetic and surprising to the characters, instead of scripted like it actually is!) and "Strangers In The Night" is painfully predictable. The insult to injury of "Strangers In The Night" is that the Alex plot in it is essentially a repeat of the Frasier episode "Frasier's Imaginary Friend." Christopher Lloyd, who was an executive producer on Frasier at the time of "Frasier's Imaginary Friend" was still an executive producer on Modern Family when "Strangers In The Night" was made. It feels intellectually lazy.

The main characters in Modern Family Season 6 are:

Jay Pritchett - He works on potty training his son Joe, even though the toddler may not be ready for it and he quietly anoints Alex as his successor in looking out for the family in the future when he is gone. He tries to get one up on Gloria by bringing her to a dog show he knows she will hate so he won't have to get dragged to one of her family events. He pressures Phil into blowing off a car deal Phil made for Hayley's 21rst birthday gift and he bonds with Cam by subbing in at Cam's all-gay bowling team,

Gloria Delgado-Pritchett - At Jay's urging, she applies for U.S. citizenship and is dismayed when all of her studying proves to be irrelevant. She gets jealous of Manny's first girlfriend and comes around to the idea that Jay is not crazy when he tells her he thinks her sister is hitting on him. She becomes the object of interest for a peeping tom,

Manny Delgado - He pals around with Luke, but gets into plenty of trouble on his own. He gets his first girlfriend and proves predictably inept at football, which causes some problems in the family. With Jay's help, he confronts a bully, but in the process becomes one,

Mitchell Pritchett - He is dismayed when Cam shows up for one of his trials and Cam overshadows him for news coverage for an important case he wants to get publicity on. He is pressured into paying Jay back for the down payment he and Cam were given many years ago for their house, in the process squandering Cam's uncle's inheritance. He goes to work for a week with Claire and keeps the fact that he was laid off from the law firm from Cam long after the fact,

Cameron Tucker - His high school football team has an unprecedented winning streak . . . until he gets Mitch to come to a game and nearly ruins the streak. Always eager for attention, he upstages Mitch when Mitch starts pitching a story idea to a reporter while at a party. He takes Lily to clown school against Mitch's wishes and gets adult braces to upstage Alex at her high school graduation,

Lily Tucker-Pritchett - She gets mean for a while and turns out not to be gifted, which her fathers discover when a truly gifted child befriends her. She attends clown school and becomes vicious to Cam, much to Mitch's delight. She also goes through an especially stubborn phase,

Claire Dunphy - Tries so hard to become friends with Hayley on adult terms and have a romantic Valentine's day with Phil, though she has trouble accepting Hayley and becomes jealous of her own alter ego. She takes Phil's fun Halloween decorating and makes it into a house of horrors. She is particularly afraid when it seems Hayley as run off and gotten married without telling her,

Phil Dunphy - He becomes assertive after saving his whole family's lives when they narrowly miss a car accident. He becomes jealous of Luke when Luke suddenly becomes talented at everything he does and he takes Andy on as a protege. He and Claire get bothered by their new neighbors and he uses his father to get back at the obnoxious rednecks. He writes a song for Alex for her graduation and is forced to attend her graduation as a robot that people actually want to interact with more,

Hayley Dunphy - Her style blog takes off, largely because she doesn't know how to turn off her webcam. She gets a job with an influential fashion designer and tries to befriend Andy. When she actually meets Andy's fiance, Beth, she gets jealous and discovers she might have feelings for him,

Alex Dunphy - Has a predictably intense Senior year. She tours a number of colleges and is adverse to Cal Tech solely because of its proximity to her parents' house. She competes to be valedictorian and has multiple boyfriends for the first time in her life. As her graduation nears, she actually bonds with Hayley - getting drunk at a concert with her and having Senior Skip Say with her - and she figures out what direction she wants her life to take in the process,

and Luke Dunphy - He becomes jealous when Phil starts spending time with Andy and is horrified by Lily's interpretation of the sex talk. He is about to be left out of the school's awards day when Claire bribes the principal. He gets involved with a number of shenanigans, like attempting to make a jetpack with soda and mentos.

The sixth season of Modern Family has no truly extraordinary performances, though none of them are particularly bad. Ty Burrell continues to dominate the comedic moments with his deadpan and in the sixth season none of the rest of the cast steps up to be particularly funny. In fact, the performances are so mundane and the show is so unfunny in the sixth season that the moment of greatest elation I had while watching the twenty-four episode season was when Olive Platt appeared on-screen for a single episode.

That's probably the best place to leave such analysis; after five solid seasons, when Oliver Platt simply showing up is the high point, the series probably has jumped the shark.

For other works from the 2014 – 2015 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 2
The Flash - Season 1
Orange Is The New Black - Season 3
Sense8 - Season 1
Grace And Frankie - Season 1
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 1
Agent Carter - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 1
The Newsroom - Season 3
House Of Cards - Season 3
Doctor Who - Season 8
True Blood - Season 7
The Walking Dead - Season 5


For other television reviews, please check out my Movie And Televisin Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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