Modern Family Review: “The Big Game” (Season 5, Episode 9)


Modern Family is well on its way to being upstaged at the Emmys next year. Although not the laugh generator that it used to be, the show is currently in a steady groove of decent storylines enlivened by a game cast that needs to be utilized better. This, of course, is hard with the contractual obligation to give 11 different actors something to do in less than 22 minutes and keep millions of viewers entertained.

Due to the cluttered storytelling, Modern Family is now in a struggle between making the most of a bar-setting comedy cast and trying to fit them all in within an episode’s space. At this point in season five, Ty Burrell’s Phil, Eric Stonestreet’s Cam and Ed O’Neill’s Jay have gotten the best material. Unfortunately, this focus on those three characters come at the detriment to the Dunphy kids, even though actors Sarah Hyland, Ariel Winter and Nolan Gould are funny even when nothing really happens to their onscreen counterparts.

However, the season’s ninth episode, “The Big Game,” is about looking at the bright side of life. So I am ready to be optimistic, and explain while using an appropriate sports-inspired adage that Modern Family’s best offense is a good defense. And that defense is its stellar ensemble cast, which can save a poor collection of stories. Even in an episode as hit-and-miss as “The Big Game,” the actors are so in tune with their roles and their comic timing that it is hard to complain too much.

“The Big Game” is, like most Modern Family episodes post-season three, stuffed with plots but only a few that resonate. Although the device that brings the characters together is to watch the Dolphins, the high school football that Manny plays for (he is, weirdly, the kicker) and Cam coaches, the major character here is Phil. The always-gleeful house seller is on a bad kick, going a whole month without a buyer for an attractive home.

Although he tries to instill some optimism in his glowering teenage kids in the episode’s opening scene, he later beats himself over failing to sell that property. The episode’s pièce de résistance is a three-minute sequence when Phil avoids being locked out of the house he is selling by sneaking through an open window, which unleashes a series of mishaps. Phil speaks in voice-over as he makes a wealth of outrageous facial expressions trying to get up a pillar onto the roof and into the house. “The Big Game” could be the episode that sways Emmy voters to give Burrell his second Emmy.