We’ve come to like Modern Family so quickly because the new sitcom has so quickly made its characters vivid and distinctive. Oh, and funny. Little Manny, as played with uncommon adroitness by Rico Rodriguez, has been established in previous episodes as a precocious, articulate kid who can hold a mature, advice-filled conversation with, for example, his step-sister Claire (Julie Bowen).
Until last night, however, we didn’t know that Manny also excelled at a certain sport.
Manny’s skill at fencing didn’t end up being much of a good source for comedy, though. After the initial surprise of this athletic ability, his refusal to compete against a girl was just a momentary hitch in his unstoppable winning. And having the girl be so absurdly sympathetic (an orphan diabetic cared for by a nurse who brought a parade of wheelchairing friends to cheer on the girl) only undercut the humor more. If it wasn’t for Jay (Ed O’Neill) making those “Who Da Manny?” t-shirts and slapping son-in-law Phil (Ty Burrell) too enthusiastically on the sidelines, the Manny-as-fencer scenes would have been less funny than Claire and Mitchell’s sweet school-yard ice-skating.
Even the best sitcoms have an off-night, of course. I still really like Modern Family, obviously. I’m sure next week it’ll be top-notch-funny once again. But this week, what could have been a triumph for Manny’s character got lost too quickly. This excellent show was striving a bit too hard to make its overarching point about the pointlessness of striving too hard for excellence.