A review of last night's "Modern Family" coming up just as soon as I cheat on you with choreography...

When Fienberg and I talked about season two on the podcast a couple of weeks ago, Dan observed that he was still waiting for an episode where everything came together at the end in the style of the strongest season one episodes. So I had to laugh when "Manny Get Your Gun" climaxed with all the characters literally coming right at each other and nearly getting into a four-way car accident.

But then, I was laughing because the rest of the episode had put me in a good mood(*), it was so funny and mostly so well-observed about all the characters. There are episodes of the show where the jokes feel predictable and/or the attempt at warmth feels shoehorned in, but in "Manny Get Your Gun," nearly everything was clicking.

(*) There are comedies - Steven Moffat's "Coupling" was often one of them - that can get away with being not funny at all for a very long time and then being incredibly funny all of a sudden at the end. In general, though, laughter that's consistent or laughter that builds throughout the episode feels more satisfying - and easier in a way. Again, I laughed at the car gag because it was a literal representation of the concept Dan and I had just been talking about, but also because the episode had put me in the frame of mind to laugh and keep laughing.

I've talked a few times this season about how the show could sometimes stand to ease back on a few of the characters in any given episode, but despite having four cars' worth of story, this one didn't feel overcrowded, and none of the character stories felt slight.

The only one I didn't enjoy wholeheartedly was Mitchell and Cam, and that was only because I assumed almost immediately that Cam had made too big an assumption with the elderly potential lovebirds(**), and that one would turn out to be married, or they'd be complete strangers, or something, and that punch was indeed telegraphed. But even that subplot worked out well in the end, with Cam's petulant reaction to Mitchell out-Cam-ing him with the flash mob. Much as Cam presses Mitchell to be more like him, Cam doesn't want to lose his position as the more artistic, flamboyant and plain fun member of the duo, and this was a nice commentary on that.

(**) One of those lovebirds was played by the great character actor Norman Lloyd. God, I remember when he was on "St. Elsewhere" 25 years ago playing a character everyone expected to drop dead any minute. Instead, he's 95, and while he only works on rare occasions (his last credit before this was "In Your Shoes" five years ago), it still does my heart good every time I see the guy on screen.

The question of who gets to be The Fun One was unsurprisingly the subject of the Dunphy plot. Phil's obsession with family camp in general and White power in particular was one of the show's best Phil-related gags in a while - I particularly enjoyed Haley being unable to get through an entire talking head segment to discuss the idea of going back - and the father and his two daughters making each other cry was just plain laugh-out-loud funny. (Alex: "We made our daddy cry!" Phil: "You called me daddy!")

And then there was the concentrated joy that was the Jay/Manny/Gloria portion of our evening. First, Sofia Vergara + BB pistol = awesome. Math fact. (I don't care if it undermines the realism of the show; I would not object to Gloria carrying that thing in every scene from now on.) Second, Manny's premature old man-ism is a very funny character trait, but also something the show, like Manny, has kind of taken for granted. The idea of Jay inadvertently making Manny reexamine his entire lifestyle worked because of course Manny doesn't know how to be a kid. His prank call bounces back on him, mixing sodas grosses him out, and even when he lounges on the floating island, he doesn't bother to take off his suit (and somehow keeps it dry for the party). Etc. Manny's perfectly happy being an old guy in a kid's body who reads the newspaper, etc., and for once the big heartwarming speech at the end (delivered as his toast to himself, rather than a voiceover) actually seemed to fit.

Good stuff.

What did everybody else think?

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