While I'd argue that Modern Family could easily get better from last season -- stop reusing the same plotlines, don't feel so obligated to stick to a three story-arc per episode format, give Claire a redeeming personality -- such improvements were absent from the first two episodes of Season 3. Last night, in "Dude Ranch" we saw those elements we complained about a few months back to the nth degree. Thankfully, in "When Good Kids Go Bad," things were cleaned up a bit and we were back on track as far as tone and laughs were concerned. And whether or not you agree with all of the show's recent Emmy wins, I think it's safe to say that discerning viewers have reason to believe that this show may not hold up in quality if some serious changes don't start getting made... and if Cam and Mitchell's new baby isn't seriously effing cute.
Let's take a look at what didn't work about "Dude Ranch," and what absolutely did in "When Good Kids Go Bad"
Dumbed-Down Dylan: He's never been the sharpest tool in the shed, but when did Dylan get that stupid? Sure, he sang "In the Moonlight (Do Me)" in front of the entire family, but I had a hard time believing he was moronic enough to get lost in the woods, met a "woman named Jake, who as strong like a man" (really, what even was that? Reminded me of Michael the trainer from Arrested Development) and decide to start a new life in Wyoming? Were the writers that sick of Reid Ewing? And how is Phil still standing without his would-have-been son-in-law?
Ill-Fitting Guest Stars: Oy. Tim Blake Nelson as the horny cowboy did not work for me at all, and let's not get into how many times we've seen that plotline. Jimmy (Matthew Gumley) was an odd choice for this episode, and seemed more like a gag character from an '80s sitcom, or Mad Men's Glen Bishop's long-lost brother, or, indeed, "a Mario brother," as Alex nicely put it. He was just the wrong character for the job, as much as I liked the storyline that Alex's first kiss is nothing like she wanted it to be.
More Gags About Gloria's Terrible Voice: Enough.
A Rape Joke? Reminiscent of Pete Hornberger's 30 Rock joke about having sex with your wife while she's asleep, Phil clumsily told the horny cowboy, "Only we touch our women when they don't want us to." It was nowhere near as offensive -- thank the lord there was no visual cutaway -- but the vestigial one-liner just didn't sit entirely right with me. On that note, let's move on to episode two, and what did work.
"When Good Kids Go Bad"
Over-the-Top Cam: As far as gags I don't get sick of, I love it when Cam takes things too far. Just like presenting Lily (who is so big now, I can't even!) Lion King-style in Season 1 was hilarious, I loved the banner and the sparklers in preparation of the baby-boy-to-be. Even Lily's "I hate the baby" plotline was funny, since it had an edge and a reasonable explanation behind it.
Fair Fights: I'm not into everyone picking on Claire, but she balanced a fair need to be right (since she was demonized so hard by her family this episode) and the realization that maybe she is too much of a know-it-all. It felt like a character was able to actually learn something, and maybe apply it next time -- a quality that the writers allow Claire to have on a pretty regular basis.
Kid Appreciation: The younger actors packed way more punch in the second episode than the last, with Manny's physical comedy (his jokes in "Dude Ranch" were tiresome), the Dunphy kids' group Claire-shaming (oh man, and the satisfied look on Phil's face every time) and every single thing that came out of Luke's mouth, especially: "Give me a day or two to get settled, and then I'll have you up." And seriously, how old is Lily now?!
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