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Haley's story moves forward during a Modern Family Christmas

Photo: ABC/Ron Tom
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I’ve said many times this season that pregnancy storylines are tough to pull off. That’s true for many reasons, but namely because it’s difficult to do something fresh and interesting, and it’s even harder to offer up something that doesn’t feel specifically generated to create conflict. On TV, pregnancies almost always come shrouded in negative energy, especially when a younger woman is pregnant. There’s little room for anything but family confrontation, which is why, so far this season, Haley’s pregnancy storyline has been rather refreshing. Sure, we’ve seen the typical narrative beats, but it’s all been handled in a way that feels like a low-key drama, avoiding the hysterics usually present in sitcoms.

“Stuck In A Moment” is the first sign that the hysterics could be coming though. The show’s done a great job using Haley’s pregnancy as a way to tell a very specific story about a character that’s rarely used in any substantial way, but at some point the whole family had to become involved. So, Haley and Dylan decide to surprise the family on Christmas Eve with their announcement. It’s a choice that’s determined equally by the joy of the season and the fact that Phil and Claire are then leaving for a 10-day vacation.

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Nothing goes as planned though. As these things tend to go, there’s just never a right moment to reveal a pregnancy. Claire is overwhelmed about having to host Christmas all of a sudden after Jay and Gloria’s house is overrun by banana spiders. Her stress is only exacerbated when she discovers that Phil’s booked their flights through a shady discount website—never trust “tickets.plane”—and that they’ll be sitting through two six-hour layovers and a fun little thing called Economy Minus, which is just benches in the back of a plane.

“Stuck In A Moment” is the latest in a string of solid episodes, ones that keep the drama low-key while also executing some laughs. Cam and Mitchell’s adventures in parenthood, and namely their inability to keep track of their kids, ends up working pretty well. Lily’s never had much to do or been much of a fleshed-out character, but her transition into a child who’s clearly tired of her parents’ shenanigans has been delightful. It feels meta in a way, a plea for Cam and Mitchell to calm down and stop getting into so many ludicrous situations.

The whole banana spider infestation thing doesn’t work nearly as well. Yet again, Jay, Gloria, Manny, and Joe are the worst part of the episode. Their whole story revolves around elbow cream, and it’s just such a dud. Modern Family doesn’t seem to have any idea how to tell stories about that family anymore. Manny’s girlfriend is absent, Joe’s a nonentity, and Gloria and Jay have nothing new to add at this point.

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But at least there’s success elsewhere. Like I mentioned a few weeks back, Haley’s story remains a reliable source of drama and comedy. The fact that it can act as a consistent throughline for the season is promising, and it continues to pay off. It’s a story that the show can keep coming back to, even when other characters stagnate. So, while Alex going grey and physically shutting down while trying to keep Haley’s secret isn’t all that hilarious, there’s enough elsewhere to keep things afloat.

It’s fun watching Phil and Claire go back and forth with the Christmas tree and the presents, and there’s a great beat involving The Grinch and the visual of Claire dragging a Christmas tree and a sack full of presents down the street. It’s compelling to see Haley struggle with telling her family about the pregnancy, not necessarily because she’s unsure, but because she’s scared of the reaction she’ll get.

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That reaction ends up being both sweet and hesitant. When Haley finally tells the whole family, after Dylan, dressed as Santa, gets stuck in the chimney, she tries to be confident and bold. She says that both her and Dylan are so happy about it. Phil’s face lights up. “Why wouldn’t you be? Wow.” He’s delighted, and Claire comes around too after a moment of processing.

But that’s not the end of things. It’s a sweet moment, but as the family poses for a photo, everything about this situation hits Claire and Phil. “Everything’s going to work out, isn’t it?” says Claire. There’s no answer just yet, and in that uncertainty is more promise for this storyline.

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Stray observations

  • I keep forgetting Cal is a character.
  • Phil’s been working on a children’s book called “The Realtor Who Saved Christmas.”
  • Cam and Mitchel don’t think Lily’s shown enough responsibility to own a cell phone. “I was responsible enough to come to a foreign country and start a life with two strangers,” she says in return.
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About the author

Kyle Fowle

Kyle Fowle is a freelance writer based out of Canada. He writes about TV and wrestling for The A.V. Club, Real Sport, EW, and Paste Magazine.