Nearly every season finale of Modern Family finds a way to bring everyone together for some sort of communal moment. For awhile, due to contract negotiations, it looked like this was going to be the series finale before a rumored spinoff. But things changed, checks were written, and one final season is in the works. “A Year Of Birthdays” makes the case that Modern Family deserves one more hurrah before bowing out, as the family comes together to celebrate the birth of Haley and Dylan’s twins, while also looking back on the birthdays they celebrated throughout the year.
This doesn’t feel like a traditional season finale. The episode is structured as a series of flashbacks to the birthdays of every member of the family throughout the year. Predictably, there are moments of joy, sorrow, contentment, anger, embarrassment, and hilarity, and it’s a welcome change of pace not only from the usual finale fare that the show offers up, but from the rocky season in general. By not taking the obvious path here, which would be to dedicate the entire episode to Haley’s labor, Modern Family finds a unique and fun way make this moment meaningful without stretching the story thin.
The past birthdays are mostly inconsequential; they have no bearing on the plot, with the exception of us learning about Manny proposing to Sherry in front of everyone during his birthday talent show—I have given so much space in these reviews to the question of what happened to Sherry, so this was a blessing—but they end up being a lot of fun. The structure allows the show to do away with traditional narrative choices, and instead just concoct one ludicrous scene after another. It plays out like a sketch show of sorts, but one that mines years of character development (or lack thereof) for jokes.
As with a sketch show, some of these bits land and others don’t. The Roast of Jay is tedious and annoying, only exacerbated by the fact that the show knows a roast is tedious and annoying. Mitchell’s quiet night alone is rather predictable, with Cam not taking him for his word and throwing him a surprise party that ends with their friends feeling insulted. But the good largely outweighs the bad, and the stakes are low enough and the pace quick enough that any dull moment is almost immediately followed by something funny.
So, when Luke’s plan to woo a tattoo artists ends with a weak “joke” about him considering becoming a woman so that he can date her, which just makes you sigh in exasperation, it’s at least followed by Claire getting a bunch of gifts that are all meant to help her relax. When, completely offended, she flies off the handle and slams the lone remaining gift down on the counter, the box vibrates, and Gloria tells her she can open that one later. It’s a great punchline, and the structure of the episode means there’s no need to follow up on the rest of the night.
It also means that the episode can execute some solid running gags, playing off the memories of the birthday parties to land some decent jokes. When, later on, Claire is worked up at another birthday, Gloria quips about her not using her gift. It means that a stupid sight gag like Jay wearing a different hat in every scene kind of works because it’s just so ridiculous, and that everything can come together in the present day, as Phil’s piano recital, his crowning achievement for the year, is interrupted by Haley going into labor.
Usually, I enjoy when Modern Family takes the time to explore the moments in life that are meant to be meaningful, but I think “A Year Of Birthdays” works because it doesn’t just roll out a predictable labor episode, instead using the birthday theme to execute some fun scenes, and then tie a bow on it at the end with the birth of Haley and Dylan’s son and daughter. Nothing here is overly saccharine, and there’s no voiceover musing on big themes of love and life. Instead, it’s just a nice moment to close out an enjoyable episode, and another season of Modern Family.
- Phil: “As I turn 50, I’ve been thinking about what’s next.” Luke: “51.” Phil: “Thanks buddy.”
- “Enough, this is terrible.” Alex really should have run with that rather than turning it into a roast.
- “When he dresses as Fizbo, he puts the makeup everywhere.”
- Perhaps next season the writer’s just send Manny to some sort of isolated screenwriting camp where writers get space to get work done, and then completely forget about him for 22 episodes.
- That’s another season in the books, folks. These reviews, like cockroaches at the end of humanity, have survived this long. Perhaps they will be back for one final season. Cheers.