Modern Family Recap: “Princess Party”

It’s official: Modern Family is in a slump. “Princess Party” shouldn’t have been as nearly as meh as it was (I don’t believe Modern Family can ever actually be “bad,” so we’ll stick with “meh” for now). The families (finally!) interacted, Fizbo returned, Claire went crazy, Phil got jealous, and Alex played the theme from Jaws on her cello. And yet, for the first time in the show’s existence, and with the exception of a few gags, I found myself wanting an episode to be over.

In last week’s recap, I wrote about how I enjoyed sitcoms doing callbacks to previous episodes. Well, I still do, but it probably would have been wise for Modern Family space them apart. Season one’s “Fizbo” is probably the show’s best episode, and while I appreciate the writer’s restraint in not showing us Cameron actually performing at Lily’s birthday party, his desperation and dedication wasn’t as funny this time around. Most of the jokes were pretty similar to the original Fizbo episode, with the exception of the pretty funny English-speaking clown scene. Why would the writer’s do back-to-back episodes of season one’s best gags if they’re not a little desperate for plots? (For reference, “Fizbo” was episode #9 last year, while “My Funky Valentine” was #15.)

But Shelley Long as DeDe (another return) was what really dragged “Princess Party,” with nothing in her story that hadn’t already been done — and done better — on other sitcoms, which is surprising. What Modern Family does best is tweaking a trope just enough that it feels new, yet familiar, and always funny — but not last night. DeDe arrives in town for Lily’s party, bringing along Claire’s former-flame, Robbie (played by Matt Dillon, who hasn’t had a good role since There’s Something About Mary over a decade ago). In an action that no mother would ever actually do, DeDe hopes her daughter and Robbie will re-connect, even going so far as to not tell him about, oh, Phil and the kids. When that doesn’t work, where even Luke playing cute (“I need a giant lollipop, and I need it now!”) can’t cheer Claire up, DeDe starts making out with Robbie in front of his limo — and inside, which we don’t see because as they say, what happens in the limo, stays in the limo. In Phil’s words: “All those joke emails she forwarded to me months after I’d seen them? Well, no more polite LOLs for you, DeDe.”

Elsewhere, Mitchell is busy planning Lily’s birthday party and getting Cameron to realize he should be a father on her special day, not a clown, while Jay, Gloria, and Manny are making Lily’s present: a book featuring their recorded voices. It was my favorite plot of the night, with a nice end-credit payoff of Mitch and Cam hearing Jay ask Manny to freshen up his drink.

The stories begin to come together when Gloria first says she won’t go to the party (to Jay’s delight) and then takes it back, saying she should be there (to Jay’s chagrin), but not without the help of Xanax and tequila. The reason she doesn’t want to go: DeDe, which is fine by Jay because he believes DeDe hates her (and why he think she’s cavorting with Robbie). Mitchell, on the other hand, thinks it’s because he didn’t invite her to stay at his house, while Claire, playing the Miserable Daughter card, also wants credit for Crazy Nanna DeDe, saying this is yet another attempt at her mother trying to make her miserable.

In a clever twist, DeDe says the reason she’s making out with younger guys (and it should be noted that Dillon’s only 14 years younger) is because she doesn’t want the rest of the family to think she’s the one who split them up, and because her reason for the divorce was due to her wanting something “different,” she also feels she needs to prove to them that that’s exactly what she’s found. Turns out, though, that it’s all a lot of bullshit, and Jay was right: she is just pissed at Gloria, even going so far as to attack her, leading Phil to exclaim, “I’ve got Gloria! I’ve got Gloria!”

The only person who can save the day: Fizbo! This makes Cameron very happy, especially because he had just tormented a poor princess (played by Kate Reinders, who according to Wikipedia was in that Mohegan Sun commercial where everyone sings about the casino to the tune of “Superfreak”) who, shudder, broke character!

“Princess Party” felt like it was trying to be cute, sometimes literally (Luke) and sometimes obscurely (a grown man wanting to be a clown), and sometimes with a wacked-out Gloria hitting Jay in the nose with a balloon. Having one of those would have been fine, but by having each storyline consisting of more than one cute moment, it was overkill, especially when the rest of the episode was so vindictive (yelling at the princess) and bitter (everything having to do with DeDe). I kind of wish they would have stuck to one extreme, because the way it turned out was a bit of a mess.

Josh Kurp hates both glitter and Glitter.

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