Episode 14: A Slight at the Opera
By: Carlos Uribe
Modern Family is a show about three branches of a family.
You know what I really noticed this week? Manny is a young version of Cam in many respects. They have their differences but they're very similar in personality. This episode is a perfect example of this. There is a school play currently being put on production when the lead actor gets sick. Manny decides to take this opportunity to promote himself as understudy of the lead. Manny reveals that he thinks the lead actor was a phony who didn't get the role because he had earned it. This is eerily similar to the “When a Tree Falls” episode where Cam is delighted to take the place of a top actor in a Cats stage performance when said actor falls sick. It wouldn't be difficult to basically swap out Manny in this plot with Cam without significantly changing the dynamics of the plot. Since this week's situation lends itself to very little obstacles, the series creates one when Luke is an amazing singer that Cam happens to hear. Cam wants to make Luke the phantom in the production but Manny is jealous so he tries to undermine Cam's decision. Manny does the right thing by the end, of course, but it does feel like territory the show has already covered before. That the show doesn't really add anything that makes it a distinctly Manny story doesn't allow the plot to take off or really offer anything new. This disappointing plot is compounded in that it completely underutilizes Luke. This is a character who is usually able to salvage weak plots but he was barely given any material to really work with. When my favorite character isn't able to shine then you know that the plot simply isn't clicking. Manny might be similar to Cam but the two are still different and it would have really worked in this plot's favor if it had been able to make Manny essential for it to work rather than using a plot template that could have easily belonged to Cam.
The golf game plot is a little bit better. Jay is teaching Phil how to golf better so that Phil can close deals at the golf course. This makes sense but there needs to be something more than just Phil hilariously failing to do well in the game. That's why the plot introduces Mitchell and Pepper into the mix. Mitchell has been practicing the game for the last six months and he feels confident enough to take on his old man. Why does Mitchell care? It's easy: Mitchell was never good at sports and his father was always expressing his disapproval. This is a plot that tackles quite a lot in such a short time that it never really allows itself to develop naturally or to breathe. It's packed in with three (or four) other plots that basically contains it. That means that when Mitchell is finally able to earn his dad's approval it feels fake. When it ends with “Cats in the Cradle” song playing, the four dads are moved to tears but it all comes across as forced. The idea behind the plot was good but it simply needed more time in order to properly develop. This is essential when you realize that all four characters are actually going through something: Pepper and Mitchell are dealing with their father issues, Jay is working on his patience, and Phil is seeking to improve his game for business and family. There was a way to get them all four to be crying to “Cats in the Cradle” song but that would have required to actually spend time with the plot rather than just dropping in and out as quickly as it did. When will this show learn it can rarely juggle a lot of plots well?
A case in point is the Alex and Gloria plot. This is basically it: Alex is forced to go with Gloria to a psychic. Alex is skeptical because she believes in science. Gloria is a believer. There is room for conflict here but we barely get some because the plot is afforded a minimal time to develop. It does follow some predictable beats (one of Alex's predictions coming true) but it does have some fresh ideas (Alex playing along with the physic for fun) but the beats aren't given that much time to breathe. Alex has to go from being a skeptic who thinks believing in psychics is ridiculous to realizing the value of the belief to Gloria. Is the psychic a fake? Definably but it does provide some emotional closure for Gloria. There's nothing wrong with this plot and it makes sense that it wouldn't be given much time since there's only so much to do with it but even so it still feels very restrained. It would have been nice to know why Gloria believes in psychics rather than just what it meant to her but it had so little time that the plot had to only focus on Alex.
There was also a couple of other plots. The first had to do with Haley and Dylan. The two have to babysit Lily and Fulgencio. The two manage to do a good job which leads to them acting as actual parents. They like it so much that Haley considers that she should be a stay-at-home for her life. This all falls apart when Haley and Dylan get into a major disagreement over ice cream. It's a basic funny plot that does reveal a potential direction for the show to take. In the meantime, Claire uses her free time to basically obsess over an accident she could have had. I thought this was leading to a moment where Claire was actually going to fake being injured but it literally doesn't go anywhere. It sort of just ends when Claire finds out Haley is thinking about being a stay-at-home mom as she tries to foil their plans. There really wasn't a plot with Claire even though she was mostly on her own in her attempts to prove a point to herself. I'm not sure why they didn't just cut out Claire's accident thing considering how it wasn't that funny nor did it justify dedicating so much part of the episode towards it and away from the golf plot. Claire would still have played a role in the beginning and the end of the episode so it's not like the writers needed to create something for her.
A Slight at the Opera is an episode that has it's moments but it's too crammed together for any of the plots to really work. The golf plot needed a lot more time for it to reach the emotional climax that it wanted, the psychic plot could have used a scene or more to flesh out Gloria's view, and the stage plot could have been more about Manny rather than anyone. Finally, too much time was spent with Claire that could have been spent elsewhere.
It really wouldn't be that hard to make Luke not want to do the phantom-all Manny has to do is bring up the time that Luke was stuck in the harness in the season two episode “The Musical Man”.
I am a big fan of “Cats in the Cradle”. Points to the show for using it.