To a TV executive, I’d imagine the phrase “special guest stars Elizabeth Banks and Edward Norton” would conjure up images of creative brilliance and ratings gold. But in actual practice, the stunt casting of the former as a boozy child hater and especially the latter as dreary Spandau Ballet bassist Izzy LaFontaine, threatened to derail last night’s episode of ABC’s normally consistent freshman hit.
To be honest, Norton can’t take all the blame for not scoring a single decent laugh during the Spandau bit. Sure, his British accent was too strained, his “I love the ’80s” hair too obvious, but the idea behind the shtick – that Julie Bowen’s Claire couldn’t come up with a better anniversary present for hubby Phil than free-hug coupons – didn’t seem remotely credible.
Phil’s initial confessional response (“I can’t not think of things I want!”) was as amusing as his list of useless dream gifts (yogurt maker, bug vacuum, night-vision goggles), but everything else about the story arc played out in ways that were at once unfunny and unbelievable. And perhaps because of that, the final slow-dance denouement failed to move me in the way the show’s sappy-happy endings usually do.
Banks fared a little bit better as the party-gal pal of Mitchell and Cameron with violently jealous feelings toward their newly adopted daughter. I’ll admit I howled at her “I will throw her in the ocean!” outburst, as well as Cam’s response when Mitchell asked if he could touch Sal’s new breast implants (“You’re drinking a passion-fruit daiquiri. I’ll be fine.”). But again, one of the reasons Modern Family works so well is that its characters – neurotic, wacky, and heightened as they may be – always behave in ways that make sense, that draw parallels to the real characters in our own lives. Which is why I don’t buy that neither of these enthusiastic gay dads popped a gasket at Sal’s suggestion that the child they’re so devoted to deserved to be killed for potentially thwarting a trip to Cabo.
Fortunately, Western night with the grandkids at Jay and Gloria’s salvaged the half-hour, particularly Jay’s ninja-like efforts to thwart Haley’s trip to a nearby party, and Gloria’s rancid lullabies for Lily. (“Lily likes that? That singing?” “So Lily’s deaf.”) Again, though, Manny’s sudden crush on his niece-by-marriage Haley didn’t feel right, perhaps because it still had the pricetags from the Arrested Development store on it, perhaps because unlike the Maeby/George-Michael pas de deux, Manny-Haley doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have the overarching danger of actually sparking some fireworks. My advice to the show’s writers: Drop this subplot like ABC dropped Eastwick. Go easy on the stunt casting. And no need to check for a pulse, like Luke hilariously did to Jay…I’m pretty certain that despite last night’s disappointment, Modern Family’s got plenty of life in it.
What did you think of last night’s show? How did you feel about Norton and Banks? And what were your favorite lines of dialogue? Holla back in the comments section below!