After so many seasons, the emotional landscape of Modern Family is well-known. At more than 100 episodes, even with a larger cast (13 if we count the dog), regular viewers know these various relationships, maybe as well as their own families. Gloria doesn’t like any of Manny’s girlfriends, ever since that girl who put salt in her chocolate milk. Jay is reticent around his kids. Cam is uber-emotional. And Haley and Alex never get along.
So it’s impressive to get an episode like this one that, although it keeps these four strains of the family separate, unites the storylines with an overarching theme, which is right there in the episode title so there’s no chance of missing it: “Crying Out Loud.” Even with this familiar territory, many of our Dunphy-Pritchett family members are hiding their emotions, and nearly all of them feel better when they come clean. Yes, it’s a family sitcom tale as old as time, but how else would we start to wrap up the season? (Last week, the show discussed patriotism, and who saw that coming?)
Even with the too-familiar territory, Modern Family manages, if not to break new ground, at least to highlight the intensity. Gloria has disturbingly moved on to gaslighting Manny into believing that his girlfriend never showed up after his wisdom teeth are pulled. Manny protests being a mama’s boy, but that’s basically what he’s been since day one. Since we all resent the familiar, especially when we see ourselves in other people, it’s not surprising that Manny’s girlfriend resembles a mini-Gloria, which freaks out everyone involved when they realize it. (Just like Haley possibly getting involved with Andy, a mini -Phil.) Maybe after all these years, Gloria is finally ready to let Manny go a little bit, even off to drama camp with Kiley.
Not so with Jay and Claire, even though Jay only uses Claire’s picture at first to pluck his nose hairs. But Claire admits that she wants to turn down another job offer to continue working with her father, and even Jay declares how much he enjoys working with her (during Jay’s fake confession to his friend, watch how Julie Bowen’s eyes well up).
Dark Lily has been a character that’s been inching along for awhile now, aided by Aubrey Anderson-Emmons’ deadpan delivery. The cast made a short about it for the 2012 Emmys:
What’s nice about this episode, even though we never actually see Mitchell and Jay together, is that since Mitchell is Jay’s son, we know where his inability to show feelings comes from, and how this got passed along to Lily. Which means Cam, has to have enough emotionality for everyone (“the whole block!” as Mitchell notes). Through all of Cam and Mitchell’s manipulations, and their weekly foray into fixing things that aren’t broken, by making Lily face things that she may actually be scared of, they again make things worse off than they were to begin with. Here Mitchell is far removed from his father, who pretty much always winds up ahead.
So these three plots ran their course in a perfectly fine manner. But as it did with the Apple episode, leave it to Modern Family to take it up a notch. Again the family must kidnap Alex to go have some fun (shades of dragging her to a music festival just a few weeks ago), so Phil and Luke play a horrible practical joke to get Alex to participate in Senior Ditch Day. En route they wind up in an old crumbling theater that Phil helped to build (yep, not where I thought they’d be going), where he wants to find the kids’ old footprints in cement and Haley and Alex again reach an understanding.
As they do, though, they are backdropped by one of the most inspired pieces of physical comedy I’ve ever seen in a sitcom. Ty Burrell is always game in this regard, and Nolan Gould a ready accomplice. The rake slaps and water main breaks and everything else that Haley and Alex witness behind the curtain become the cartoon they used to watch when they were younger, but it wouldn’t have worked without some highly imaginative art and set decoration: Well done, show. This effective bit even achieved a larger purpose: bringing the girls together, and fulfilling Phil’s desire to hang out with the kids again, even for a single ditch day. Phil realizes that it doesn’t matter if the theater is torn down, because, as he describes the girls’ relationship in a three-word tear-inducing line to the camera: “I made that.”
It all works so well, Gloria’s narration at the end is superfluous. We get that all these parents are preparing for their offspring to leave the nest eventually. Jay may still have Claire with him, but Alex’s departure is imminent, Manny’s is impending, and Mitch and Cam aren’t even sure if Lily won’t pull the plug on them eventually. That’s the ultimate paradox of parenting: Do a piss-poor job, and you could wind up with a slacker in your basement for all eternity. Do the job really well, and you’ll instill enough self-confidence and power in your offspring so that they’ll finally be ready to leave you for good. As Gloria puts it: “We try so hard to keep them close… even though we can’t.”
- “Dad, you know it’s not a movie called Demolition Notice, right?”
- “Sweet Myrna Loy!”
- Next week: season finale. Modern Family has already been renewed for a seventh season. Hopefully it can keep up the momentum of this one, which has been consistently enjoyable.