This season of Modern Family seems like it’ll be turn out to be much the same as the last two: riotously funny, tremendously warmhearted, and alarmingly inconsistent. There are episodes of such comedic perfection (last week’s “Schooled” came close) and then there are episodes like “The Butler’s Escape”, which is neither very bad nor very funny. Ultimately, though, the show turns out at least ten or twelve instant classics and convinces us to keep watching for another season or five.
The night’s festivities continued Cam’s story arc introduced last week, in which he’ll take the vacant music teacher position at Manny and Luke’s school. There’s a very funny moment in the cold opening on when Cam’s practicing his – well, his Camming – late at night and Lily comes out of her room to unplug the electric piano. Some fun’s to be had in hearing Cam’s plans for his first class, as well as his ridiculously high expectations. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I got slow-clapped out of my first class,” he sniffs humbly.
Things go awry when class starts, and not in the way the Modern Family crew were hoping for. It’s a given that if you give Cam a teaching job that Eric Stonestreet will give a magnificently hammy and overdone performance – for the sake of the kids, of course. Anyone could’ve told you that, and that’s the problem. They say we laugh when we’re surprised, and there’s absolutely no shock in seeing a roomful of kids staring blankly and derisively at Cam’s EGOT-worthy spectacle. Usually familiarity is a sitcom strength, but it seems like we’ve already seen Cam embarrass himself in front of a group of strangers at least twice this season already (not to mention the school play debacle of seasons past), to the point where it’d actually be funnier if the kids were in tune with Cam’s unique teaching style. Mitch, meanwhile, is busy taking care of Lily, and he’s horribly flustered in customary Mitch fashion. The switching dynamics of their relationships, which eventually leads to their re-switching of roles, has been done so many times their entire storyline felt like it was on autopilot. Still, wondering how Lily could possibly get stuck behind the glass of the frozen foods section gave me considerable amusement.
Meanwhile, Gloria’s snoring is keeping the whole house in a perpetual state of insomnia, and Jay decides to spend the night in a hotel. He’s admonished by Claire, who seems more interested in Gloria’s weight gain than in Jay’s marital insensitivity. This one, too, is so predictable it hurts. Gloria eventually discovers where Jay is (thanks to a bizarre tip-off from Manny, no less!), shouts a few average one-liners rendered hilarious by Sofia Vergara, and then says what she loves about her relationship. I don’t know about you, but I would like the producers to release a flowchart about what Jay Gloria love about their relationship, because it seems every episode one of them paraphrases last episode’s endearment, tweaking it slightly to reflect the situation.
Strangely, the weakest link in the episode is arguably the most inventive. Phil is continuing the show’d long tradition of living vicariously through Luke, who’s shaping up to be a magician with a considerably larger amount of talent than IQ points. Luke wants to quit magic, though, and Phil challenges him to complete The Butler’s Escape, a Houdini-esque trick that only true magicians can pull off. If Luke can pull it off, he gets to quit magic. Claire is busy dealing with Alex, who’s mourning Haley’s move to college by spitting acerbic taunts at everyone in the family. Haley is MIA until the last minute of the episode, and it shows: the episode feels incredibly incomplete. These storylines both have promise and zest. The problem is, they’re remarkably short on laughs. That rings true for most of the episode. Is “The Butler’s Escape” well-acted and watchable? Certainly. But it’s no Modern Family.
“The Butler’s Escape” Rating: 5/10 ★★★★★