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Modern Family gets back to basics

Illustration for article titled Modern Family gets back to basics
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Sometimes all it takes for a sitcom to succeed is sticking to the most basic formula. Set up some low but intriguing stakes, create a little conflict, explore how that conflict effects each character, and then come to a tidy but meaningful resolution. There’s nothing wrong with a tight, harmless, funny 22 minutes. Sure, it’s good to see sitcoms move out of their comfort zone every once in awhile, and certain shows are often at their best when they’re moving into uncomfortable, challenging places—Black-ish comes to mind—but Modern Family often isn’t one of those shows. That’s not to say that it can’t present challenging, complex episodes, but rather that in its eighth season, it’s more likely to deliver something perfectly amiable instead of confrontational.

Last week’s episode was a mess of strange intentions and whiffed attempts at subverting stereotypes. In contrast, this week’s episode, “Blindsided,” is more sure of itself. It doesn’t do anything unique or exciting, but instead settles into a nice groove, telling a solid story about companionship, respect, and communication, connecting the various subplots to make something satisfyingly whole. This isn’t faint praise, even if it sounds like it. It’s meant as a compliment to the form, to what a sitcom can achieve when it’s keeping things loose in terms of comedy and stakes.


“Blindsided” contains three separate storylines that, in essence, tackle similar themes. The first sees Cam take in the school football team’s star player—and seemingly only good player—Dwight after his dad is forced to move to Florida, therefore keeping the star on the team for the remainder of the season. Of course, Mitchell isn’t happy that Cam made the decision without consulting him, so he wages a war of “who will blink first” when he brings a huge dog into the house against Cam’s wishes. The second storyline involves Luke finding a new sense of purpose in running for Student Council president, only to then be conflicted about running against Manny and the pressure that comes from Claire for him to pull off a big win.

Given less time is the story of Haley finding a new job as a club promoter, staying out until the early morning but managing to earn $500 a night. While that subplot doesn’t get much room to breathe here, it’s all part of the same thematic material that “Blindsided” is working with. This is an episode largely about how relationships, both familial and romantic, are built on trust and communication. It’s evident immediately in the story of Mitchell and Cam, as the former accuses the latter of always making unilateral decisions without discussing it first. From there, “Blindsided” finds comedy in the truth, and vice versa. So, we see Cam and Mitchell continually escalate their standoff, with the huge dog, appropriately and hilariously named Dane Edna, tearing up the house, Dwight eating all the food, and Lily struggling to be noticed. What Cam and Mitchell don’t realize is that their petty feud is actually rather selfish. They’re missing the point. They’re each trying to do a good deed, and yet their stubbornness leaves them fighting with one another rather than supporting each other.

There’s a similar theme of trust and respect in Haley’s attempt to find a job that she’s passionate about and good at. So, here she is finding success by becoming a club promoter with some friends, and despite the late nights and need for “just five hours” of silence in the house, she has a purpose and a direction. It’s exactly what her parents have wanted for her, just as Mitchell does want Cam to be big-hearted and selfless. But there’s a disconnect there as well. Claire doesn’t think it’s a “real” job, and Phil, despite his best attempts to be on his daughter’s side, tries to set her up with a mentor of his (Martin Short in an outstanding guest performance, bringing his typical energy and sharp timing), completely missing that by doing so he’s suggesting he has no faith in her own abilities. This is where Modern Family finds some fertile ground for exploring how we, as stupid, flawed, insecure humans, can connect with each other when so much stands in the way. That disconnect will always be there because we’re weird individuals with our own self-interest in mind, so we might force our kids to wear something they don’t want to because we’re worried about how they will be perceived, or we might chastise our partner for doing something generous because it inconveniences us.

“Blindsided” suggests that even when we can’t quite bridge that divide—and that will often be the case—we still have to try. We have to empathize and show some trust in these people that we ultimately love and respect. For parents, it’s about knowing that you won’t understand everything your kids do, but that it’s important to support the things they’re passionate about, the things that make them unique. For a married couple, it’s about knowing your partner has nothing but the best intentions, and seeing the strength in their weaknesses. That might sound cheesy, but it’s also positive and charming. After last week’s fumbled approach to challenging stereotypes, a little cheese is more than welcome.


Stray observations

  • Martin Short and Andy Daly guest spots in the same episode? Be still my heart.
  • Shoutout to Alex, whose “Is that why you’re dressed like a hookah?” was a solid burn that went unnoticed.
  • Andy Daly as a distracted, pill-happy Guidance Counselor: “So are we putting him on Adderall or taking him off, I forget?”
  • Good comedic timing with Dwight walking in the door and Cam going straight to, “see, now you’ve put me in an awkward position.”
  • “We’ve trained her to take carbs away from us.”
  • “I walk five miles a day and have had a tremendous amount of plastic surgery.”
  • “Person With A Porpoise.”

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