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

Modern Family: "Family Portrait"

Illustration for article titled Modern Family: "Family Portrait"

t's like Modern Family saved up for weeks and weeks to spring every painful, damningly true thing about family life for tonight's season finale.  Even though I have some issues with the group-hug ending — no way Claire manages to calm down enough about her ruined picture at the scene, although I can buy her loving the picture after the fact — almost everything else that happened tonight made me cringe because I recognized some part of myself or my family in it.  Let's take them one by one:

Perfect family pictures.  I am a house divided against itself when it comes to those faux-casual, posed-and-perfected family shots.  Especially if everybody's wearing white.  I've seen my share, and they always come across like "our daddy's running for state senator!"  Yet I, too, like Claire, crave the perfect picture.  I want to capture that fleeting moment and have it to look at always.  And any imperfections that I can control-freak out of existence, I will do it.  So Claire's vision of the family on the stairs reminds me of my mother's insistence on getting professional pictures of the extended family at any holiday where we happen to have all managed to gather from our far-flung homes.  Claire's increasing level of tension as the picture is moved from her house to Jay's house, then outside at Jay's house (where in his infinite wisdom, Jay has decided to stain the patio furniture on that particular day) — in other words, farther and farther from her locus of control, and in places increasingly susceptible to unpredictable disruption — was excruciatingly well-observed.

Home repair.  We all know that Phil has been promising to fix that broken step on the Dunphy staircase (now an unsuitable picture-taking venue) every time he did a pratfall going up or down. Now Claire is ready to take matters into her own hands: "Screw it, I'm going to fix the bastard!" she exclaims and heads up there with a claw hammer. As she accidentally sends boards flying with her first tentative effort at leveling the step, Haley, who had previously protested that the step wasn't even noticeable, rubs salt in her wounds: "Oh, now I see it."

Underwear. When Jay yells down to Gloria complaining that he's missing his "good underwear" because the maid mixed it up with Manny's, Gloria responds for wives everywhere: "Why isn't all your underwear good, Jay?  You make a good living!"

Overpriced event food.  I'd rather be a Claire than a Phil most of time, but I must shamefacedly admit that like Phil, I am an inveterate snack-sneaker.  "Be cool, be cool, just look straight ahead," he mutters to Gloria and Haley at the Lakers game as he pulls the various crinkly packages out of his pockets.  (Silly Phil, we women with our big purses are much better suited for this job.)

Animals in the house.  Oh, Lord.  It's funny on TV, but terrifying in real life.  If there is a chance of mouse or even large bug anywhere in my vicinity, I get on the loveseat and keep my feet away from contact with the floor entirely, like a housewife in a cartoon.  If it were a bird?  And could fly?  I would have to leave the house until someone came to rescue me.  Mitchell getting milk from the kitchen for a hungry Lily, screaming like a banshee all the while, was the bravest thing I've ever seen.


Running jokes. When Mitchell calls Cam in a panic after discovering the pigeon, and Cam responds "Who is this?", Mitchell succinctly but pointedly reminds him: "Never funny, not funny now."  Exactly.  Take note, jokesters.

Now among this catalog of inconvenient truths, there are a few situations that I didn't find as realistic.  Cam's anger at Mitchell for not coming to the wedding?  Don't really get it, although I can see how having a partner who always begs off of social situations because he finds them trying would be annoying.  Jay not wanting to help Luke out with his "interview someone who lived through the sixties" project?  Sure, he may not have done anything interesting, but I'm just vainglorious enough to think that my perspective on the decade would be fun to talk about even if I only watched it on the news. Mudfight?  Ugh.  Cam singing "Ave Maria" crosscut with Mitchell attacking the bird and trashing his house?  The cleverness of the action-movie-cliche gag is far weaker and more fleeting than the enjoyment of listening to Cam ("I was plucked from obscurity after a particularly stirring karaoke performance") self-importantly make his way through the song, and wondering what Mitchell will pick up to hurl next (my favorite: sticks of firewood).

But I am not going to quibble after a finale that encapsulates almost all of the best that this sitcom had to offer us during a frequently stellar first season.  Heck, it's outweighed by any one of a dozen fantastic Phil moments during this half hour, but I'll pick "The kiss cam is only supposed to be for the enjoyment of the people at the game."  That perfectly phrased little bit of metaphysical and ethical certainty — the purpose of the kiss cam, its inevitable result of being enjoyed by the fans — tickles me to no end, even though it's nowhere near the punch line of the joke.  When such a tiny thing is so well done and gives such pleasure, the proper response is happy gratitude.

Stray observations:

  • So glad that the Kobe Bryant appearance was just that one moment and not the usual sitcom "suddenly we're hanging out with a celebrity!" deal.  "Little preparation next time, it's a mental game," he helpfully advises Phil after the latter blows his chance to say something meaningful.
  • "Actually, Where's Waldo doesn't stand out; he's super-hard to find.  Also, his name is just Waldo."
  • "I would have blown the money on flowers anyway, so they're saving me a step."
  • Phil to an uncaring Kiss-Cam: "This is my dad's second wife, so legally okay, but still weird."
  • "My dad says the greatest singer who ever lived is Peabo Bryson," Luke tells Jay, who has promised to fight anyone who disagrees with his contention that it's Sinatra followed by Elvis.
  • "I know you're mad at me, and I know this foam finger can't make up for everything."
  • "Deney Terrio, Cleveland, Ohio."
  • "Luke walks over there Hurt Locker style, flips the switch, and boom!  Well, not boom."
  • Gloria: "It was the Kiss-Cam."  Jay: "Why would you kiss Cam?"