Family Mashup: Insecurities, generic plots and wasted cameos

Modern Family
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This week, “Modern Family” delivered another solid half-hour, while “Young Sheldon” churned out an episode so head-scratchingly bad that it is a wonder why the entirety of it wasn’t cut in the editing room.

‘This Is Us’

The last episode of season two, “The Wedding,” aired March 13. Read our recap and review here.

‘Modern Family’

“Royal Visit” continues a recent string of sharply written installments for “Modern Family.” The episode, despite not containing as many obvious gags as last week’s “Wine Weekend,” particularly distinguishes itself by finally giving both Haley (Sarah Hyland) and Alex (Ariel Winter) the compelling story arcs that they deserve.

Indeed, the success of “Royal Visit” lies in the character work it is able to pull off. Each storyline is framed around an insecurity that a character struggles to overcome. During a couples retreat, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) tries to find ways to open himself up to other people, while Cam (Eric Stonestreet) begins to realize that the secrets he often keeps from Mitchell are only going to harm their marriage. Phil (Ty Burrell) and Claire (Julie Bowen), meanwhile, are still trying to somehow prove that they are smarter than each other. Jay (Ed O’Neill) and Gloria (Sofía Vergara), on the other hand, do not really have any issues related to each other. Their pressing concern is to prove that they are as cool and hip as the new parents on the block.

Phil and Claire’s laughable battle of wits turns out to be the most engaging plotline of the bunch, as it incorporates their children into the mix. The couple’s attempts to outmaneuver each other soon spill over into a “meet the parents” dinner with Haley, Alex and their respective boyfriends. As the dinner understandably goes awry, Haley notices that Alex is embarrassed of the person she’s dating. The two sisters then proceed to have a much-delayed heart-to-heart, and Haley reminds Alex to not treat her boyfriend the way she treated Haley when they were kids.

In its later seasons, “Modern Family” has often forgotten to utilize the burgeoning acting talents of its young ensemble. Haley and Alex’s conversation rights that wrong a bit, and it signals a focus on their individual storylines that hasn’t been seen in quite some time.

If “Modern Family” wants to ends its run with a bang, it should continue to look for opportunities to explore the lives of the now-grown-up Pritchett and Dunphy children.

On that note, where is Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons)? For someone who is ostensibly a member of the main cast, we have seen curiously little of her this season.

‘Young Sheldon’

Young Sheldon

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“Killer Asteroids, Oklahoma, and a Frizzy Hair Machine” is yet another trite and undercooked half-hour of “Young Sheldon.” It squanders the brilliant Jason Alexander, long renowned for his comedic chops, in a guest-star turn that has him dress up and “comedically” play the titular character in the “Annie” musical.

The central premise of the episode can be summed up in one sentence: Sheldon (Iain Armitage) faces an existential crisis after losing out on a science fair, and he tries to drown his sorrows by taking up acting as a rebound. That’s it. There are no B-plots that develop the side characters in any meaningful way, nor is there an exuberance of wit to make up for the lack of meat in the main arc. Aside from a cutesy montage that has Sheldon dancing, singing and monologuing during an audition, there’s little to showcase the considerable acting talent that child actor Armitage brings to the table.

The episode’s most infuriating creative choice is its unwillingness to offer any sort of growth for Sheldon. He soon gets stage fright before the opening night of his play. It would actually be a relatively clever story beat for him to put his fears aside and become inspired by Mr. Lundy’s (Jason Alexander) corny speech. Predictably enough, though, Sheldon lets his insecurities get the better of him, and Mr. Lundy has to take his place.

Apparently, somebody on the creative staff thought that the sight of an adult dressing up as Annie and humiliating himself can elicit anything resembling a chuckle. If “Young Sheldon” really wanted to do something unique, it could have made the play a star-making turn for Mr. Lundy and actually allowed him to play the role of Annie with some panache. But “sight gag” was all that the creators were looking for when they approved this particular arc.

“Young Sheldon” used to be better than this. Now, it’s just actively letting the cheap and tired gags rust out the sheen of its once promising freshman season.

Arjun Sarup covers television. Contact him at [email protected].