‘Modern Family’ Review: “Schooled”
After taking a week off due to the first presidential debates, 'Modern Family' returns with an episode about resisting change and being judgmental, which just feels appropriate.
Cam and Mitchell are sending Lilly off for her first day of kindergarten, but before they can calm their emotions and leave, a little boy pulls her hair, sending Cam into papa bear mode. He lifts the little offender up off the ground and threatens him, earning both him and Mitch a trip the office of the principal. The little boy's parents are brought in and surprise! They're lesbians, and as Cam and Mitch delightfully illustrate with their arms, the lesbian/gay man venn diagram doesn't intersect at all. The mothers are played by comediennes Wendi McLendon-Covey ('Reno 911') and the amazing Michaela Watkins (formerly of 'SNL'). Both actresses are fantastic, but Watkins is saddled with -- pardon the pun -- the role of straight guy, so she doesn't get to flex her wackadoo comedic muscles quite as much as McLendon-Covey.
Much of the interaction between both sets of parents is predicated on stereotypes, and the show does a great job exploring the idea that just because gay men and lesbian women both fall under the big gay umbrella, that doesn't mean that they can't also be judgmental, even of each other. But rather than both sets of parents proving each other's assumptions wrong, they wind up proving their stereotypes to be correct -- luckily, though the show picks some obvious attributes to nail, they stick the landing by going more specific, like when Cam accuses McLendon-Covey of having woodwork in her home, and Watkins confirms that they have "half a canoe in the living room."
At the end of the day, Lilly and the little hair-puller end up becoming quite enamored with each other, leading Lilly to profess her love for him while Cam shouts, "You love the idea of him!" It's the best stuff of the episode -- unfortunately, the other families are left with some rather predictable arcs this week.
Jay and Gloria head off to a baby class, but they're both resistant to the teacher's instruction having already had children before. Rather than stick it out and learn more modern techniques to care for their impending newborn, the two leave the class early and are confronted by a disappointed Manny. 'Modern Family' plays up role-reversal once again, which is easy to do with Manny because he's just so eloquent and pulls off the tiny adult thing pretty well. Some of the exchanges ("I'm not mad, I'm not disappointed") play with the role-reversal in a clever way, but the scene isn't trying to be inventive. Instead, it's more concerned with building to a sweet moment where Gloria and Jay can assure Manny that although he had to look out for himself as a kid because his mom was a bit ditzy, and although this new kid will have Jay's inattentive genes, they'll be different parents because it'll be a different kid, and Manny won't have to bear the responsibility of raising a child. What works in this scene is the tenderness from Jay to Manny, which has really grown over the last few seasons into a special bond the two share.
And finally we come to the Dunphy clan. The two youngest mostly sit this week out as Claire and Phil haul Haley off to college, where her high school mentality has carried over. She worries that her parents are embarrassing her and that her fellow students are already judging everything everyone does, but she's so caught up in being put out by Claire and Phil's overbearing (but endearing!) behavior, that she misses out on saying a legitimate goodbye. It's unfortunately the most predictable part of the episode because it doesn't really do anything new with the idea of sending a kid -- especially one like Haley -- off to college. The parents are clingy and sad and embarrassing their kid with their quirky love, and the kid is eager to just get them out of there, but feels bad after when she realizes college is a new place and she doesn't know anyone, and she's actually sort of lonely. And Phil's "Phil's-osophy" book of advice reads like something Michael Scott of 'The Office' might put together, only not as successful comedically.
This week focuses a lot on expectations, judgment, and change, but by episode's end, no one has truly learned anything or made a big change, and that's not necessarily problematic -- it's perhaps the most unexpected part of an otherwise predictable episode. 'Modern Family' does what they do best when they have their characters acknowledge flaws and embrace them in their own individual ways, and those moments read more realistic than having a character make a big, bold choice or have some huge revelation every week. The show takes baby-steps, and that pun was intentional.