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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Modern Family teaches lessons, learns very little

Illustration for article titled iModern Family/i teaches lessons, learns very little
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Seven seasons in, Modern Family is the type of show where you ultimately know exactly what you’re going to get when you watch it. It’s a show with a rigid structure that serves it well. Sometimes there are experimental episodes of Modern Family that attempt to challenge that, but mostly, you get what you get, and the mark of a good episode of Modern Family depends on just how funny it can make the expected.

“The Verdict” isn’t all that funny of an episode, with very few actual jokes to cover for the typical nature of the episode. Kyle Fowle has been writing about the show’s lack of focus and abundance of redundant storylines lately, but one could argue that’s been a problem with the show for much longer than just now. Here, it’s mostly a lack of desire is to push past the surface, and again, make the episode actually have jokes. For the former, there are opportunities for the episode to go deeper—especially when it comes to Gloria and her citizenship or Luke’s outlook on life or Jay’s parenting style changing even a little with Joe—but they’re ignored in favor of pretty weak stories. For the latter, we have Claire’s mishaps and Gloria say “adjudicate.”


As Phil says in this episode, it’s all about “teachable moments,” but the teachable moments we get are all based on things we already pretty much know. That’s not so much to say that the past characterization informs the plots and how characters react as it to say “redundant” really is the right word to describe things here. The episode is just full of plots we’ve already seen in this season alone.

We know Phil is gullible and trusting, to a fault, but we also know that current Luke has lost any and all sense of innocence and relatability that he once had. We know Claire is a professional mess when she goes out of her way to prove she’s not. We know Gloria is a control freak who bombs under pressure. We know Mitchell both believes he’s the odd man out and that Cam is a bit embarrassing. We know Jay is a crotchety old man that wouldn’t have wanted to spent a day at his other childrens’ “normal” schools, let alone his youngest child’s hippie school. We saw most, if not all, of this in last week’s episode alone. For all the talk of teachable moments, there really aren’t any, though at least the Claire/Haley/Alex plot gets some good physical and awkward comedy out of it.

Much has been said about teenage Luke’s characterization and Nolan Gould’s performance, but it really just boils down to Luke being unpleasant to watch. In this episode. In this show. Here, it starts before he even does volunteer with his nameless friends, as he’s about to cry transgender in order to do Take Your Daughter To Work Day instead. But once he gets to the park, he’s calling Manny a “virgin” as an insult (in front of Phil), and playing the smartass, despite missing the first half of that word.

Luckily, the plot itself isn’t about Luke, but every moment that focuses on him and his cliche teenage behavior drags it down. Modern Family isn’t a pessimistic show—especially when it comes to Phil—so of course the scam artist ends up being legit, as the doctor who delivered Luke. Because Modern Family doesn’t go too deep until it really has to, the plot doesn’t reach a point where Phil finally addresses how terrible Luke has gotten, and it kind of feels like it should; he spends the entire episode trying to tear down his father’s worldview, after all. Yes, it’s a one in a million chance that the situation isn’t a scam—though, in the world of Modern Family, it’s 100 per cent obvious how it will shake out—but then again, Phil’s take on life has worked much better for him than anything Luke’s has. The push and pull of Luke and Phil doesn’t work when all of Luke’s push is blatantly wrong.


While Luke is pretty much an anchor in Phil’s plot, Haley and Alex find themselves as the sidekicks and observers of Claire’s plot. This is very much an episode about the adults in the family, and while that’s technically better simply from an acting standpoint, it also takes away a bit of the actual family interactivity of the show.

After Claire’s determination last week to prove that she can be a valuable asset to the family business—which only ended in birds—this week continues her path of absolute failure in the face of public professional leadership. The Claire/Haley/Alex story is one that rests solely on Julie Bowen’s shoulders, and it’s a reminder of how good and funny she is. The escalating chaos around the office and the gradual escalation of Claire’s injuries are what make the plot work alongside Bowen. Given Claire’s default state being controlling, there’s a sense of dark delight in her feeling the opposite in these professional situations. Phil is obviously the parent who wants the acceptance that comes with being the “cool dad,” but Claire is all about that need for acceptance too. She needs it from her co-workers, even though the reason they don’t accept her is because she’s a try-hard who doesn’t listen well enough to actually know what to try. And she needs it from her daughters, after all those years of being a stay-at-home mom who couldn’t really take them to work.


