'Modern Family' and the Joy of Physical Comedy

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The show usually kills with its quips one-liners, but this week it focused on making the audience laugh with actions rather than words

ModernFamily_GoodCopBadDog_post.jpg

ABC


On this week's Modern Family, we're reminded of the wonders of physical comedy. Often, the show's characters make us chuckle with their quips and one-liners, but in this episode, the three funniest moments came not from well-worded phrases with stylish deliveries, but from silly body movements.

Phil and Claire switch their parental personae. Phil, the usually "cool" dad, acted the bad cop part; whereas Claire, the strict parent, played fun mom for the day. Of course, things went awry because neither Phil or Claire could hack it, but the setup brought us our first hilarious comedic moment that had nothing to do with speaking. Phil commands his daughters to clean the bathroom, as he sits and duct-tapes their laptop shut. Haley is tasked with unclogging the drain—a truly gross endeavor. As she pulls the sopping hairy clump from the drain, the girls scream in disgust. Phil tells them to suck it up, but scurries out of view to gag. That little move right there: hilarious.

Over at Mitchell and Cam's, Cam has fallen quite ill on the most inopportune of nights: Lady Gaga night. The diva is set to perform that evening, and Mitchell really (really!) wants to go. After a day of pampering Cam, Mitchell decides to sneak out for the show while his suffering hubby slumbers. As he scampers out of the house, he does a little Lady Gaga victory dance, clamping his hands through the air like a giddy little monster. Given that Lady G is "the one gay cliche I allow myself," Mitchell's moves were quite out of character, ergo, very funny.

Gloria apparently has this problem where she adopts needy people and asks Jay to help them with their lives. This week, she brought in a man, Lin-Manuel, and his poorly behaved dog. Long story short: Jay makes Lin-Manuel cry; Gloria has to clean up his mess. Somewhere in that exchange, Gloria adopts the puppy. It's a very cute animal, but Jay doesn't want it. To convince him to keep it, Gloria opens the dog's arms wide, smushing her Latina face into the air, showing him just how adorable it is. It doesn't work, but whenever the bodacious Gloria does something so inelegant, I can't help but laugh.

Clever writing makes a show funny, but the way an actor interprets those lines take it to the next level. A script can have well crafted lines, but when Cam squeals like a little piglet, flailing his arms like a woman frightened by live lobsters, it steals the show. Not all episodes have the magical combo, but tonight's Modern Family had the best of both worlds.

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Rebecca Greenfield is a writer based in Brooklyn. She was formerly on staff at The Atlantic Wire.

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