Episode 15: Heart Broken
By: Carlos Uribe
Modern Family is a show about three branches of a family.
It's time for Modern Family try something new. It decides to change up the format so that every act develops exactly one plot. The first third of the episode concentrates on Phil and Claire. The second third on Jay and Gloria. The final act on Cam and Mitchell. It has mixed results with this change-up: there's a sense that none of the plots are really resolved. It makes sense since the episode needs to find a way to transfer between the different plots but it backfires because there is no feeling of closure. This change of format would have only made sense if there was a fourth act that brought all of the plots together and closed them out or if each plot was self-contained completely. This means giving them all a beginning, a middle, and an end. Each plot does have some sort of ending but it's very rushed and it doesn't feel like it. When the episode ended, I felt like I had just watched an episode that hadn't bothered to complete any of it's plots. It doesn't help that the plots had a mixed record when it came to making me laugh. This is always a concerning problem for a comedy but it can often be helped because if something is working, all you have to do is wait for the next scene. It doesn't work in this case because the next scene remains within the plot. It really calls into attention how one of the plot ideas doesn't work comedy-wise. The final complaint is that the episode presented three different plots but didn't offer a fresh perspective on them. This was a nice experiment by Modern Family and I applaud the show for going out of it's comfort zone but it just didn't work for me.
The episode begins with my favorite family, the Dunphy family. Claire and Phil decide to celebrate Valentine's Day early because they're supposed to babysit Lily and baby Joe. Their special tryst as Clive and Juliana falls short when Claire faints. The two rush to the hospital but they learn that it's only a small medical condition. It's a genetic heart defect that is easily treated. The doctor's orders to Claire to take things slow creates conflict between her and her husband. She's not worried about her health so she wants to finish their night by making love. Phil is concerned, partly because he's worried he was so sexy it gave Claire a heart attack, and he doesn't want to sleep with her. The conflict is expanded when Phil tells the kids what happened after breaking up a party. It should speak a lot about this plot where the only bits that made me laugh out loud involved the kids. It's funny that they have a routine when it comes to hosting a guardian-free party but it's hilarious their reaction to the news that their mom went to the hospital. Of course, the best part was when they went upstairs to speak with their mom to try and be there for her. Their freak-out over Phil's nose-bleed was spot-on perfect. As soon as Claire leans that Phil told the kids, the conflict gets expanded to her not wanting people to worry about her. She believes that she has to be the strong one and that she can't allow other people to care for her. It's basically a conflict that the show has explored like a hundred times before. It gets resolved like all those other times. The conflict might have technically been resolved but I didn't really get any closure. There was no real denouement.
The next family get to spend time with is Jay and Gloria. The two basically try to have sex but they keep getting hit with obstacles. Manny keeps coming in at the wrong moments, they have to babysit Lily, and baby Joe likes to cry. It's basically what you would expect. When the two finally seem like they're going to be able to do it, they get stopped because Jay gets too worried that some kids are playing a prank on Manny. The episode ends with Manny telling the couple the story of his night with the secret admirer. Jay and Gloria don't sleep together. That's basically what happens. The plot does get a few laughs out of Jay's sexual frustration. It does feel like the most complete of all the plots but it still feels unresolved. What helps make this plot work the best amongst all the others is that it's a basic idea that doesn't require a lot of development. A couple trying to have sex but the kids keep inadvertently stopping them? This can be funny and it's the bare-bones of a plot structure. It makes sense that this plot wouldn't end with them getting what they want but that's not my problem with it. That's actually a natural ending for the episode-it's just that it feels like it needed at least a couple more scenes.
The final plot begins with Cam and Mitchell waking up after their party. There is a little bit of a “Hangover” situation after their party as they can't remember everything that happened. The basic signs of a party gone wild appear when they see their cat painted purple. The sight of their neighbor's Christmas decorations in their living room was funny but the conflict came when they found out that Dylan had been invited to move in with them. He had accepted because he needed a place to stay. He can't actually live with them but their efforts to talk to him are complicated because he just makes himself so welcomed. The episode decides to end with Lily talking to Dylan and laying down the law: he can't live with them. She's a bit rude about it but it does resolve their conflict for them. This is a problem of it's own as Lily basically acts as a deus ex machina to get them out of the situation rather than having them actually overcome their own internal obstacles to getting Dylan to move out. The biggest problem of this plot is that it never really made me laugh. I like the idea behind it but it wasn't executed very well as all the jokes were obvious and the plot twists predictable. Even the “sweet” emotional moment where Cam and Mitchell take what the Dunphy couple do for Valentine's Day doesn't feel earned because it's a denouement that wasn't a core of the episode. The idea behind this moment is that the two need to do something fun for each other but that's not what the plot was ultimately about. It might have been the reason for it but it didn't really bring it up again until the very end-after it had been “resolved”.
Heart Broken is a commendable experiment by the Modern Family folk but it would have worked better if it had been broken up. It's possible that the reason none of the plots seemed to actually end is because they were broken up. This was an episode that simply didn't leave me a satisfied viewer because I didn't really get a conclusion to any of the plots. They all felt like they still had at least a couple of scenes left in order for them to truly work. This might not have been a very good episode but I do appreciate a series that breaks away from it's traditional format to try something new.