Modern Family: "Airport 2010"
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Modern Family: "Airport 2010"

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Modern Family

"Airport 2010"

Season 1, Episode 22

One of my recurring dreams is driving thirty miles to the airport, undergoing all kinds of rigmarole inside, and then discovering I've forgotten my passport.  Then comes the nightmare part: deciding I have time to drive back home to get it, realizing as I get underway that I really don't have enough time, and being unable to force my legs to run through the parking lot.  So maybe it's just the very familiar tension of this episode's forgotten-wallet plotline that put me in the right mood to enjoy "Airport 2010."  But I think this was Modern Family back in cracking good form.  Not everything worked perfectly, but this is a great start to what amounts to a three-part season finale.

The overarching story is that Jay and Gloria are setting out for a Hawaii vacation to celebrate Jay's birthday.  Just the two of them!  But it's a sitcom, so -- surprise -- it's not just the two of them.  Gloria's sprung for tickets for the entire extended family, from Luke to Lily.  And of course Jay is upset about it.  He'd been looking forward to sleeping in, hanging with Gloria, and reading the eight Robert Ludlum novels he's loaded on his Kindle (or, in TV parlance, this unbranded "electronic reader thing").  But Gloria seems to have programmed every aspect of the trip, from daily morning hikes up the volcano to a talent show featuring Phil and his ventriloquist dummy.  So Jay mopes in the bar while the drama he's trying to avoid unfolds for everyone else.  As a devotee of the sit-by-the-pool-and-do-nothing style of vacationing, I felt Jay's pain.  There's nothing surprising about this plot twist, but Ed O'Neill's mumbly, wounded bitterness really makes it work.

What about all that drama?  Claire hates to fly, so she's pacing nervously and accusing Phil of abandoning her.  Phil is driving Mitchell back to his house to retrieve the wallet Mitchell left there because Cam was more focused on a dream playdate with 10-month-old Jasper than helping pack. And then Phil is helping Mitchell break into his house, disturbingly easily, using his realtor-fu ("every realtor's just a ninja in a blazer").  Then they're driving back ... very slowly.  (Phil: "I drove a pedicab in college.  Ever seen a pedicab?" Mitchell: "Yes, one just passed us.")  Cam is trying to keep Lily awake so she'll sleep on the plane (that's another one that rang true for me).  Haley is flirting with a cute boy with a sketchbook, under the fascinated observation of Alex.  Luke is smashing the Kindle with the Ludlums, along with Jay's dreams.  ("It's not fair ... it's not fair," Jay chants under his breath.) Manny is getting interrogated by Homeland Security for having the same name as someone on the no-fly list.  And Dylan is stuck in the Dunphy's house because he couldn't get out before the alarm was set.

There was something to like about almost all of those little plotlines, and most of them resolved with a pleasant -- and funny -- surprise. Haley's pursuit of the boy at the airport ends when he mentions a comic-book assignment at school and she remembers that assignment from eighth grade ... making the boy fourteen years old.  Both Haley's pique and Alex's delight at this turn of events were perfectly pitched. (You may never have seen a little girl literally fall over laughing and kick her legs in the air, but I certainly have.)   Mitchell makes it back despite Phil's pokeyness on the road.  Cam assumes that the ticket agent's "beautiful" is a compliment for his vintage Hawaiian shirt and not for his lovely baby (who has never had more adorable reaction shots than this week).  And Jay finds out that the family part of the family vacation will only last half of the time, to be followed by some serious sitting by the pool.  "I could never love you more than I do at this moment," he murmurs.  "I found a topless beach," she replies.  "I was wrong," he admits.

The only thing I thought felt too frantic and not quite organic was Claire's fear of flying.  But even that was nicely dovetailed into the beautifully choreographed locking-Dylan-in-the-house sequence.  Which in turn was smoothly integrated into Haley's pursuit of the fourteen-year-old, as Haley gets a call from her moody boyfriend talking about being trapped and shrugs it off as his overdramatic rhetoric.  That's the kind of well-oiled comedy machine that I love to see from this show.

Stray observations:

- And let us not forget the running gag of Gloria taking credit for financing the whole huge tour.  "It's your birthday, I spared no expense!" she crows at the outset, and Claire echoes her at the end: "It's not every wife who would spend the money to take the whole family to Hawaii."

- Jasper is a legacy at half-time preschool.

- It's surprising that Cam's never been to Hawaii, because people always say that he screams Hawaii.

- Two great Phil moments, both in passing: Trying to urge the automatic minivan sliding door closed, he admits "that's as fast as it's going to go."  And when the phone rings in the car, he deadpans, "Quick, who sang 'Evil Woman'?  ELO!"

- The little cross-cutting business with Phil telling Mitchell to be more explicit with Cam and Claire telling Cam that she's not picking on Mitchell's hints was a nice idea that I thought might have been stretched a bit too far.  It's worth it for the dueling lines: "That sounds to me like he was asking for help" and "That sounds to me like you were expecting him to read your mind."

- "Look at him getting coffee and not putting chocolate in it."