When an episode of Modern Family isn’t really funny, we can usually overlook this because the narratives are executed and tied together well. The fourth season explored some more serious issues and tried to pull at the viewer’s heart strings and to be fair, most of the time they did it extremely well, but this week their efforts are underwhelming.
In “Games People Play”, Phil acquires a brand new RV and has high hopes of going on a fun family trip. As usual, Claire is adamant that she knows best and is determined to prove that he’ll regret the decision once the kids start bickering. When the kids are actually enjoying themselves and are being nice to one another, Claire gets caught up in spitefully willing her kids to turn on each other. It’s executed well but really doesn’t provide much hilarity because it’s conceived as a Claire-centric storyline and like I said last week, she doesn’t get many wins on the show. When a bee finally provokes a full-on slap-fight, Claire smugly refuses to intervene before Phil flees in despair. The only funny part about this storyline is the scene Phil shares with the other RV-dads. The dialogue is great, as one dad mentions he’s been through every state: “Depressed, catatonic, Arkansas…” When they gather enough courage to return to their RVs, it’s Claire who has had the epiphany. Feeling guilty about ruining their dad’s plans, the kids share what’s really eating them up. The moral of this storyline is that kids are people too. Parents often take kids bickering with each other as a common annoyance, but in fact, there is a person beneath the fighting that is dealing with something that sets them on edge in the first place. The intentions of the storyline are good but it’s just not put together well enough. Alex being dumped by not one, by two guys feels too rushed since Haley only just gave her a dating lesson and the Laker-girl audition is ridiculous and cringe-inducing.
Meanwhile, Manny has misplaced his backpack and Jay and Gloria go with him to hunt it down. When Gloria breaks into Claire’s house, followed by Mitchell’s, she discovers Cam and Mitch have held a game night without them. Again, this storyline is executed well but lacks hilarity. There are a few lines and moments that are funny, but again there just isn’t enough this week. The best gag here involves the deliveryman who gets caught up in Jay’s mission to prove that he’s great at Pictionary and Gloria is terrible. Their obsessive need to compete with each other is growing tiresome and sadly, really isn’t all that funny this week.
Like most weeks, it’s Cam and Mitchell’s storyline that is the strongest. Whilst their home is getting ransacked, they are at Lily’s gymnastics tournament and this week we see Mitch get caught up in Cam’s enthusiasm for their daughter’s athletic skills. Not only is this an interesting storyline, it’s very funny. Jesse Tyler Ferguson is outstanding this week, he and Eric Stonestreet make a fantastic duo. Turning into “Stage Dads”, Mitch and Cam spend the episode being catty and causing a commotion among the other parents – due to Cam offering to help the other mothers with their daughters’ hair, only to be accused of sabotage. This storyline features a lovely twist where we see Lily being a good team player and comforting a competitor who falls off the balance beam. Much like Claire, Cam and Mitch keep missing all the good stuff by focusing on the bad and the three of them hardly notice what great kids they are raising.