Modern Family is already through episode 11, and it's showing all the signs of a long-lasting life on network television. The keys components are all there: consistency, strong acting, and trans-episodic jokes (Jay's "Of course you were" is the new "I made a huge mistake" from Arrested Development).
Last night's episode, "Up All Night," also flaunted Modern Family's finesse in featuring guest stars. Benjamin Bratt played Manny's absentee father and did a fantastic job of being a well-mannered guest (star); he never tried to steal a scene or overplayed his Latin-lover stereotype. That's how it's done, Ed Norton. He's also nicely set up to recur, and his character was given enough backstory in prior episodes to really flesh out the role. We learned that Javier is not just an irresponsible parent, but that he's also a charming man with endless connections and a shady past.
But what Modern Family really excels at is giving each cast member plenty of screen time, and that artful balance was on full display last night. The returns of Manny's father and Phil's kidney stones served as dueling A-stories, while Cameron and Mitchell's parenting disagreement served as the episode's B-story. Yet, Cam and Mitchell still got plenty of camera time and were handed some of the episode's best jokes. There are arguably ten main characters on the show, and we know each one of them intimately—that's hard to pull off, but Modern Family's writers have done it. We don't usually give episode grades around here, but I'm slapping an A-minus on this one.
Other notes on the episode:
Best Gag: Cam's crying while listening to the baby monitor, and Mitchell's annoyance at having to deal with TWO babies.
Episode MVP: Sofia Vergara. I'm still amazed at how she's jumped into an American sitcom so flawlessly, and that her Charo for the new millennium never gets old. Ed O'Neill and Benjamin Bratt earn honorable mentions.