Recap and review for Modern Family – Season 4 Episode 10 – Diamond in the Rough
Modern Family soars when it finds a way to bring all the different threads of its narrative together. “Diamond in the Rough” is one of the most successful episodes to employ this interconnected structure, as all the different plot threads require one another in order to work. Well, except the plot of Jay (Ed O’Neill) and Gloria (Sofia Vergara), but that’s still a remarkable ratio, and their plot’s inessential nature doesn’t mean that it isn’t successful in its own right. Modern Family likely isn’t going to do this kind of story every week, given the exigencies of putting out a show like this on a given timetable, and given how much time goes into making a plot like this cohere. But even if it’s only every now and then, episodes that integrate the family into a networking plot structure, in which each element of the overall storyline contributes to the success of the episode, are always going to work, particularly if solid comedy is in evidence, as it is here.
While renovating open land into a baseball diamond for the boys’ unexpected championship game, Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Claire (Julie Bowen) get the idea to purchase a local house and flip it for a profit. Their gung-ho attitude about the project is uncommonly infectious, yet that enthusiasm doesn’t carry over to Phil (Ty Burrell) or Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). While Mitchell puts the kibosh on the project immediately, Phil has to pretend to be enthused about the proposal, as his personality is inherently that of a cheerleader (“I’m the guy at the top of the pyramid, shouting ‘Go Dreams Go!’”). He could never bring himself to directly destroy another person’s hopes and dreams, and so he leaves Mitchell to be the bad guy, but not before putting on a mock show of trying to convince Mitchell to endorse the house-flipping, in an amusing bit that plays on Claire and Cam’s misunderstanding of what they’re seeing between Phil and Mitchell. The scheme quickly spins out of control, however, as Mitchell decides he doesn’t want to be the bad guy, and decides to endorse the project in order to force Phil to speak up against it, and play the bad guy himself, for once. Eventually, Phil and Mitchell are trading angry texts that get intercepted by Claire and Cam, and blow up the entire charade. It’s a comedy of errors that works precisely because so much of it is predicated upon what we know about the characters: enthusiastic Cameron, cheerleader Phil, obstinate Mitchell, and Claire, who is desperate to contribute to her family’s finances by providing income of her own. Ultimately, Phil and Mitchell softening in their stance when they see what a good job Cam and Claire did with the baseball field. All in all, it’s a very character-rich story.
Better still, it loops into the story between Manny (Rico Rodriguez) and Luke (Nolan Gould), who are preparing for the big game. The team’s star players, a pair of twins, have to miss the game due to a loss in the family, and so Manny is going to be playing for the first time in the season. The sessions between Luke and Manny don’t really go anywhere, as far as teaching Manny anything of substance as a baseball player, yet it’s a funny series of scenes. It’s easy to believe that Manny only agreed to join the baseball team because he would never actually be required to ever do anything. Hell, the kid calls batting practice “hitting practice”, and doesn’t understand the phrase “choking up” on the bat. So we know that Manny developing into even an adequate athlete is going to be nigh on impossible. And that’s why it’s funny, particularly once Luke realizes that Manny’s best talent is getting hit by the baseball, as he’ll be able to take a base and get more runners out there. It’s a plan that succeeds, and sees Manny having his name chanted by his jubilant team…even though Manny has no idea which way the bases are run (adding to the comedy that even though Manny was on the team for the entire season without ever lifting a finger, he apparently never even watched any of the games, likely having his head buried in a book). It’s solid all the way around, and it dovetails nicely into our third storyline this week.
Gloria has hooked up an audio system onto her stomach that will allow her to speak to the baby, with the unborn child experiencing his/her mother’s voice through the vibrations from the microphone. Yet Jay starts to feel bad for the kid, who’s essentially a captive audience to Gloria’s insufferable singing voice, in a callback to an earlier episode in which we learn that, while Gloria is unquestionably beautiful, her singing voice most definitely isn’t. This is some of the episode’s best stuff, comedically, as Sofia Vergara really digs into the “bad singing voice” scenes, with Ed O’Neill dead-panning his way through Jay’s misery at being subjected to all this noise. It isn’t much as a storyline, but it’s probably the strongest element of the episode, from a comedic standpoint, as Jay finally tells Gloria she can’t sing, but only after getting her to promise they won’t fight “in front of the baby”, giving him the upper hand to say whatever he wants without her yelling at him, since the baby is “always in front of” her. Unfortunately for Jay, he doesn’t realize until it’s too late that Gloria is simply going to catalog all her grievances, and then unleash hellfire on him once the baby is born. “I didn’t think this all the way through”, a horrified Jay tells the camera. And the abrupt cut away from that declaration is one of the episode’s best editing choices.
Overall, “Diamond in the Rough” is one of the best episodes of the season. This is thanks, in large part, to the effectiveness in involving so much of the family in a storyline that relies upon everyone’s direct involvement. We’re getting closer to Gloria’s baby being born, and hopefully, that storyline will provide more opportunities for this kind of storytelling, as it’s one of the many things Modern Family does so well, and yet not nearly often enough.
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