‘Modern Family’ – ‘The Old Wagon’: Mitchell’s howling castle

Senior Television Writer
09.23.10 63 Comments


A review of the “Modern Family” season two premiere coming up just as soon as I read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” one more time…

“Modern Family” had itself a very strong, Emmy-endorsed first season, but it was one that wasn’t without flaws, and it felt like many of those flaws were on display in “The Old Wagon.”

Though the princess castle storyline did pair Jay with Cam and Mitchell, the three stories/families were largely separate, and several of the characters – Phil and Mitchell in particular – were at their broadest, doing various pieces of slapstick that’s never been this show’s strong suit.

If I hadn’t read Steve Levitan on Twitter a couple of weeks ago saying that he and ABC couldn’t decide which episode to air first out of several promising contenders, I would have assumed that “The Old Wagon” was designed as an entry-point episode for new viewers: This is Phil! He’s clumsy and not nearly as smart as he thinks he is! And listen to how we end every episode with a heart-warming voiceover!

And as popular as “Modern Family” was last season, there’s certainly always room for new viewers. But this isn’t an “Arrested Development” situation where it’s impossible for new viewers to appreciate most weeks. I imagine you could show any of season one’s strongest episodes to a first-time viewer and they would laugh a lot and decide to stick around. “Modern Family” 101 isn’t a necessary approach, particularly since a lot of these characters have gotten past their more archetypal beginnings, and since the show tends to work best when the stories and groups are more fluid. And I had hoped that Levitan, Lloyd and company had learned that the voiceover is unncessary more times than not. The scene with the Dunphy kids walking down the hill and already treating the old wagon’s destruction as a great family memory they’ll share for years to come said it all without requiring Phil to spell out the episode’s message.

Which isn’t to say that there weren’t funny things in “The Old Wagon.” It was a great episode for Sofia Vergara, as Gloria battled her desire for Manny to be happy with her need to be the most important woman in Manny’s life. And while I don’t particularly like frantic, slapsticky Mitchell, it’s a nice change of pace (the episode’s biggest) when Cam gets to be the sane, relatively buttoned-down half of that couple. And the running threads involving all the junk in the old wagon (Blankety, Buckety, the jarful of sunshine that briefly glowed for Luke) were well-done.

I just was hoping for something stronger our first time out, something that did more than give me a refresher course on who these people are and what the show is.

What did everybody else think?

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