Hats off to the Modern Family team. Last night they produced a truly fantastic episode of television that reminded us all of the best this series can accomplish when it’s firing on all cylinders. It may not have been the most laugh-out-loud (or should we say LOL, WTF, Why The Face?) funny entry, but it traded in a few guffaws (or rather, some increasingly high-pitched squeals) for some incredibly moving moments from a family millions have grown to care for.
So, sad news first: Grouchy neighbor/Luke BFF/probable birther Walt passed away. Despite the oxygen issues last week, I assumed Walt was actually heading towards a bigger role on the show. Guess not. When Phil and Claire went to break the news to Luke, however, he, being a 10-year-old boy, essentially didn’t react. Of course, anyone’s reaction would have paled next to Claire’s, who had the unfortunate coping mechanism of grinning her way through bad news. Phil: “‘Walt’s dead’ — you looked like the joker.” Speaking as someone who awkwardly laughs her way through any less-than-ideal situation, this gag definitely hit a chord. Of course, later in the episode — after Luke took Walt’s TV — Claire discovered that what she assumed was just some random looting, actually had some real significance for Luke. He was sad, and now with the TV properly back in Luke’s room, Claire knew he would cope fine. And so would she.
But facing your own mortality affects everyone differently, and it’s no surprise that Phil took Walt’s death especially to heart. He realized that while he’s stacked up great memories with Haley and Luke — that dream duo gives me a new memory practically every week! — he didn’t have quite as many with Alex. Cue: Father/daughter bonding time. After a pigeon ruined his original plan of distributing some dog tags in memory of Walt, Phil refused to be discouraged and booked it 50 miles to have the “World’s Best Milkshake” with Alex. He just wanted to create a moment — and if the two of them could surprise deliver a waitress’s baby, even better.
Of course, what actually happened was far more heartwarming than anything Phil could have planned. After sharing with Alex why he’d been acting like a nut the whole evening, Phil told her that he just to be like the Apollo 17 astronaut that wrote his daughter’s initials on the moon. Alex agreed that was sweet — sickeningly sweet, in fact, because she then proceeded to projectile vomit. As did Phil.
But Phil had one final trick up his sleeve before they headed home. (If a waitress slips in your vomit, that’s your cue to leave). As he pulled out of the parking lot, the camera panned up to the sign of the restaurant, Moonbeam. In the corner, there was a carved A.D. Feel that? Those are the warm fuzzies invading your body.
NEXT: Modern Family handles a tricky plot line… expertly.
But even that wasn’t the most poignant moment of the episode. The real pulling-the-heartstrings storyline last night involved Mitchell and Cameron. Guess who’s coming to dinner? The couple’s respective fathers — not that either of them particularly wanted to, as they’ve never gotten along. Jay finally confessed to the camera why: Cameron’s father Merle had a tendency to treat Mitchell like the woman of the couple, which was demonstrated not only when Merle asked Mitchell and Gloria to clear the table, but also when he gifted Mitchell a feminine watch after dinner.
Afterwards, when putting together a bed, Merle and Jay talked. And Merle essentially admitted that he did tend to feminize Mitchell — after Jay pointed out Cameron stayed at home like a ‘50s housewife — and Merle explained: “It makes me feel a tiny bit better to think that the person he’s spending the rest of his life with is a tiny bit of a woman.” It wasn’t sweet, but it was real.
Modern Family did such a fantastic job with this tricky plotline. In a perfect world, Mitchell and Cameron would be viewed as just two individuals. Neither would be pigeonholed into unnecessary gender roles. But, as disappointing as it may be, we do not yet live in a perfect world. And Modern Family is not afraid to acknowledge that. Acceptance still is a process in our era. But with series like Modern Family regularly broaching the subject with plenty of heart, tolerance might be a given in our future.
It was an especially refreshing plotline to see during a time when Modern Familyhas weathered some fair criticism about clichés and tropes. (Not to say the show isn’t hysterically funny. It’s still one of the best sitcoms on television.) It proves that the series still hasn’t lost its touch in exploring very real, very contemporary family dynamics. These characters can still make me tear up — and not just from laughing.
–Pretty much anything Haley, Manny or Gloria said during their fun subplot. Haley wanted to throw a pool party, and planned it so that all the adults would think one of her uncle’s was chaperoning. The catch? Her uncle was Manny, who actually was a decent chaperone — God, he’s such a weird kid — throwing out one-liners like “I don’t think you’re ready up here [gestures to head] for what you’re planning to do up there [bedroom].”
–“Phil! I said I would do my best for it to be a science class at a women’s college.” —Claire, reassuring Phil she would honor his body disposal request
— “I’ve build beds my whole life. Bunk beds, dog beds, cow beds.” “I’m calling you on cow beds.” — Cameron and Mitchell
— “When Walt used to look through those binoculars and say ‘Your dad is one lucky man.’ He was wrong.” — Luke
–“Next day, they’re trying an experimental drug, fingers crossed; next day, body rejects it, coma.” — Phil
What did you think of this touching installment of Modern Family?