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The biggest surprise of this season of Modern Family has been how well the show’s handled Haley’s pregnancy. It’s a storyline that could easily become fodder for bad jokes and cliché narrative beats, but for the most part the show’s done a good job of treating the material with a certain amount of maturity. Even though Dylan, and all that he entails, is involved once again, the story of Haley deciding to have a baby and raise it with her kind-of boyfriend has been treated like a serious decision rather than an opportunity to crack jokes.

I’m not ready to get rid of all that goodwill just yet, but “A Moving Day” takes the story in a direction that feels removed from so much of this season. At the top of the episode Haley and Dylan are collecting boxes from Phil and Claire’s house, preparing to move into their own apartment and get ready for their baby. Phil is doing his best to handle everything with a steady hand—or “keep the peace here in Hormone Town,” as he crudely says—while Claire is freaking out. She doesn’t think Dylan and Haley are ready for this, and she can’t exactly hide her true emotions. That’s not Claire’s strongest suit.

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As it turns out, all of Claire’s fears are justified, and this is where the episode runs into some trouble. The season has spent so much time telling us that Haley and Dylan have grown a lot, showing us how they’ve evolved into adults who can hold down a job and care about the people around them. “A Moving Day” doesn’t totally ruin that, but it does take the characters and move them back a few spaces. Haley is suddenly very, very dumb again. Dylan seems completely clueless. The apartment that they’ve rented is just a converted garage that’s a single living space that includes a hole in the ceiling and a nearby airport that rumbles everything in the apartment every time a plane goes by.

The idea, I think, is to show that Dylan and Haley are overwhelmed by what’s to come, that they’re getting a reality check just when they need one. That’s all fine and well, but it could be communicated in a way that doesn’t do a disservice to all the character work that’s defined the first half of this season. Watching Haley stumble through the apartment and realize she’s missed her first ultrasound appointment is tough to watch, because it’s the show completely destroying what it took time to build. There’s nothing wrong with introducing conflict to Haley’s story—it’s necessary for the sitcom, of course—but this is a lazy way to do it. There’s a perfectly fine resolution in the end, with Claire promising to be there for her daughter after she learns she’s having twins, but it’s hardly an earned moment after everything that came before it.

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Luckily, the rest of the episode is low-key enjoyable in a way that makes “A Moving Day” mostly worthwhile, with Cam and Mitchell’s life with Cal moving into new territory, and Manny reminding us that yes, he has a girlfriend. Okay, the latter story doesn’t exactly scream “inspired comedy,” but within “A Moving Day” it’s harmless enough.

As much as I despise Pam as a character, it’s good to see that Modern Family is trying to give Cam and Mitchell new things to do. Taking care of Cal felt like a big change at the end of the previous season, but so far he’s had no real effect on the show and the lives of Cam and Mitchell. He’s a cursory mention at best, but “A Moving Day” sees Pam manipulating her way into renting the apartment above Cam and Mitchell’s place, which at least gives the show something fresh to work with.

“Fresh” is kind of the key word here. There’s nothing fresh about Jay thinking that Gloria is too controlling, and there’s certainly nothing fresh about a story that involves Manny and Sherry and whatever the hell is going on there. But Modern Family was well on its way to treating Haley like an actual character for once, one worthy of her own stories and her own emotional insights. “A Moving Day” doesn’t dismantle all of that, but it does take a significant step backwards, and deliver more of what we could have predicted from a pregnancy storyline on Modern Family.

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Stray observations

  • Phil just wants Claire to be in the right mindset when it comes to Haley and her baby: “Look at the positive, one of our kids is finally moving out.”
  • Apparently Claire has sex dreams about Jake Tapper. The more you know.
  • “All these demands don’t sound very second-wifey.” Oh, Jay.
  • “It’s only small for a place to live.”

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