I can’t be the only one that has absolutely no interest in the working lives of the characters on Modern Family, right? Every now and then the show feels the need to remind us that these people don’t just struggle with personal conflict in their very big homes that I couldn’t ever dream of affording, but they also struggle personally at work too. Think too hard and you’ll realize that every character is a disaster that surely everyone in their work life avoids at all costs.

“Whanex?” is an episode that, much like last week’s much better outing, shifts away from the overarching stories of the season in order to simply put together a more “traditional” half-hour sitcom. That means there’s an A, B, and C story, and a very loose theme connecting them. There’s no real consequences or moments of importance, though one storyline ends with the promise of change.

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The thin connecting theme is “work.” These are stories of jobs and careers and what it means to be an adult with responsibilities, and it couldn’t be more boring. The worst of the three stories is Jay’s. The entire half hour is punctuated by jokes about how Jay is old and out of touch at work. Sound stale? It is. There’s a scene here where Jay can’t figure out how to use his computer that probably runs for about two minutes but feels like a lifetime. He gets too close to the webcam; he can’t figure out how to turn up the volume; he somehow activates a filter. I just...there’s no words. It’s the broadest possible comedy you can think of, and once again shows that Jay is perhaps the most one-dimensional character on Modern Family. The show attempts honest emotion near the end by having Jay try a little harder to get on board with the new crop of young people at work, but it’s wasted on a story that can barely muster any laughs.

Gloria and Phil don’t fare much better. She’s tricked him into going to the mall on a day where they’re hosting an open casting call for a family to grace their advertisements. Before long, Gloria and Phil are very invested in the process, and then are swiftly switched out for another “couple,” though Joe gets his moment of fame as the kid in the photo. Again, there’s nothing funny here at all. There’s no punchlines, only a sense that the situation is funny because it’s different. We’re meant to laugh because of how much Phil and Gloria care, but the episode hardly spends any time with them. It’s a storyline that’s pure filler, an excuse for Gloria to muse about how she misses being passionate about something in the way she was passionate about modeling. The coda here is all well and good, as Gloria begins to think about what she can do to live a more meaningful, purposeful life, which for now means exploring being a realtor and enrolling in Phil’s class.

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I like that the show is willing to push the characters in new directions. That’s absolutely necessary in the tenth season of a sitcom, and it’s worked wonders for Haley, who’s suddenly a much more interesting character with conflict we can feel invested in. There’s the possibility that the show can do the same with Gloria, on a smaller scale. But the way we’re getting there is just tedious. This is the kind of episode that you watch and then, as soon as ABC flips over to the next show, you’ve forgotten everything.

I’m writing these exact words less than an hour after the conclusion of “Whanex?” and I’m already blanking on what mattered here. And that’s because nothing matters. Sometimes that’s okay, but if you’re a sitcom there better be some laughs to supplement the void. “Whanex?” has nothing. Cam and Mitchell give us a few good one-liners and moments of coincidence, and Andy Daly is delightfully crude, but otherwise there’s just this overbearing feeling that Modern Family really struggles to string together 22 episodes. We’re feeling the bloat right now. There have been some good episodes involving Haley this season, and even a few that have delivered nothing but good jokes, but there’s maybe enough material for 12 episodes total. In a season of 22, we’re bound to get our fair share of episodes like “Whanex?”.


Stray observations

  • I honestly don’t have a single thing this week. What a dud of an episode. Claire’s line about Jay living a “Glengarry Glenlivet” work life wasn’t bad though.

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