“iSpy,” the previous episode of Modern Family, was dated with its cell phone privacy storylines that would have made for sharper comedy about ten years earlier. Shockingly, “The Feud” is even more stale, using sitcom tropes and scenarios so antiquated, that you keep waiting for the canned laughter to show up to signify the spots where you should be chuckling… and that this program pre-dates the arrival of single-camera television comedy. The episode is not just bereft of good humour, but the stakes are small and the set-ups are predictable. It is the worst episode of Modern Family’s generally solid fifth season, with some poorly executed physical humour and not enough wit to keep up with the half hour’s convoluted exposition.
As usual, we begin in the Dunphy household. Phil is waiting to hear if he was re-elected to be the social chair of his realtor group, when Rob Riggle’s Gil Thorpe knocks on his door to report that he won instead. Pained, Phil relinquishes his medallion – the one that he cleans every time he showers – to Gil. Meanwhile, Claire heads to sleep to prepare for a meeting with a client the next day, except Julie Bowen speeds through her bit so quickly, that even on a second viewing, it was hard to discern why this certain customer was so unique.
It is an awkward beginning with the Pritchetts, too. Jay, Gloria and Manny are talking in an elevator; however, instead of mining some awkward comedy from this situation, we have Jay talking to the camera about the awkwardness of being stuck in elevators. It turns out that a member from his club (played by John Heard) who often shows glee when he catches Jay in an embarrassing moment is on the elevator to rattle Jay’s bones once again.
Meanwhile, Cam and Mitchell find out that there is a case of lice spreading through Lily’s grade – which they forget to tell Claire, who (for some reason) is carpooling her niece home on the same day as a key career meeting. Predictably, Lily has contracted some vermin in her hair and it spreads to Claire just in time to humiliate herself, as she tries to itch her way out of the uncomfortable situation.
Unfortunately, Modern Family’s writers keep pillaging the reliable younger actors into retreaded stories with low stakes and little potential for comedy. Haley and Alex are stuck in the basement trying to fend off a possum that snuck its way onto the staircase atop Haley’s phone. Manny doesn’t want to walk around the museum on a class trip because his new shoes makes a squeaky noise– and this could lead him to getting a dumb nickname. Even if it further focuses on the character’s high-school insecurities, this is a rather tame subplot for a prime-time sitcom. I could imagine that more threatening name-calling pops up in Lily’s class. Luke is also wasted as he prepares for his first wrestling match against – whom else – Gil’s burly son. As the show’s most loveable character, Gould can easily charm the audience with a couple of one-liners about trying to beef his body up by losing sweat via plastic wrap, but he doesn’t get much to do except spur his family’s competitive side this week.