One of Modern Family’s biggest feats since it became one of television’s most beloved and awarded comedies is how the writing team has been able to set up at least three storylines per episode. Since each episode must feature all components of the Pritchett-Dunphy-Tucker clan – especially since all of the actors get a hefty paycheque per episode – the 22 minutes must fit in a bunch of plots, each with its own beginning, middle and end. Usually, the show’s strongest episodes revolve around one main family event, whether it is a dinner or birthday celebration. The more subplots and storylines that the show’s writers stuff into an episode, the fewer credible character-driven moments there are.
Larry’s Wife, the third episode of season five, has six storylines compressed into around 22 minutes of television and it is a mess from start to finish. The subplots include two from Jay and Gloria’s family, two from Cam and Mitch’s family and two from the Dunphys.
Jay decides to take Manny to see the vigilante classic Death Wish at a repertory theatre instead of The Sound of Music, an apt metaphor for him trying to shy his son away from his ceaselessly romantic outlooks on life and to realize that he should act more from gut impulses. Meanwhile, Gloria calls a priest to help her deal with Fulgencio, as she believes her infant son is cursed because of an ancient family tradition.
These collections of plots receive, in total, around four minutes of total screen time; consequently, they feel rushed through. Gloria spends a long time retelling (to the camera) about the curses in her family, but once the priest comes over, there is not much going on. The series’ continual references to Gloria’s Latin American mysticism keep feeling culturally insensitive, as well.
Further, Jay telling Manny to refrain from keeping his thoughts bottled up is a great moment – especially since that father-son duo gets fewer bonding sessions than the adorable pairing of Phil and Luke. However, its set-up is under-developed and hurried to get to a great moment where Manny loses his temper on a moviegoer chatting loudly on his phone. (Maybe the moment was more satisfying since people on their cell phones at the movies is a pet peeve of mine).
In another bunch of stories, Cam is going haywire trying to organize his wedding, and decides to distract himself by doing some more planning – a funeral for their cat Larry’s wife. He hopes this celebration will appease Lily’s grief. Mitch, on the other hand, is unhappy that his fiancée is trying to keep the entire wedding planning to himself, which launches him back into an obsessive-compulsive disorder (which, strangely, went unchecked for the first four seasons).
The sudden appearance of Mitchell’s OCD is distracting. Although the character likes to be neat and organized, the excuse to have Cam’s overbearing attitude gets Mitch to descend into an intensified cleanliness, that feels more suited to the whims of furthering the conflict than being true to the character. It is unconvincing that this characterization went unaddressed for 98 episodes. The Cam and Mitch dynamic in this episode is also reminiscent of almost every other ordeal they’ve gone through on Modern Family – flamboyant Cam is shying attention away from Mitch’s accomplishments – and the two of them aren’t even married yet.
Oh, and there’s an always welcome but completely bizarre cameo from Dylan, Haley’s long-time ex-boyfriend. Reid Ewing, who always brings gumption to his character’s chivalrous and aloof personality, could have reeled more laughs from the moment he shows up as the gravedigger at the cat’s funeral, but his presence makes such little sense that one is too distracted to hear the jokes.