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Modern Family's final season has a long-term storytelling problem

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Modern Family has a bad habit of rarely following through with meaningful changes in the lives of its characters. So much has changed over the years for the likes of Cam, Gloria, Alex, Phil, and the others, but the show struggles to keep up with them in a way that suits the sitcom format. Seemingly important storylines are forgotten for weeks on end, resulting in a complete lack of narrative momentum. My go-to example is always Gloria’s sauce business, which was a storyline for about two seasons, and yet occupied maybe 15 total minutes of screen time.

I mention all of this at the outset of the review because “A Game Of Chicken” contains the beginnings of a promising story for Luke, as he ventures into a business idea, but could easily be nothing by the end of the season. I hope that’s not the case. Time is winding down for Modern Family, and it’d be nice to see the show starting to plant seeds for a satisfying, concrete conclusion, much like The Big Bang Theory did earlier this year.

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The things is, Modern Family feels like it’s coasting right now. There’s no long-term storytelling going on. This is a very episodic season so far, and while that’s not inherently bad, it is disappointing to see the show killing so much time in its final season. The arrival of Haley and Dylan’s twins seemed like it’d kickstart some changes to the show and provide a throughline for the season, but so far Modern Family is still stumbling around, grasping at random ideas here and there.

It’d be nice to see the show commit to longer, more fully realized arcs for its characters. Gloria getting into real estate was a start, but that’s had little impact on this season so far, and Alex’s arctic expedition amounted to a whole lot of nothing. But, there’s still some promise that the show is going to figure a few things out before the season ends. In “A Game Of Chicken,” Modern Family continues to tease the idea of Cam and Mitchell moving back to Cam’s home state of Missouri. It’s been one of the only interesting, consistent ideas so far this season. It’s not exactly the focus of every one of their storylines, but the idea is constantly humming in the background.

That kind of storytelling, which looks ahead to the end of the season, has been lacking so far, but “A Game Of Chicken” offers up some new, interesting happenings. Claire is initially completely dismissive of Luke saying that he’d like to quit school to pursue a business idea with his friend Scooter, but once she sees Luke’s business presentation, and meets the older, experienced venture capitalist Scooter, she can’t deny that his idea for an app that automatically fills out medical forms is seriously worth pursuing.

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It’d be worthwhile for Modern Family to give Luke a more stable arc, and commit to seeing this idea through. The season needs more of that. Plus, the beginning of Luke’s storyline here encompasses other interesting aspects. There’s the fact that he got to this place because of the years he spent inventing gadgets with Phil. His passion for this business venture also inspires Claire; she realizes she’s completely miserable at her job, and she quits. Again, this could be real, meaningful change, if Modern Family follows through.

Essentially, “A Game Of Chicken” has its entertaining moments, even if they are surrounded with Gloria being ridiculous once again. There’s Jay calling Dylan “new Phil”; there’s Haley’s vision of a “higher power” and how it relates to her kids and what she wants in her life; there’s Jay talking about Tom Waits, which just hits the right note for me. The episode as a whole is nothing more than fine, but it does contain some elements that could shift this season in a more promising and concrete direction. It’s time for Modern Family to realize that this is its final run of episodes, and start telling some more meaningful stories.

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Stray observations

  • I would not have guessed that, in 2019, both Modern Family and The Righteous Gemstones would end up making a joke about Telly Savalas.
  • “Is this a clown thing again?” Cam has a reputation.
  • Who’s the more one-note character: Gloria or Manny? I really can’t decide.
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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.