In the sitcom’s annual filmed-on-location vacation episode, The Dunphy-Pritchett adults convene in Las Vegas, where Jay is seduced by the luxury of the resort and finds himself envious of those who have higher levels of clearance, and thus have access to more pampering during their stays, and so tries to convince a casino head to give him and the family black card status; Gloria tries to keep Phil from buying a gigantic statue of a dog in a maid’s costume (the companion piece to a dog in a butler costume he already owns) from one of the casinos’ shops, then goes to great lengths to hide its existence from Jay by temporarily buying it and hiding it in their room, including stoking up his anger against the social stratifying the casino supports; Cam regrets declining a bachelor party of his own when he attends the festivities of his friends’ Tim and Langley’s wild weekend-long festivities – and ultimately ends up lying to a curious Mitch, who, thanks to Higgins’s mistake and his handing the man a room key, finds himself the target of Langley’s amorous advances; Claire uses Phil’s distraction to try to secretly win back a previously-lost nest egg she and Phil set aside for a vacation; and Phil auditions for a secret Magician’s society, upsetting Claire, who seems to be giving him the silent treatment; and their butler, Higgins, runs interference for them all while trying to help them.
In spite of the scenery change, “Las Vegas” doesn’t make Modern Family any funnier than it is when it inhabits its California digs.
I often describe the humor on Modern Family as old-fashioned, and “Las Vegas” provides yet another week of entertainment that does nothing to change this perception. But in this case it’s also a fortunate thing, as the episode’s humor builds and builds to a great crescendo through miles of miscommunication and mistaken identity that ends with a half-dozen shirtless, kilted men kick-stepping through a hotel suite. There’s enough room hopping to make the Marx Brothers wish they were back at the Ritz, and enough mistaken identities to fuel a screwball comedy for decades. All of this is a more burlesque take on Modern Family’s usual antics, and it’s something of a refreshing change.
There’s some nice satire of social mores, too; Jay’s foolish insistence that he deserves a better room due to his connection to a man he barely knows (“I think I heard him cough once on a conference call – why would he treat me this way?”), and Phil’s struggle to fit in with his magical brethren. But this is a rare Modern Family with no lesson to give; it goes straight for the slapstick and stays there.
The biggest problem with all of this frantic slapstick is that the jokes are only mildly funny. A few will raise a smile or a giggle, or even a groan, but most will leave you shrugging your shoulders. Ultimately
In spite of the scenery change, “Las Vegas” doesn’t make Modern Family any funnier than it is when it inhabits its California digs. While Phil’s subplot is particularly fun, there’s a general atmosphere of blahness that the show never quite manages to shake. That makes for a decent, but not a great, episode.
- Events at Tim and Langley’s bachelor weekend: The “bananas in cabanas” pool party (most creative speedo wins two tickets to the Kilty Pleasures, a Chippendales-like all-male review).
- The head of the underground magician’s society is played by comedian Patton Oswaldt, and SNL alum Fred Armisen plays Langley, and Extras/The Office actor Stephen Merchant plays majordomo Higgins .
- A whip? Oh Phil and Claire you’re an inspiration.
- Phil’s screen name on the secret underground magician’s society’s message board is ‘abracadunphy17’. He’s up in the middle of the night a lot because Claire grinds her teeth.
- Names of the magicians also in the secret organization: FlashPaper Finelli, Kaiser Mayhem, and The Kid.
- The name of the maid/dog statue is “Rebarka”.
- This is a rare Modern Family episode where the children don’t appear.
- And also a rare episode that doesn’t end with a voiceover explaining the episode’s moral message.
- Next week: Mitch tries diplomacy when Cam’s father makes them a hideous wedding cake topper; Phil teams up with Gloria to sell her old bachelorette’s apartment, but their mission stops at a salon; and Jay tries to host an evening of family togetherness in “A Hard Jay’s Night”.