S03E03: Modern Family doesn’t deviate much when it comes to its plots. It actually seems to have a roulette of themes to apply to each household. Haley vs. Alex. Mitch trying to settle down a hysterical Cam. Stubborn Jay talking down to an emphatic Gloria. But when they manage to tie all these silly storylines together to actually make them about something significant, we usually get a very worthwhile episode of television.
Cam decides, in a veiled effort to impress Mitchell (and his coworkers at an upcoming function at Mitchell’s boss’ house) to lose some weight. His method of doing so: juice fast. This worries Mitchell, as Cam does not handle diets (or any strenuous activity) well. Mitchell, trying to be supportive, takes on the fast as well, but things go even more disastrously for him. After a lengthy bout with the regiment, a starving Mitchell loses it at his boss’ house (which is what he was afraid Cam would do), only to completely alienate all of his coworkers. But it’s a sweet moment, as it makes Cam realize what great efforts Mitchell went to to support him, which is when Cam admits he was only dieting for Mitchell.
“I sit alone [at lunch] by choice.” – Alex
“The school’s choice.” – Haley
“Isn’t that your nickname?” – Alex
“Haley, be nice to your sister. Alex…good save.” – Claire
Haley and Alex have terrific sister-chemistry (chemsistry, perhaps? No? No.), so just about any storyline that revolves around their relationship—especially when you tap in with a little emotion somewhere along the line—is a win. Haley is upset and embarrassed over the fact that Alex has been bumped up into her math class (possibly because Alex is academically advanced, and Haley is quite the opposite). Claire, determined as always to get the girls to be friends, insists that they be civil and get along. Of course, they don’t. Haley is mortified by Alex’s ambition and social ineptitude in class, while Alex takes issue with Haley’s stupidity. However, the girls learn quickly that they can help each other out. If Alex supplies Haley with homework and test answers, Haley will help Alex get in with the popular clique (I wish there was a way to phrase that that didn’t make me sound like my dad giving me a lecture). This backfires, of course, when the two get caught cheating, much to the anguish of Claire.
Claire is having her own problems, all the while, with an unwavering school security guard who has particular issues about her parking too long in the unloading zone. When Claire feels she has finally had enough of this woman, she mouths off to her insultingly, getting herself handcuffed. There doesn’t seem to be much point to this story. It doesn’t connect to the central theme at all and no real consequences ever take place, but Claire flustered is not wanting for comedy.
“Is this a cookie for people?” – Manny
“You’re good.” – Jay
“Could I get a definitive yes or no? Because those cupcakes really did a number on me.” – Manny
Remember the dog that Jay was guilted into adopting last season? Well, she’s got her own plot now. It seems as though Jay has really warmed up to her, to the point of coddling (there’s a really great callback to last week’s episode “When Good Kids Go Bad” that mimics Cam’s coddling of Lily—as Cam had Lily next to the shower while he was showering, so does Jay with the dog, Stella). Gloria takes issue with this. She claims that she is irritated that the dog has been chewing her shoes, but in actuality, she’s jealous. It comes out at the end of the episode, after Gloria is driven quickly to madness (to the point of chewing on one of Jay’s shoes to provoke the dog to do so, in an effort to turn Jay against Stella). Gloria exclaims that in Colombia, wives always come before dogs. It’s kind of a bittersweet ending—the speech is supposed to be comical in nature, but we never really see the two reconciling properly, other than a quick snippet of Jay being more sensitive to Gloria’s feelings in a closing montage.
“If I had a nickel for every time I puked in school, you know how much money I’d have?” – Phil
“Thirty-five cents?” – Luke
“Exactly.” – Phil
Phil, in the meantime, has decided to take up tightrope walking. He sees it done on TV (once) and needs to master the craft. This is the sort of super-minimalistic storyline that Phil was made for. He becomes obsessed with something as silly as tightrope walking (on his front lawn) and puts his attention toward nothing else in the entire episode, including his son, who has been eating inordinate amounts of candy gratis of his uncle Mitchell. It’s another extremely simple storyline, mastered by Luke. It’s no big shock that Phil and Luke would be the primary sources of comedy in an episode of Modern Family, but it’s interesting to consider that while the rest of the family is dealing with complicated relationship issues, the two of them are simply satisfying simplistic temporary base desires. But it works. They really bring it all home.
When an upset Claire drives her daughters home from the principal’s office, she sees Luke cheering on Phil, who is in the middle of his first successful tightrope walk above the lawn. Claire is moved by this, and by her three children cheering on their father. This is where Modern Family’s strength comes in: it cherishes the idea of family. It celebrates three very different, very dysfunctional siblings all rooting on their father’s zany attempt to prove to himself that he can do something special. It celebrates two emotionally unbalanced men trying desperately to prove to one another how much they love each other. And it celebrates a stubborn man coming to put his wife above himself when he sees that she really needs him to. And it isn’t at all hokey, because the very end of the episode has Phil admitting just how oblivious he is to all of the meaningful messages being embodied by his family members. He just wanted to walk on a tightrope. Very sweet, very funny episode.