Tuned In

Modern Family Watch: Lips Service

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Although I knew it was coming, I actually missed the kiss between Mitchell and Cameron the first time I watched last night’s Modern Family. (I’m considering that a non-spoiler, seeing as how widely the smooch was reported and discussed in advance.) I looked down for a second, probably typing down some quote, and it was there and gone, neither hidden nor spotlighted; it just happened, the way two spouses kiss at a family get-together. It was so nicely handled, in fact, that I sort of wish it had just happened incidentally, in any episode, without fanfare, rather than one themed around it and titled “The Kiss.”

I’m not blaming Modern Family, exactly, for doing the episode. Having placed a gay couple near the center of a family relationship comedy, it was eventually going to draw notice if they didn’t kiss as any other couple on the show would. So the show made a point of addressing this—but in an episode that stuck to the show’s theme of inherited emotional issues, and in a way that made the point that, ideally anyway, the kiss should not be a bigger deal than any other one.

Was it convenient, for TV sensibilities, that Mitchell should have an issue with public displays of affection? Sure. But honestly, it’s also in character; we’ve long known him to be uptight, especially around other people and couples, and if the show has had any consistent theme, it’s been how he and Claire have been shaped by Jay’s tough, sometimes withholding parenting. So it was fitting that “the kiss” that the episode actually turned on was not the one between Cameron and Mitchell but the one Jay bestowed, with some effort, on his son Mitchell. (“What are you waiting for, a box of chocolates?”)

I wish the rest of the episode around it had been stronger—the Phil and Gloria subplots were each pretty slight (though they briefly and brilliantly came together for Grandma’s printer message from beyon the grave, and Alex’s not-quite-first-kiss storyline was quite sweet). And Gloria’s closing monologue, like most of them on Modern Family, laid on an extra coat of explanation and sentiment that the episode didn’t need. As Mitchell and Cam’s kiss showed, sometimes a theme is most powerful when you just let it play out in the background.

A quick hail of bullets:

* If I’m going to praise the kiss’ subtlety, though, I also have to acknowledge that I was not the only one who didn’t see the kiss at first pass: did anyone out there think the show had chickened out, or wish it were more in the foreground?

* “He blew his lid when she tried to contain him.” That joke is not especially funny at all. But knowing that Phil had spent the entire scene trying to think of it—you can see the wheels turning in his head even at Ty Burrell delivers the line—is hilarious.

* Given that there was bound to be a certain amount of when-will-they involved in a episode built around Mitchell and Cam’s first on-camera kiss, I’m glad Modern Family got a good moment of Cam slapstick out of it, sending him tumbling over the couch at a missed pass. Love hurts, indeed.