Like a lot of people, I've been watching ABC's Modern Family with a constant (maybe even increasing) sense of delight over the past two months. It's been a nice reminder that formulas can indeed work (which is why they're formulas, duh) as long as somebody actually puts something into them and doesn't just present the audience with the naked formula, with its variables hanging out for all the world to see.
Better still, it's picking up at exactly the right time, when a lot of promising new shows start fumbling under the pressure of settling in for the long haul. In the case of last week's episode, "Great Expectations," a crucial character issue was finally addressed, in exactly the right way.
We finally got to see what Claire (Julie Bowen) sees in her oddball husband, Phil (Ty Burrell).
The problem with Phil up to now has been that he's been all problem. Ty Burrell described his character to Entertainment Weekly as "basically a dog that can talk," as evidenced by his constant determination to be his children's pal instead of their father and his complete lack of a poker face when confronted with attractive women who may be his neighbor or his stepmother-in-law but who are most definitely not his wife.
As funny as his antics have been, there was no indication whatsoever as to why Claire would ever have married this golden retriever of a man. And that was beginning to play out in a weary sitcom dynamic: the put-upon, overburdened wife and the idiot man-child husband.
Thank goodness for "Great Expectations."
What went right, after the jump.
It begins with Phil's barely-contained excitement over the anniversary present for Claire — look at him quivering! it's like he's just seen his owner take the leash down from on top of the refrigerator! — and then moves on to his own frustration with the fact that his wife is a terrible gift-giver.
It's not just the fact that the tables are turned, though, since Phil has completely accepted this particular facet of his marriage. It's the fact that when Claire attempts to make up for it by hiring the bassist from Spandau Ballet to play "True" for them, Phil doesn't care that she's forgotten the details of their first kiss (turns out the soundtrack was actually OMD's "If You Leave") so much as he doesn't want her to feel stupid for making such an egregious mistake when she clearly went to great lengths to make such a grand gesture. So he plays along as long as he can to spare his wife the humiliation.
The entire storyline, and Phil's contribution to every aspect of it, is crucial to Modern Family's long-term viability, because it's precisely what the character needed to avoid becoming just another clueless horndog stereotype. Without abandoning the overgrown-puppy aspect of his personality, it became clear that Phil both loves Claire and deserves her love back. Combined with the end of the fabulous web-exclusive "In The Moonlight (Do Me)" video, which features the best fathering we've ever seen out of him, it shows Phil developing into an honest-to-gosh person while still hanging on to his inherent Phil-ness, and not a moment too soon. I don't think I want Modern Family to focus on this side of the character too often, but it's good to see that it's there.