Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Change comes at just the right time on Modern Family

Illustration for article titled Change comes at just the right time on Modern Family

It’s about time that Modern Family started dealing with the fact that so many of its characters are going through a lot of changes. The show has spent a ton of time this season showing how many members of the Dunphy/Pritchett clan are moving through a stage in their life that involves change and transition. Alex is off at college, dealing with a new setting and a fresh breakup. Jay is retired and starting to figure out, along with Gloria, what he’s going to do with all his free time. Then there’s Claire, who’s going to take over her dad’s closet business. Despite everyone moving into different periods of their lives, Modern Family hasn’t done much this season to focus on how these characters are dealing with the changes, or even how it’s affecting their typical family dynamic.

“Clean For A Day” works towards rectifying the relative absence of character progression by directly addressing Jay and Claire’s changing positions, and tangentially touching on Alex’s post-high school journey. Claire is only a weekend away from taking over her father’s job and she’s dealing with it in a very Claire way: she’s playacting as a character named Mrs. Clutterworth and asking (forcing?) her family to go through their old stuff so that she can take it all to a donation center, leaving her house completely organized before she goes back to work. Soon enough, Phil and Luke are being told to throw out their Flowbee haircutting machine and Haley is going through Alex’s clothes just so she can have something to contribute to get Mrs. Clutterworth off her back.

It’s a solid setup that, while relying a little too heavily on the “Claire is crazy” thing that the show loves to hammer home almost every week, works to establish an emotional throughline that holds everything together. Some of that emotional throughline is because the premise itself plays into Modern Family’s strength of churning out comedy with a charming core. By having the Dunphy’s get rid of their old stuff, and later having Claire feel bad about it before Phil reveals he’s been keeping most of their stuff in a storage unit off the highway, Modern Family gets to dive head first into that rewarding space where the show promotes the need for family, in every sense/iteration of the word. More than allowing the show to get a little sweet and nostalgic though, the storyline is rooted in Claire’s emotional state, giving it a solid foundation to build jokes and drama from. Claire doesn’t have an urge to get rid of stuff around the house; rather, she’s doing it in order to instill some sense of order in her life. The unpredictability of her new job is stressful and that’s out of her control, so she’s responding by controlling the things she can control.

Alex is doing much of the same thing. A few weeks back she found a way to start adapting to her college life, and now she’s back home and taking more control. After she finds one of Sanjay’s sweaters in her room, she, at the urging of her sister, heads over to his house to get some closure. She’s finally ready to move on and take back control of her emotions after the breakup. When she gets there, though, things change. Sanjay apologizes profusely (and sincerely, which Haley seems to find baffling) and says that he’s been miserable without her. That leads to a completely different kind of closure. Still, it’s nice to see Alex taking control of her own story, working out her feelings on her own and examining what she wants. The subplot is left dangling a bit, which is frustrating considering how the whole thing is about closure, but it’s a step forward for Alex this season, who’s been stuck with meaningless storylines all season long.

As much as Claire taking over her dad’s company is a huge change for her, it’s perhaps Jay that’s going through the biggest life change. He’s officially retired, and to kick off his retirement he decides to do something he’s always wanted to do: he takes a flying lesson, despite the fact that he tells Gloria he’s going golfing. What follows works for largely one reason: Cam and Jay make for a great comedic pairing. When Gloria tells Cam that she had a dream about Jay falling from a great height, he panics and goes to stop Jay from taking his flying lesson while also keeping his secret from the rest of the family. Cam’s presence takes the whole situation to another level. He flirts with Gus, the handsome pilot, and regales Jay with the story of the crush he had on a crop duster back in his farm days. Back at home, Gloria is taking golf lessons from Mitchell in the hopes that her and Jay can do things together during his retirement, seeing his absence as a sign that they might not get along if they spend so much time together.

While the storyline doesn’t have quite the same emotional throughline as Claire’s, and the jokes don’t come at quite the same pace, there’s still something there that’s been missing for most of this season: character motivation and purpose. While it’s frustrating that Jay would just take a flying lesson without telling Gloria, his near-death-ish experience in the sky works to get him back to a more relatable place. He comes to realize that his retirement isn’t only about doing the things he’s always wanted to do, but also about growing closer to his family. There’s a great comedic beat near the end of the episode where Jay and Gloria discuss taking on a project of some sort during their retirement. Joe jumps in with a “hello!” and Gloria pushes him away. It’s cruel but hilarious, and the kind of inspired punchline, involving a great camera pan and a deadpan delivery from Sofia Vergara, that’s been far too absent from this season. Ultimately, when paired with the previous episode, “Clean For A Day” suggests that Modern Family is finally moving in the right direction in its seventh season. Here’s hoping they can keep the momentum going.


Stray observations

  • Cam had a crush on the crop duster in his hometown because of his broad shoulders and “deep, husky voice that, in retrospect, could have been pesticide-related.”
  • Claire: “I don’t want Luke’s sock anywhere near my mouth.” Luke: “It’s seen worse.”
  • “He thinks Jay is shorter than a flower.”
  • Phil wants to keep the snow globe with the melted snowman inside not only because it has sentimental value, but because “now it’s a poignant statement on global warming.”
  • “He looks like JFK Jr….HE LOOKS LIKE JFK JR.!!”
  • “Yes, I’ll hold for Lizzie McGuire.”
  • Mitch being fired twice for his lack of teaching abilities was a nice touch, but that was a seriously pointless, buried subplot.