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When Modern Family first came on the scene in 2009, it was lauded for the progressiveness of its characters’ multicultural living situations. In its sixth season, it has largely eschewed trying to say something profound about American society, and has stuck to its pun-filled multi-storyline formula. Which, for the most part, works great. In “Integrity,” though, Modern Family flirts with some of those themes of identity, but never pulls the trigger on exploring them fully.

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The episode begins with Manny nursing a spurned heart and Baby Joe about to have a birthday party (most plots in Modern Family seem to revolve around an excuse for a large gathering). As Manny clutches his pearls on the couch, Gloria admires Joe’s painted toenails, which she has just completed. Jay, as the slightly conservative point of view, laments that while he wanted just one football-loving, chest-hair-growing son, all he got was a “Manny and a pedi.” Cue the rimshot. And then Jay has to go pick up a pink castle for the party. His man-dar starts going off.

It’s honestly a bit strange how Modern Family handles this storyline. First of all, Joe’s desire to have his toes painted and have a pink castle is a tiny detail against the backdrop of the larger plot. Although voiceover is used twice in the episode, not one is used to discuss the male child’s attraction to socially feminine things. I’m not saying the show is required to dive into a thesis on gender dysmorphia, but you’ve never seen fear on a dad’s face like when his boy grabs a pink bike. “Integrity” seemed to be set up to make fun of Jay’s fears, but instead skirts and somewhat excuses them. None of it feels narratively cohesive. I was disappointed in a missed opportunity to comment on a very real and relatable issue.

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Phil and Jay both have misunderstandings with their wives, I Love Lucy-style. Phil agonizes over buying a Ms. Pac Man arcade cabinet, but Claire demurs. Jay is supposed to pick up the giant pink castle for Joe’s party. Definitely the best scene of the episode has Jay and Phil discussing standing up for what they believe in as they ride down the highway. All sorts of signals are getting mixed as they inadvertently pump each other up. Again, since they are talking across each other, when Jay says, “I just want to have one red-blooded man in the family,” Phil never contradicts. It’s like the episode both takes Jay’s feeling seriously, but makes certain that no one else responds or reacts to them. Jay convinces Phil to buy the arcade machine and we’re off to our inevitable Three’s Company ending.

The physical comedy, something Modern Family never gets enough credit for, is spot on again as Phil yanks the release cord and sends the castle flying to the middle of the interstate. “We stood up for ourselves!” Phil says. “I’m scared, Phil, okay?” Jay responds. Great comedic timing. Also Joe’s orchestra of rampage in Cam and Mitchell’s house is played perfectly, especially the glass bowl hostage scene. This show has no problem being funny with the thinnest of set-ups. It is perhaps its greatest strength.

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Alex is stoked for award day, but Claire thinks Luke is dejected always living in her sister’s celebrated shadow. So, of course, she goes straight to the principal to try to bribe him into giving Luke the Integrity Award. The principal keeps some integrity for himself and denies her. So Claire gets the winner’s car towed and…well, anyway. She shows the opposite of integrity and Luke wins the award, but he didn’t actually want it in the first place, because integrity is super lame in high school. None of this is very funny even though it seems like a lot of good material to play with. Especially with Gloria trying in a position of advocating for Haley, there were unexplored parallels that could have played nicely off each other comedically.

In the end, Gloria brings black paint to make a pirate castle instead of a girly one. “He’s a boy, we’ve talked about this,” she says. The men smack their heads and get to fixing their mistakes. (Phil’s line of “How does this solve my problem?” was admiringly perfect.)

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“Integrity” is an odd episode that seems to set up a variety of storylines involving honesty and authenticity, but doesn’t quite pull through on any of them. Add the total dodge of the gender stereotype issue and a only a sprinkling of great Modern Family zingers, and “Integrity” is not a very cohesive or funny episode. Except “boner face.” That’s hilarious.

Stray observations:

  • “I got you the boner face.” Seriously, so good.
  • “Baby Joe is stuck in the well” made me laugh much harder than it should have
  • Gloria didn’t have much to do this week, but I loved both “Fabio The Baby Puncher” and her definition of “Columbian Hot Head”—when you set someone’s hair on fire.
  • Cam and Mitchell want to have another baby, because this show doesn’t have enough characters.

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