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Modern Family splits the family based on gender, to predictably mixed results

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It’s not all that often that Modern Family decides it’d be good to split the families into groups and explore their dynamics in a way that feels meaningful. Sure, every week gives us a pairing or a group that drives each subplot, but those moments hardly feel consequential. At the very least, they don’t feel like conscious decisions to tell us something about the characters by isolating them in one way or another. “The Wild” is a little bit different. It’s composed of two stories, divided by gender, and it works about as much as you’d expect it to. That means there’s some genuine, tender moments, but also some truly cliche interactions.

The family is split up because of some typically gendered situations. The girls (minus Lily, apparently) are getting together to start putting together the nursery for Haley’s twins, and the guys are off on a hike in the woods, an annual trip that Jay usually undertakes with friends in the hopes of spotting a bald eagle (he’s super patriotic that way). Wrenches are thrown into the process before long. Mitchell, Cam, and Phil tag along at the behest of Gloria, who’s worried about Jay travelling alone in the woods at his age, and the delivery of a crib throws the women into fits of panic, because building things is difficult for women, didn’t you know?

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Alright, maybe that’s too harsh, but the whole nursery storyline is easily the dud of this week. As the evening unfolds, and the events escalate into ridiculousness, it becomes clear that “The Wild” not only doesn’t have any worthwhile jokes, but it also doesn’t have anything new to say about Haley’s pregnancy. Instead, we get some insipid jokes about Dylan’s childishness—the theme of the nursery is “fire trucks and unicorns”—and a whole lot of misplaced slapstick comedy.

There’s something slightly joyous about Gloria, Claire, Alex, and Haley coming together to complete the deliveries of a pizza delivery guy set on sticking it to rich frat boys who always prank him, but there’s nothing else to really latch on to. Where the boys’ story at least builds to an emotional crescendo, the girls’ night just kind of ends. It’s a bit disappointing, and yet another sign that while the show has earned some good will with how it handled Haley’s pregnancy, it’s clearly struggling to stretch that story across a full season.

So, on to the boys. Their hike in the woods is hardly about seeing a bald eagle, as Jay hasn’t ever seen one in the twenty years he’s been doing this. Instead, it’s usually a chance for Jay to spend time with his friend, but this time around they’re all too old and broken to attend, leaving him with family instead. When the four men don’t see a bald eagle during their hike, Jay jumps at the chance to stay at a run-down cabin for the night.

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All of this is cliche in the way the girls’ storyline is, relying on shaky ideas of gender to execute jokes that don’t really land, but there’s at least a little something else here. Once the guys are at the cabin, their fate for the night sealed, they dip into a bottle of whiskey and find themselves opening up. A bear sighting has them talking about their own fears, the ones that hit closer to home.

For Phil, it’s avoiding the dark place he goes to when there’s silence, when there’s a moment that allows him to ponder all the bad things that could happen to the family he adores. For Cam, it’s his need to be flamboyant and outrageous as a way of combating the feelings of being an outsider he garnered as a child. For Mitchell, it’s endlessly worrying about a psychic that told him he’d die at 46, which means he only has three years left to live.

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In typical fashion, Jay suggests he doesn’t have any such hangups. before the whiskey loosens him up and he admits that this trip strikes at the heart of his fears. He’s worried about being a burden to his family as he gets older. For once, the show acknowledges Jay’s age in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or geared to get a laugh. Instead, it gives the character space to just reckon with life as it is, as it comes closer to an end. There’s something beautiful in that. As the trip wraps up, and Jay finally sees his bald eagle, he’s also connected with his son in a meaningful way and realized that he’d love to have these guys around more often. That’s not nothing for Modern Family, and it’s just enough to make “The Wild” a worthwhile watch.


Stray observations

  • Always take a family pack of beef jerky on a hike.
  • Gloria’s turn into a “white woman” is capped off by her visiting a restaurant called “The Underground Kaleroad.”
  • Gloria getting her “Colombian edge” back involves her shooting guns, so you can rest assured that 10 seasons in nothing has really changed in terms of her representation.
  • The bunny getting nailed by the crib divider was good for a genuine laugh.
  • “I know.”
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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.