Modern Family goes back to splitting its plots this week, but under an all-encompassing, heavy-handed umbrella: patriotism. Under the guise of Gloria’s citizenship test, the show’s three families take off and explore the different rights that we enjoy in this country. And you know, they can do that. Because this is America.

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Cam and Mitchell combine their right to assembly with their right to whine incessantly, as their favorite artisan burger restaurant comes under fire by the gay community. I’m surmising that this is a sendup of pizza places that won’t cater weddings that would never serve pizza anyway, versus the peaceful protests that have increased in our (troubled) country since Ferguson. But I couldn’t help but chortle at the protest group’s way-too-laborious chant: something about supporting corporations that support PACs that don’t support health-care benefits for same-sex marriages?

Of course it stands to reason that Mitch and Cam will still continue their journey to Annoying Land. Week after week, we see their incessant machinations to be liked by everyone or to pass themselves off as people they’re not. It would be nice if that imperfection-is-A-okay self-approval speech they tossed out at the protest took hold. After six seasons, we could use some personal growth from these two. Cam, you pour an abundance of glitter onto class projects and enjoy using the whistle at your day job. You’re not that big a fan of political causes, and you enjoy being the center of attention. None of this is a crime. You don’t have to be great at everything, although it appears these two will never stop trying.

Claire and Phil aren’t faring so well either, as they are swindled in one principal-office meeting to going from “things are fine” to “we must dominate.” Sanjay’s mom is right, ties are un-American. This country embraces its “We’re number one!” mantra wholeheartedly. The budding relationship of Alex and her longtime rival Sanjay was rather sweet as the two duke it out for valedictorian, but screw Alex’s parents for immediately assuming that Sanjay’s crush on her was a ploy. Alex’s plot represents the melting-pot culture of America, “people of all cultures coming together to succeed” as the expository voiceover tells us.

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But the America theme is fiercely highlighted in Jay and Gloria’s quest to solidify her citizenship, for whatever reason: shorter lines at the airport, keeping her away from Javier, or most importantly, what Jay points out in his first speech to her: ”This country’s all about freedom and opportunity. I wanted you to be a part of that.” It’s something we take for granted, which we might appreciate more if we had served in ‘Nam, like Jay did.

Even more viable here are the takes other cultures have on America. Javier sees it as rejecting your homeland. Gloria can point out the differences between Mexico and Colombia. But leave it to Gloria and Manny to bring it all home: Her American accent in that hideous patriotic outfit was amazing, whatever it was, and Manny’s story about the two of them rather sweet, watching Miami Vice through a neighbor’s window, so they could see all the cops’ nice cars. Gloria achieved the American dream just by marrying a rich guy, although Jay certainly keeps up his end of the bargain, with hilarious outfits and offers to chase her around the living room. Only in America.

It’s always valuable to see the chemistry between Jay and Gloria, as we remember why they’re together in the first place. Jay sold every one of his arguments, fake or not, about what it means to be in this country. It’s a fairly blatant message for a sitcom, but “Patriot Games” pulled this off in a nicely sentimental way, from teen romance to the culmination of a lifelong dream.

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Stray observations:

  • On the bench this week: Haley. Hoped you enjoyed the downtime from being hilarious all the time, Sarah Hyland!
  • Most valuable non-Dunphy player: That principal (edited to add: ably portrayed by Andrew Daly) was totally game, wasn’t he? Brought prepared notes to the meeting, came up with the tiebreaker idea, and showed up at the race, giving up a valuable tile training at Home Depot. He even offers a small takedown of Cam’s particular brand of bravado: “I’m the gym teacher! Who else has the training to officiate something like this?” “Anyone with a stopwatch?” Hope we get to see him more at graduation.
  • “Either Alex is going to be valedictorian, or they’re giving an award for sexiest dad.” Never change, Phil.
  • Benjamin Bratt is welcome anytime.
  • “I’m sorry, do Irish tears not sparkle?”
  • Cam and Mitch, I hear you on the friends without kids who talk about your kids like they’re not there, even when they’re all facing each other: “What do they eat?”
  • I haven’t had a potato in four days.
  • For the record, there are 535 members of Congress, with 100 in the Senate and 435 in the House. I had to look it up.
  • Nondescript protest signs: “Stop doing what you’re doing” and “Shame.”
  • All of Pepper’s parties sound amazing.
  • Many thanks to David Kallison for filling in for me last week!

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