“Good Cop Bad Dog” was the first Modern Family episode directed by Fred Savage. Unfortunately, it was also the first Modern Family episode in 2011 that I genuinely disliked.
The writing didn’t help. The Jay (Ed O’Neill) and Gloria (Sofia Vergara) storyline was fairly pointless.All it did was provide an entertaining Lin-Manuel Miranda cameo and introduce a dog to the Pritchett family. Both the Dunphy and Tucker-Pritchett narratives portrayed Claire (Julie Bowen) and Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) in extremely negative lights.
Critics often laud the talented cast of Modern Family. In this episode, the actors tried admirably, but ultimately even Ty Burrell and the increasingly agile child actors couldn’t save the show. Like The Office and Parks and Rec before it, Modern Family makes use of the pseudo-documentary film style, with on-the-couch intercuts where characters comment on the main story’s action. These bits are often a good opportunity for some sly, unexpected humor. However, every single couch session seemed strained in this episode, with jokes telegraphed a mile away. See Mitchell’s leg crossing joke, for one.
A common complaint for this season is that the character of Claire has become a caricature of a shrill, demanding wife. In “Good Cop Bad Dog,” Claire and Phil (Burrell) switch parenting roles. Phil yells at the girls to clean their bathroom, Claire takes Luke (Nolan Gould) and Manny (Rico Rodriguez) go karting. Phil attempts to be nice, but when the girls disobey him, he quickly becomes an overly strict authoritarian. Claire falls to understand how to have fun, and forces the boys to eat too much and do too much. At the end, the parents decide to revert to their regular roles.
This storyline suffered from the same complaint I have toward every narrative in this episode. First, there were very few jokes I found actually funny. Second, there was no character development. Claire and Phil switch roles. I expected the two to learn the usual sitcom lesson, that both roles are equally difficult and that no one has to completely be Bad Cop or Good Cop. Instead, we got a rushed ending in which the two decide to stop their experiment and return the family to status quo. Boring.
If Claire has become more and more insufferable, so has her brother Mitch. In this episode, Cam (Eric Stonestreet) falls sick on the day before a long-awaited Lady Gaga concert. Mitch debates with himself whether to stay behind and take care of Cam, or to go off and enjoy the concert on his own.
Not only does Mitch seem incredibly selfish throughout the episode, but there isn’t even a lesson learned by the end. He doesn’t suddenly realize the importance of being there for his partner. He doesn’t regret his selfishness. He just takes advantage of Cam’s sleepiness, goes off to the concert, and then rushes to extricate himself from the mess when Cam finds out at the close of the episode.
Jay and Gloria deal with one of Gloria’s projects, a man (Miranda)who has a terrible business idea to show Jay. Jay points out the obvious flaws, the man is saddened and leaves. Stuff happens, and the Pritchetts end up with a dog. That’s it. There’s a big deal made when Jay struggles with keeping his tough guy exterior in the face of an adorable puppy.
O’Neill is wonderful at playing the strong papa bear patriarch, and his moments of emotion can be authentically evocative. In “Mother’s Day,” Jay’s final breakdown was touching. In “Good Cop Bad Dog,” his decision to keep the dog after all was rote and banal.
For a light network comedy like Modern Family, I can forgive missteps in plotting and lack of depth. However, as a whole, the show lacked the laugh out loud moments that made it a hit. The show doesn’t have to be smart to be enjoyable, but it does have to be funny. This episode wasn’t.