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'Modern Family': Up to the same tricks

January 7, 2010 |  8:56 am

Modern Family

For some reason, I expected something different from “Modern Family” last night.

Curled up in front of my television and wrapped in a Snuggie, volume on an unreasonably loud level and remote in hand (you have to pause and rewind those laugh-too-hard-and-you-miss-the-next-one quips), I was ready for laughs and new antics from my favorite family.

After a holiday break, I just knew the show would come back with the magic that made episodes like “The Incident,” “Fizbo” and, of course, the pilot sparkle and win over critics and viewers.

But the magic hasn’t quite returned in full form. It’s at that awkward stage where of course you’re going to watch – you love the magician – but you can clearly see the feet dangling from underneath the box. For anyone that’s sat through a failed magic show (and you’re an adult), you know the proper thing to do is smile, clap and throw in the occasional gasp for good measure.

This lack of surprise has been an issue of mine for a while, and that’s just me nitpicking. Maybe I assumed someone over at ABC would read my wish list (note: scroll to the bottom of the link) and come to the rescue -- and for the most part they did.

Early on in the season, I complained about the slew of guest stars. Don’t get me wrong, Shelley Long was sublime in “The Incident” – which I still hold as thee episode of the season -- plus a little birdie at ABC told me the awkward Fred Willard guest spot in the last episode, which I found to be such a waste of a great actor and perfect casting, was just a mere set-up for future appearances. 

I’ve been looking forward to Benjamin Bratt’s guest spot as Manny’s deadbeat dad from the moment I heard he'd be on the show. The most endearing moments between Manny and his stepfather is when Manny gets let down time and time again and Jay is there to pick up the pieces. While its comedic, and of course cute, that Manny is this little junior man, we all know the tragic reason is he’s grown up too fast because of having an absentee father. And for a split second, albeit brief because this is a comedy after all, seeing Manny sit on the curb waiting for someone who’s not going to show up is heartbreaking. Especially if you’ve been that little boy.

What I knew Bratt could bring to the character is a new depth the show hasn’t seen: someone who is truly flawed and frankly not a good person. I mean what type of man stands his child up over and over again?

It’s been impossible for me to like Manny’s father even before I’ve seen him. Sure, I judged a book by its cover – we’ve all read the deadbeat dad story before, and it always ends the same.

But this is a comedy, and Bratt is one heck of a charmer, which is what he brought to the table. The whole notion of the stereotypical deadbeat father was turned on its head. As opposed to him showing up and being this awful guy, you get suckered and pulled into his lifestyle of spontaneity and freedom, as does Jay. The side of me that knows what it’s like to be Manny cried foul, but that’s the beauty of good comedy: There are still moments that fool you.

As opposed to seeing Manny get let down for the umpteenth time in the episode, we see him switch roles with Jay. And although I’ve long grown tired of the whole “let's wrap it up in a pretty little bow in the last minute and a half” endings, here it worked quite effectively.

What I, and hopefully most viewers, love most about the show is the family dynamic, which was sadly absent last night. It’s always a bit of a drag watching the episodes in which they aren’t interacting or the main plot doesn’t weave through everyone. It was cute seeing Phil and Claire bicker over the hot firemen, which later turned out to be a tiny gag for Cameron and Mitchell. Call me selfish but I opt for as much Phil with (insert family member here) interaction as possible.

The year is new and although all the magic might not be back yet, I have faith the little magicians over at ABC are warming up their next trick. Maybe next time I’ll pretend to not see the feet before the big reveal.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy (Follow me on Twitter @GerrickKennedy).

Photo: Benjamin Bratt guest-stars as Manny's deadbeat dad. Credit: ABC


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