S02E21: Oh, mothers. Behind all of us there is one and it’s kind of messed up that we only take one day a year to celebrate them! Am I pandering? You betcha. And what better time of the year than on Mother’s Day to explore the masculinity of our favorite Modern Family characters?
This week’s episode was another pitch perfect example of a great episode of Modern Family. It took the traditional notion of a sitcom’s Mother’s Day episode (by focusing on something maternal) and flipped it to focus on masculinity (while still showing great appreciation to all the wonderful mothers). And then all the great story lines come together at the end and we got the poignant moments. It was simply wonderful.
"I could snap you like a twig" -Cam
We started off with a few bits of independent cold openings: Claire came down with all the things her children had made for her for Mother’s Day, Manny and Jay take back the gifts they got for Gloria, Mitchell brings Cam breakfast in bed. But because this is Modern Family, Claire’s shirt has some inappropriately placed hand prints, Gloria would rather have crappy presents than no presents at all, and Cam is very offended that Mitchell thinks of him as the wife. It's all really effective, especially when it ends with Lily holding balloons. I dread the day that child begins to talk. Her silent, trance-inducing stare contrasts so well with all the chaos around her. It's absolutely perfect.
Onto the stories! Cam rightfully takes offense at Mitchell thinking of him as the “wife” in the relationship. Of course, Mitchell has decent justifications for why he does it (mothers are nurturing and there isn’t a strong enough vocabulary to describe gay parents' relationships yet) and eventually Cam gets over his hissy fit. While it does offer some great gags like “I don’t love pink. Pink loves me” and Cam throwing a football and hitting the guy, it also seemed to reinforce how Mithcell still isn’t quite confident being gay. Or at least, that’s the way it seems to me. In the montage of him referring to Cam as his “wife” it was always in situations where calling his partner his “wife” would be considered normal in a heterosexual way while also re-enforcing that he is manly. Not being gay myself, I can’t say if this is a typical thing people go through, but it does offer a good contrast against Cam’s complete self confidence. It seems Mitchell still has some lingering self esteem issues of masculinity left over from his daddy problems. Who knew emotional turmoil could be so hilarious?
Anyway, the whole definition of masculinity managed to find its way into the two characters who are the only biological mothers on the show, Gloria and Claire. They decide to take the kids hiking for Mother’s Day out in nature. Of course, Gloria wears the worst possible pants for hiking, but I’m not complaining. When the kids start complaining too much, the moms ditch them for some alone time. Eventually Claire confesses to Gloria that she really wants to hit her kids and Gloria is shocked but eventually starts ragging on Manny. I really liked how they had Gloria hesitate before saying what she didn’t like about Manny. Her boy was the only constant thing in her life for a while but when she said he always followed her around? Brilliant. Those confessions of not always loving their kids and getting fed up with them was a very masculine thing to do (maybe not masculine exactly, but it was definitely un-feminine). Of course Manny overheard Gloria shouting that she hated his poetry and Claire tried to give him the hard truth. Gloria wouldn’t have her baby get hurt like that and eventually stabs Claire in the back for it.
"Sometimes I want to punch my kids" -Claire
But while Gloria and Claire are off on their own hike they leave Alex, Haley, and Luke to their own devices. Alex and Haley are fed up with their mom always guilting them into whatever she wants to do so they decide to not apologize and rid her of her guilty powers. But they can only do that if they stay strong so they have to manhandle Luke onto their side. Again, it wasn’t exactly masculine but watching the daughters man up against their mom was definitely un-feminine. And then when Claire starts attacking their weakest link, Luke, they remind him that they are his new moms now. This declaration underlined a basic issue of masculinity in the episode. Everyone who deals with this identity crisis (Cam, Luke, Mitchell, and as we’ll see later, Phil) lets other people, and notable females, define their masculinity. Come on dudes. Grab your own masculinity and define it for yourself.
That’s another thesis for another day. What about my favorite combination of characters? Phil and Jay are spending the day together cooking Jay’s mother’s secret sauce. Phil, as usual, wants to make this a bonding moment but Jay won’t have it. That is until Phil finds a cute recipe Jay wrote for his mom when he was 9 years old called "The Recipe For The Perfect Mother." And what do you know, that little piece of paper broke through the tough exterior of Jay’s armor and he began to tear up a little. Phil can’t quite handle the moment and in another bit of perfect physical comedy tries to console Phil with a hug. Jay’s armor was weakened but it wasn’t completely broken so he shrugs him off.
Then things come together in one of the finest scenes Modern Family has ever done. There were so many great little moments in this scene. From Phil spilling the beans and everyone finding out to Jay curtailing all the sentiment with a great story. Then Ed O’Neill brings in some damn fine acting (I wouldn’t say it’s Emmy-worthy, but it's definitely worth a nomination) when he breaks down in the middle of a story. Tonally the scene shifts wildly from comic to heartfelt back to comic again, but Modern Family handled it deftly in its usual way. It was a great scene and a perfect way to end the show.
Well, except for the codas which were just hilarious. I kinda wished they had ended on Phil’s instead of Jay’s but I understand that Jay’s was the main thread through the whole thing. There’s just something about Phil ruining things that is so funny to me, but Ed O’Neill tearing up is pretty great too.
So it was another stellar episode for Modern Family. It hasn’t been the best season for the show (at least compared to last year), but an episode like this keeps it in the top ten easily.