S3E16: Modern Family has its go-to relationships for comedy: Phil and Luke, Manny and Jay, Luke and Manny, Phil and Jay. It’s a smaller circle of champions than I ever realized. Just as importantly, the show has some powerful pairings when it comes to delivering more serious storylines. Mitchell and Jay work well together. Claire and Gloria have their moments. But beyond any other coupling on the series is one that is capable of delivering a truly moving degree of emotionality: Phil and Haley. Phil doubtlessly loves all of his children, but there is a very special bond between the man and his oldest daughter.
Throughout this season, we have seen Phil/Haley storylines that have not really reached full potential. First, in “Go Bullfrogs,” Phil took Haley to visit his old alma mater as a potential college for her to attend. Although the episode shot for a sentimental “letting the bird leave the nest” story, it came off a little overdone. Later on, a missed opportunity occurred in “Egg Drop,” where Phil and Haley were paired in an emotionally erratic plotline that diverted attention, curiously, to Phil’s relationship with Gloria.
But finally, the show does something worthwhile with this fertile grounds for sweet television. This week, the doting and naïve father Phil finds out that his oldest daughter Haley is no longer a virgin. And he is hardly comfortable with the news.
After Lily’s favorite doll is broken, Phil, Haley and Alex take Lily to the mall to have it repaired (it’s a special kind of doll with a special kind of “health insurance”—it really gets drilled into our heads this week that this family does not have money problems). Alex’s slip of the tongue informs Phil that Haley is not a virgin, which instantly removes all joy from his face and food court puns from his tongue. From this point on, Phil is heartrendingly serious, and nears the point of tears a few times.
This incites similar feelings in Haley. Although she is shown to be inconsiderate and flighty at times, Haley definitely has a soft spot in her heart for her dad. How could she not? She is saddened to have hurt or disappointed her father—but that’s just the thing. Phil is not really angry with Haley, nor is he all that disappointed. He is just having a lot of trouble accepting that she is growing up.
Now, since the pilot, Phil has had one ostensible goal: to be seen by his kids, and all others, as the “cool dad.” The dad who is their friend, who is just like one of them—who is totally fine with anything they have to say to him. But Phil struggles with maintaining this role this week. And as such, he feels like he has failed. But quite the contrary: although Phil cannot bring himself to speak openly to Haley on the matter, he does manage, in coded language about trusting her, to find the right table at the food court, to convey that he does trust, love and respect his daughter. Immediately afterwards, the emotion of the story is driven home when Haley delivers a brief talking head that says tons more than just the five words she speaks: “I have a cool dad.” It’s one of the sweetest moments the show has delivered to date. Bravo, Dunphys.
“Not now, Phil.” – Jay
Another team that’s always good for some meaningful moments is Mitchell and Jay. Although their story doesn’t compare to Phil’s and Haley’s this week, it reminds us (as the show is bent on doing every so often) that Jay is a much warmer man than he might seem to be. All these years, golfer Jay has prided himself on a single hole-in-one he got while playing a round with his teenaged son. Mitchell reveals this week that Jay did not actually get the hole-in-one, but that he threw Jay’s ball into the hole in order to end the game.
Jay is furious. His reputation at the clubhouse is shattered. Mitchell tries to remedy the situation by reminding Jay that the hole-in-one was not the most important part of that day: it was the bonding time between father and son, and Mitchell having his first beer with his dad. But Jay is affixed on the hole-in-one, leading Mitchell, once again, to believe that his father cares very little for him.
But Jay bests Mitchell here, reminding him that the first beer they actually shared was years prior, on Mitchell’s fourteenth birthday after his mother embarrassed him in front of all of his friends. Mitchell realizes that his father clearly does care enough to hold onto a memory that he himself had forgotten. Jay is redeemed. Not something we haven’t seen on the show before, but why nitpick?
Most of the remaining storylines are far from impressive. Cam fakes a back injury so that he can be alone in Claire’s house to search for a piece of Tupperware that he swears she never returned to him. Claire tries to dodge Gloria so that she can go to yoga—Gloria takes this personally, but Claire reveals in the end that she’s actually just being evasive to hide the fact that she’s really going to the shooting range. Not many laughs in either story; not much meaning either. But the big guns of comedy are not absent from the episode: the Luke and Manny storyline delivers quite a bit in the realm of laughter.
Luke and Manny run wild this week. First, they set up a Rube-Goldberg to frame Lily for a kitchen mess so that the family will stop fawning over her (all Luke’s idea, of course—Manny is a sweet kid, but a bit impressionable). Then, after getting the keys to Cam’s car, Luke and Manny decide to throw caution to the wind and take it out for a drive. Luke plays wingman to his yuncle (young uncle), insisting they drive past the lemonade stand of Manny’s crush-of-the-week, Miranda Cornell. This story is nuts, and has absolutely resolution. But Luke and Manny driving a car at seven miles per hour, giving the eyes to the girl of Manny’s dreams…it works on many comedic levels. Bravo, Dunphy/Delgado.
Modern Family does have a habit of biting off more than it can chew. And sometimes, it just seems to be all over the place. But credit where credit is due: this week has one phenomenally moving storyline, one insanely funny one, and some innocuous filler. All in all, let’s call it a win.
What did you think of this week’s episode? What are your favorite pairings on the show? Who would you like to see put together for an episode? Let us know in the comments section or on Twitter @Hollywood.com and @MichaelArbeiter.