Photo: ABC/Ron Tom

Throwing Dylan back into the picture was a curious choice for Modern Family. For some time it looked like the show was allowing Haley to move on and become a different, more grown up person, and that necessitated cutting ties with the symbol of her youth. Dylan always felt like a character that wasn’t really built to last, a tertiary character meant to convey something about Haley rather than take on an identity of his own. Coupled with his goofball status, he seemed destined to just fade away as the show began crafting more mature storylines for the kids who’d grown up a lot over nine seasons.

Thus, Dylan’s sudden intrusion back into Haley’s life felt off. Their affair felt rushed, contrived, and overly familiar, probably in part because Haley’s name has been thrown out as the focus of a potential spin-off show that now seems to be either dead or simply on the backburner for the foreseeable future. No matter the reasons, the storytelling, despite some moving moments here and there, didn’t live up to the emotional expectations of the storyline itself, as Haley grappled with ideas of infidelity and the very nature of her romantic future. The reveal of Haley’s pregnancy at the end of the previous episode was shocking, but also worrisome. It felt like another contrived moment with the potential for disaster.

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I wouldn’t say we’re out of the woods with that just yet, but “Kids These Days” is a solid follow-up to that reveal, and does engage in new storytelling possibilities in a way that’s, at least for now, promising. It’s probably a stretch to say that Modern Family is maturing—after all, this is an episode that features a prolonged B-story about football, trigger warnings, and safe spaces, complete with all the flat jokes you can imagine—but the choice to build a lot of this season around Haley is working in an unexpected way. It allows for the other storylines to be the comedic fodder while Haley’s season-long arc can be the dramatic pull.

There’s no telling how it will all play out, but “Kids These Days” is a deftly handled look at Haley grappling with the news. She starts the episode with Dylan at a diner, and she can’t believe that he’s happy, and completely free of any worry. She certainly doesn’t feel that way. In fact, she doesn’t know how she feels. The first scene contains a lot of doubt, as Haley’s mind wanders from one complication to the next. It’s good insight into her mindset; she’s overwhelmed, and that means her mind is racing.

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There’s an emotional acuity here that keeps Haley’s story from devolving into hysterics. Rather than bring in a lot of outsiders and put Haley through the ringer, the episode simply gives her room to sit with her feelings. Sure, this is still a sitcom that has to rush through some narrative beats, but we still see enough of Haley’s thought process to feel connected to her decision about whether to have this baby or not.

There’s a great scene late in the episode that really makes “Kids These Days” worthwhile—the stuff with Mitchell and Phil is cute enough, but hardly noteworthy—as Haley comes home after a day mulling over her decision. She’s been given a raise and a promotion at work, and now, on top of everything else, she’s worried about jeopardizing her career if she does have the baby. When Claire walks in and finds Haley sitting on the floor, you can feel the exhaustion. Haley looks completely worn out; Sarah Hyland does a great job of showing just how much this is weighing on her. For a moment, she considers telling her mom that she’s pregnant. You can see her aching to tell someone, and she’s always been close with Claire.

But she can’t, not yet, so she pivots. She says that she’s excited about the promotion, but that there’s still just so much of her life that she hasn’t figured out. Claire comforts her, telling her that’s the way it is at that age. Then, when Haley starts asking about Claire having her so young, Claire talks about how Phil, who Haley believes was a natural parent from the start, in no way had his life together when they met. But he stepped up when she was born, and that helped strengthen their bond.

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It’s with that knowledge that Haley goes back to Dylan, sees him lovingly working with a kid, and tells him that she’s scared but that she thinks she’s ready. There’s still a lot of ways that Modern Family can bungle this story, but “Kids These Days” is a good start.


Stray observations

  • “I had a totally different idea about what this was, but it’s still beautiful.”
  • I know Cam grew up in the South and all, but it still feels out of character for him to use that kind of motivational language. Such a strange B-plot.
  • I really hope the show doesn’t ditch Haley’s conflicted feelings about her job and the baby and simply focus on the pregnancy.

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