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Modern Family embraces change, if only for a moment

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I genuinely can’t remember the last time Lily got an actual, full A-plot on an episode of Modern Family. She was basically “the kid” for a long time, and then when she aged the show mostly ignored her unless it was using her as a punchline for Cam and Mitchell’s stories. I’d give anything to have the show take 80% of Manny’s screen time away and hand it to Lily, just to shake things up and get that abrasive man-child into a more appropriate role, where he appears once an episode to roll his eyes at Jay or say something creepy to a woman.

So, when I read the summary for this week’s episode, I was excited to see that Lily would be getting the spotlight, her fear of wearing a bathing suit to a pool party the main storyline in the episode. Alas, that’s not the case. Lily’s fear is there, but it’s immediately assuaged when she arrives at the party, thrown by a friend of her parents, and the “young people” that were promised to be at the party are all fit, young gay men. That sends Cam and Mitchell into a panic, worrying about their own bodies and failing to take their own advice about self-love that, moments earlier, they were giving to Lily.

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While it’s a shame that the show can’t find more for Lily to do than be a pawn in Cam and Mitchell’s escapades, “Pool Party” is a decent enough episode because it manages to roll out stories that feel thematically and tonally coherent. There are three main plots this week: Cam and Mitchell worrying about their bodies at a pool party; Gloria trying to track down the person stealing “For Sale” signs in order to prove herself to Phil and earn a full-time job; and Claire trying to convince Alex and Haley that being a dedicated woman in the workforce is a worthwhile and fulfilling goal.

The connective tissue is the very loose idea of “change,” and how we can embrace or struggle against it. The episode-ending voiceover feels tacked on, but it doesn’t totally miss the mark. If anything, this is a show that could learn from the very lesson of “Pool Party.” Modern Family has struggled with change, and could use a little motivation when it comes to finding something good in its golden years.

The biggest bit of change might be Haley choosing to go back to work, and leaving her babies at home. Claire books a lunch with her and Alex in order to show off the benefits of being a working mom, a lunch that goes awry when the company’s Smart Closets get hacked and videos of naked customers find their way to the internet. Despite all the naked video nonsense, this is actually a good use of Claire’s laser-focused drive. She’s not overbearing or annoying here, but rather helpful and an example of a path that her daughters could take. We don’t get to see Claire in her element per se, but we do get to see that she has a purpose, and that she wants her daughters to have the same. That’s a layer added to a character who’s usually pretty one-note.

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I’m not sure that Mitchell and Cam’s insecurities completely fit in with the message of the episode, but it’s still interesting to see the disconnect between a parent’s guidance and their behavior (though maybe I’m projecting, as I currently preach the importance of my 1-year-old eating fresh fruits and vegetables while I ordered Domino’s twice this week). Anyways, it’s still refreshing to see Cam and Mitchell brought back down to earth, even if it’s at the expense of a true Lily-centric storyline. Cam and Mitchell are aging, and that means they’re losing part of who they were. Whether it’s looks, interests, or routines, things won’t be the same as they grow old, and accepting that is a healthy thing to do. Using Lizzo’s “Boys” as the soundtrack to self acceptance is a good choice, imbuing this story with a sense of playfulness. A self-love storyline ain’t the worst, is what I’m saying.

I still remain utterly impatient with everything involving Jay, Gloria, and Manny, but much like last week’s review, I will say that the show choosing to give Gloria some real purpose in its final season could be a good thing. I’m glad she’s got this new gig, and that it’s forcing Jay into a new role, even if the comedy here relies on hackneyed gender-flipped scenarios.

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This is the show’s final season. It should be embracing change, and showing us how these characters are/aren’t coping with it all. “Pool Party” isn’t perfect, but it’s a start.


Stray observations

  • Alex is seemingly the most accomplished and noteworthy member of this family, and yet she’s never going to get any actual storyline attention. Destined to be a “check-in” character until the show goes off the air.
  • “Disgusting snow pigeon.”
  • Cam has all the confidence in Lily being a Vietnamese stunner at this party. “Scarlett Johansson would play you in a movie.”
  • “I haven’t felt this ashamed since I liked the movie Green Book.”
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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.