S5: Polished and funny, even if the big name guests and novelty episodes do make the nature of the show apparent
I pretty much say the same thing every season about this show – that I'm no fan of very polished network sitcoms – although I do keep coming back to this one. The reason is that, as well as being slick and polished a product, it is also consistently funny. This season continued that trend, although it also continued the trend of being more and more 'corporate' as it continues to be successful and have ratings to hit. This season has a loose structure around the theme of Mitchell and Cameron's wedding, allowing enough of a narrative to hold it together but not enough so that it gets in the way of generally being looser weekly episodes.
As before the writing has lots of good lines, and the plots are mostly good. I do have to give credit to the show for things like, for instance, adding a baby to the show but never needing to really use that baby as a plot device (indeed at times I wonder why they added the child as it doesn't seem to add a great deal to the show). This is the same here, so the wedding is a solid plot, and although topical it doesn't seem forced to make things happen. If anything I thought what was less successful was the expansion of several things that remind me this is a network sitcom. The novelty episode is the most obvious one – not the standard 'weekly' free-standing episode, but the one that has a novelty hook to be trailed the week before and make it stick in viewers' minds. The best example is the Australian episode, which comes out of nowhere, but gets the show away from the usual setting which cannot help buy freshen it up. Of course, this is balanced by the episode being very funny, but it does come with that feeling. Similar to this is the sheer volume of famous faces in cameo roles; some work, some don't but generally it does start to feel like a show trying to keep relevant and fresh and get those ratings up.
That said, such things are minor complaints because generally the writing is funny, and the main cast are very talented with their delivery; O'Neill is reliable of course, Burrell has great physical comedy, and even Anderson-Emmons has good timing even if she continues to walk a very fine line between cute and annoyingly precocious. With such an ensemble cast though individual weaknesses do not come through so much (for instance, too much of Manny is never a good thing, so we never get too much!). The scale and age of the show may mean it is not as fresh and new as it once was, but the weaknesses that comes with this generally do not cancel out the show being funny and well performed.
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