You can tell when sitcom writers have seen far too many sitcoms and when they have not. Writers who have seen enough half-hour situational comedies have a problem compiling storylines and jokes that feel entirely fresh, since so much of their humour stockpile comes from scenarios they have seen before. I feel that the Modern Family writers, as the show reaches the end of its fifth season, are doing everything they can to keep the comedy fresh and funny. Almost every time you are certain the series is going to zig one direction with a character or story this season, it zags.
That originality and zaniness is what makes the simply titled “Las Vegas” such a pleasure. The first half of the episode sets up some rather generic Sin City-type scenarios, yet the second half delights, as it pivots at what could happen and unleashes some frantic, funny misunderstandings – the type of humour Modern Family does best.
This week, the parents have left their kids and professional lives behind for America’s Playground. Since he sold Mandalay Bay owner Burt Tanner some closet space, Jay gets the three main adult contingents of his family free access to the hotel’s prestigious platinum level rooms and packages.
Mitchell bumps into an old boyfriend, Langham (Fred Armisen, who seems to be giving a cameo on every other series this month). Langham and his new beau are in Vegas for their bachelor party, and have an agenda filled with debauchery (including a frothy pool party called “Bananas and Cabanas.”) However, tailoring back to the characters, Mitch wants to avoid Langham and his shenanigans by getting some much needed rest and relaxation at the spa, while curious Cam wants to explore the decadence of the bachelor party festivities.
Meanwhile, Phil and Claire split their stories this week. Our man Dunphy is out of the hotel trying to impress the members of an underground magic society, headed by the droll Ducky (Patton Oswalt, another terrific comic who has made recurring guest appearances on virtually every show on television). This leaves Claire ready to hit the craps table, hoping to win back money she squandered on a girls night many years back.
It is hard to remember the last time that Jay, Gloria or even Manny held the most engaging storyline in an episode, and tonight’s is no different. Gloria spots a female version of Jay’s dumb waiter Barkley in a store window and wants to surprise him with it before he gets a glimpse.
Although Vegas stories usually end in debauchery, dumb decisions and increasing danger, episode scribes Paul Corrigan, Brad Walsh and Bill Wrubel do a fine job avoiding the easy traps of some of these subplots. When Claire vows to take the house down, you expect that the house will end up winning and she will end up a mess. With Cam trying to evade Mitchell for a more carnivalesque experience, you just wait for the inevitable temptation that Cam will indulge in, which will come back to embarrass his fiancé. Alas, Claire does not succumb to her gambling and Cam does not recede too far into the party of America’s Playground. I credit the writers for looking beyond these predictable story arcs.