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Facing Fears: An Advance Review of Tonight's "Modern Family"

What are you terrified of? is it spiders? Heights? Rollercoasters? What is the one thing that gets your heart beating?

It's the question at the very center of tonight's sensational episode of Modern Family ("Fears"), written by Steven Levitan and directed by Reginald Hudlin, which revolves around the very diverse fears of the extended Pritchett clan as they each grapple with something holding them back.

I had the opportunity to watch "Fears" last weekend in at the packed Saban Theatre before Modern Family's panel at the 2010 William S. Paley Television Festival and have to say that it might just be the series' best installment to date, overflowing with humor, heart, and an exploration of the very universal fears we all have.

Narratively, "Fears" might just be the most ambitious episode of Modern Family we've seen so far, offering several plot strands that include Phil and Luke exploring the crawl space underneath the house, Manny not wanting to go to a party because of his fear of rollercoasters, Haley attempting to pass her drivers' test for the third time, Alex refusing to go to a school dance, and Cam and Mitchell inviting Lily's pediatrician over for brunch.

It's the latter story that's the most heartbreaking and hilarious as Cameron and Mitchell are shocked and depressed when Lily's first word ends up being "Mommy," causing them to doubt their parenting skills and creating the world's most awkward and uncomfortable brunch. There's a nice twist (two, actually) at the end of the storyline that put things into perspective and offer another novel approach to fear-based behavior.

Likewise, Phil is forced to face his own fears in this episode when he and Luke go treasure-hunting under the house. A seething ball of neuroses, Phil has admitted a deathly fear of clowns in the past but his phobias extend to spiders and other creepy-crawlies. Making his exploration of the crawl space extremely difficult, really. But this being Phil Dunphy, he comes up with his own innovative way of checking out just what's under the house, though he too must contend with an unexpected twist.

Look for Phil to make the ultimate sacrifice, Claire to offer possibly the most embarrassing example of dancing ever, Gloria to prove that she is a master manipulator (in more ways than one), and everyone to conquer their fears in one way or another.

I don't want to give too much away about this fantastic episode but I will say that in the deft hands of Levitan and the talented cast, this installment features some envelope-pushing humor that's definitely not of the PC-variety. And I wouldn't have it any other way. No other family comedy has excelled at fusing together the awkward and uncomfortable with the heartfelt and the bittersweet in quite the same way--or with the same level of success--as Modern Family has... and that's nothing to be afraid of.

Modern Family airs tonight at 9 pm ET/PT on ABC.


MyTBoosh said…
I was also lucky enough to see this at the Paley fest and LOVED it. Definitely one of the best yet and I can't wait to watch it again tonight!
Allison said…
First off, I have to thank you for the fabulous (linked) 2/28 post about the writers, their background, and how their experiences are used on the show. I related that to my husband and he loved it - particularly the "Manny in a burgundy dinner jacket". I thought a brilliant writer dreamed that up. In any case, it was very funny, original, and endearing.

And great..

And Modern Family fans seem to be coming out of the woodwork. Levitan recounted a story in which a friend of his went to an event in Washington D.C. and saw a man wearing a Clive Bixby name tag. (HA!) Burrell said that a homeless man in Central Park stopped playing a two-stringed fiddle to say that "Not since Frasier has a show come on the air so completely confident about its tone as Modern Family."

I almost hate to say it because I fear the power of the jinx...but I think we're a golden of age of sitcoms right now, with "Modern Family" being the gem of the group.
(Other's mileage may vary..but clearly it's a beloved show, already.)

Great review..if it's better than "Fizbo", I may not be able to stand it.

I can't remember a show that's made me have to stop watching so often, so I can breathe again from laughing so hard.
derby said…
if only they would lose the documentary angle. it does not work. it takes away. same for parks & rec - totally unnecessary.

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