After last week’s manic, high-energy episode that was “Las Vegas” – an episode that even casual watchers seemed to find riotously entertaining, based on the various discussions I’ve had with friends and family about it – “A Hard Jay’s Night” is a rather restrained, merely decent, sort of harmless half hour. If last week’s Modern Family was an all-you-can-eat buffet of comedy, this episode is comfort food. The viewer gets exactly what he or she expects and little more.
As the patriarch of the series, Ed O’Neill has gotten precious little to do all season – although, compared to Craig T. Nelson’s Zeke Braverman on Parenthood, another show about a large family in its fifth season, he is working tirelessly. The writers’ attempts to make the character more than just a logical curmudgeon who likes to poke fun at his family’s shortcomings, such as a foray into writing a novel, have been unsuccessful. Finally, we have an episode that embraces Jay and all of his dry negativity… not that we were really pining for that though.
In “A Hard Jay’s Night,” writers Megan Ganz and Ben Karlin explore how Jay hardens the rest of his family. This comes out most clearly in the subplot with Claire. For the past week at the office, Claire stepped up her game to make an impression while her dad (also her boss) was ill and out of the office. Despite being a chatterbox around her children for all of her accomplishments, upon arriving at her dad’s for a family dinner, he does not offer a ‘thank you.’ In one of the funnier moments from the episode, Jay bestows praise on his dog, Stella, for following his direction, as an envious Claire eyes the dog.
Stella is also the key to revealing another of Jay’s shortcomings. He orders the dog to bury items he does not like in the backyard. Tonight, Mitch shows him the cake topper that Cam’s dad made of the two grooms for their upcoming wedding. The soap fixture shows Mitch clutching Cam akin to how a cheerleader clings onto a brawny quarterback. Of course, this hyper-feminized version of Mitchell offends him and he wants the thing gone. “Let’s just say I have a friend who helps me in this situation,” Jay intones, making a veiled reference to the pooch, who hides it in the backyard.
Meanwhile, Jay’s social status has turned Gloria into a fussy wife, protective of money and who has high expectations of everything. Phil tries to help her sell the old apartment she used to live in with Manny, but she is very concerned that it will end up in bad hands. You can see how the grouch in Jay has rubbed off on his wife. However, when Gloria remembers the hair salon she worked at, just a couple of blocks away from her past home, she goes to visit the talkative Hispanic women who still run the place and pines for the good ol’ days. She agrees to help the ladies, who are short staffed that afternoon, and descends back into nostalgic memories of an easier time, before money was a concern of hers and she was more carefree. Although being Jay’s wife has had its advantages, she relishes indulging in a slice of the life she used to lead.