Modern Family Review: “Farm Strong” (Season 5, Episode 4)

ERIC STONESTREET, DANA POWELL

In the Pritchett-Tucker home, Cam’s sister Pameron (played by Dana Powell, and yes, you read that name correctly) comes to visit. Cam does not want to divulge that he and Mitch are getting married, since she can be sensitive when it comes to relationships – and being the older sister, he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings that he is going to the altar first. This setup and execution here needs a laugh track. The jokes are broad (especially surrounding the characters’ homosexuality), the mugging too apparent and the line readings a bit too stilted to work.

Despite some stumbling with Cam and Mitch’s storyline, this week’s episode has spot-on writing for everyone else. There is also more clever wordplay than usual, recalling some of the great double entendres and verbal misunderstandings that were a highlight of the first two seasons. At the dinner toward the end, each of the characters makes a verbal pun that has to do with dead birds, making Phil grimace. “It’s actually not a bunch of crows. It’s called a murder,” Manny explains when Phil reports to him the news of the day. Ty Burrell’s responses are golden, rising to a level of discomfort that soon amounts to some of the best deadpan facial expressions ever featured on the show.

The highlight of the episode is in its final few minutes, where the emotionally vulnerable Cam is forced to face up to some criticisms from his extended family. Since the character does tend to grate on occasion, despite him always meaning well, the shots at Cam feel reasonable and deserved. Although Lily’s put-down is unintentionally mean, Manny again gets the best line: “You overuse the word ‘divine.’”.Again, this recalls some of the better moments from the series, when the families feuded about each other’s idiosyncrasies at big gatherings.

While not a superb episode, Farm Strong turned out to be just what a series’ 100th episode should be: one that harkens back to many of the best qualities of the show. From razor-sharp writing and bruising one-liners to an ensemble cast showing off what is, arguably, the finest chemistry on any network TV show right now, we are still in good company this far into the series’ run. Amidst a variety of cable and network comedies that rely on crude, lowbrow smarminess and sexual humour for jokes, Modern Family has also proved that a show can be sweet and funny without being too mushy. Case in point: Jay and Gloria’s final line in this episode, as well as the continually adorable, tender relationship between man-child Phil and his son Luke (Nolan Gould).

Now, a note to writers (since I know some of them are perusing my reviews…): Give Ariel Winter more screen time! Not only does she have perfect comic timing as Alex, but her character is too often diminished to dorky qualities. If given more interesting story arcs, she could turn into a character like Lindsay Weir, from Freaks and Geeks, who has to balance her scholarliness with a questionable social life. Let us hope Alex does not spend future Modern Family episodes tied to her phone.