Going into the episode, the ABC voice-over says that “a very excited Gloria goes on jury duty,” and as much as that plot is promoted, it’s really a very small part of the episode—both in terms of the actual jury duty and Gloria finding an outlet for not getting to fulfill her civic duty to the best of her ability. Modern Family has a tendency to play Gloria’s fish-out-of-water nature as simply dumb, and the episode really dodges a bullet by not making that and jury duty the focus of her part of this episode. The episode actually swerves in not even attempting to get Gloria on the jury for a One Angry Gloria plot, but it also swerves in not giving her actual reason for wanting to be involved on a jury any type of focus. Gloria’s love of the law is obviously the result of watching far too many legal procedurals, but then the episode tosses in a throwaway backstory about coming from a world where the people don’t have political control, only to immediately move back to her just wanting to get her LA Law on. It’s a very brief moment of honesty for the character, and it’s ultimately used just to get through Mitch and Cam’s situation this week. Like last week’s episode, Sofia Vergara’s talents are really wasted here. In fact, Julie Bowen is the only one who really gets to do anything in this episode.

I mentioned it in this week’s What’s On Tonight for Wednesday, but the episode synopsis included “Mitchell and Cameron can’t agree,” which I called out for basically being the default status of the couple. It’s a pleasant surprise to see Mitch and Cam’s inability to agree this week isn’t really a squabble but instead the result of things outside of their control (but sort of in their control, given the party-planning) within their friend group. It even works when Mitch confesses that he’s afraid to be the one left behind if he and Cam break up (which is a whole other can of worms the episode doesn’t open), but then flipping it to him really believing that Cam will be the outsider rings so false after last week’s episode, even with Mitch’s default belief that Cam is an acquired taste. It’s the result of Gloria getting to lay down the law, which again, is the rare funny moment in all of this.


Modern Family also believes that Cam and Mitch’s gay friends’ names are a lot funnier than they actually are, so the constant mentions of them without their presence doesn’t do much.

The Jay plot is probably the most standard Modern Family plot of the bunch besides Cam and Mitch’s, so you know exactly what you’re going to get when it happens. At least we get Margaret and “Big Ears” out of it all. The thing that really sticks out about the plot is how exactly it wraps up before Gloria and Jay talk about their days: the brief voice-over from Jay. Modern Family became so much better than its end-of-episode wrap-ups a long time ago, so when the Jay voice-over starts about him being Larry the Lonely Leopard,, it’s pretty insulting to the audience’s intelligence. It’s shoe-horned in as a trope of the series, but anyone with even an ounce of awareness can see the realization that Jay forms during the kids’ story-time, and it’s not necessary to say that out loud. In fact, this episode is so very much away from the mockumentary aspects of the show that the voice-over feels like it’s either from another episode or another draft of this one. A lot of this episode feels like it’s from another draft.


Stray observations

  • Hey! I’m not Kyle Fowle, but he will be back next week for episode 150 (and beyond).
  • The one time I got called in for jury duty, I was at the courthouse all day for three days, and my number was never even called to go through jury selection in the box. It was a very boring three days.
  • Margaret: “I couldn’t have children.”
  • Teacher: “Margaret, just go. I’ll distract him.”
    Jay: “Come back!”
    Teacher: “Margaret, don’t turn around.” As I mentioned, the Jay plot really peaked early.
  • Gloria calling the judge “your excellency” almost made a strong case for the jury duty plot to continue. Almost.
  • I know nothing about the closet industry, but I do know that Jay is exactly the type of person to hire three men named “Herm.” I also know that Claire ordering “mint chip” anything would be a disaster. It’s a very divisive flavor!

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