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

Modern Family: “Arrested”

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Last week, there was some discussion in the comments about how much Haley we were likely to get this season, given that since she was dropped off at college her only appearances have been via Skype. “Arrested” answers that question with a Haley-centric episode and an unexpected (well, at least until you think about the realities of a sitcom’s payroll) reverse twist.

The episode starts with a gag borrowed from Better With You, an ABC one-season wonder from a couple of years ago. In that show, the opening always showed the same situation as experienced by a young unmarried couple, a couple who’s been married for a few years, and an old married couple, the joke being how each stage of a relationship affects what happens at the breakfast table or during a fight over the remote. In Modern Family’s version, each couple gets awakened by a middle-of-the-night phone call. Phil knocks the phone under the bed because his arm is asleep, Cam is sure that it’s his mother because he had been dreaming about chickens, and Gloria thinks someone’s died.

One thing’s for sure: It’s never good news when the phone wakes you out of a deep sleep, but I must say that Claire takes the bad news that Haley’s been arrested for underage drinking with a lot less panic than I would. (I suppose because she had a passing acquaintance with the inside of a police station herself in her youth.) She gets Mitchell to come along for legal advice, and Mitchell offers Cam’s services to get the Dunphy kids off to school once morning arrives. This sets off two of the episode’s plots, one following the Dunphys and Mitchell on their way to bail Haley out, and one with Cam determined to prove himself a good parent based on his misconception that Claire expressed doubts about his abilities.

Jay and Gloria get a midnight phone call, too, and perhaps the best one of the bunch (Claire asks if Jay still knows that judge upstate, Jay says he died, and Gloria goes into instant mourning), but their subplot isn’t otherwise connected to Haley’s plight. Jay’s crazy-jealous ex-wife Dede (Shelley Long) drops by to get a photo album, and Jay’s efforts to keep her away from Gloria lest her murderous rage get the better of her in Gloria’s fragile state are not successful. But the two women bond over Gloria’s pregnancy and turn on Jay, whom Gloria already suspects is disinclined to offer any help with the baby.

Of the three storylines, Cam’s has the most comic potential but is the least plausibly motivated. He feeds the kids his healthy vegan bacon alternative for breakfast (Fakin, but not brand-name Fakin, more like Cam’s faux version or “Fauxkin”), then has to rush Luke to the hospital because of his soy allergy. When Claire calls to see if Cam got the kids to school okay, and an ER doc chooses that moment to ask “Where’s the boy who can’t breathe?”, Cam covers by telling Claire “I’m just watching an original Lifetime movie called The Boy Who Can’t Breathe. Starring Amanda Bynes.” While waiting for his throat swelling to go down, Alex puts on a lab coat and finds herself the star first year med student on teaching rounds, at least until she faints during a c-section and winds up back in the ER with a bump on her head. “What’s this?” Lily asks tugging at an IV tube. “I don’t know, but thanks to Obama, you’re paying for it,” Luke grumbles groggily.

Dede’s visit is full of terrific speeches about her telescoping uterus (“It’s what it sounds like! It literally telescopes!”). And Jay gets in some excellent underplayed curmudgeon business, something that’s always welcome on this show. When Dede insists on coming by to get the album, he compromises: “Drive by slow with the window open.” And he points out the logical fallacy of Gloria’s request for his shopping help: “If you had a husband who liked picking out strollers, you wouldn’t have a baby.”

But this season, if you’re looking for the star of the show, it’s Phil Dunphy in a rout. As the Dunphys and Mitchell drive up to the college, Jay calls and asks if they shouldn’t get a real lawyer for Haley; “Oh God, should we?” Phil frets. Mitchell defends his real lawyerdom against Jay’s contention that environmental lawyers just defend pandas: “That’s what I do, Dad; I defend pandas. In court.” “That’s adorable,” Phil comments as if he’s unable to help himself. And as the morning wears on, with Haley retrieved from the police station and hustled to a school disciplinary hearing, Phil becomes more and more distracted by the fact that he hasn’t had breakfast. “How many waffle places did we pass? Two, three?” he marvels at the selection in Haley’s college town. When Claire insists Haley dress more soberly  for her hearing, Haley retorts that “In Legally Blonde, Elle won her case by being true to herself and dressing cute.” “This is real life, not an excellent movie,” Phil objects, right before launching into an impressive rant about how Haley needs to take this seriously since (among other things) people have missed meals to get her out of this jam.

The twist? Haley owns up to her many, many violations of the school honor code at the hearing (“I don’t know what the policy is on dating TAs, but I think I broke it… twice”) and gets kicked out. She’s moving back home, and the whole gang’s back together, at least until she reapplies next year. The episode that engineers this reunion might be fairly ordinary, but with Haley returning as a foil for Alex and a trial for her parents, good consequences could be in the offing.

Stray observations:

  • “The school called, and your sister won a big award!” Cam explains Alex and Luke’s parents’ sudden absence, fooling no one.
  • Manny wants one of his parents to come with him to a spoken-word festival. “I only have two tickets, so somebody’s going to be disappointed!” he warns; “I think it’s going to be you,” Jay cautions him.
  • Dede while having some problems with her medication once found her cat buried in the backyard. “I just pray she died first,” she worries.