This final season of Modern Family has mostly done a bad job of dealing with the passage of time. For a show about to bow out, it’s failed to make anything feel significant or life-changing. It’s a strange thing; plenty of other recent sitcoms, like The Big Bang Theory, have managed to craft focused, narrative-driven final seasons, but Modern Family has spent most of this season rolling out familiar episodes that don’t connect to any larger story.
With that said, “Spuds” is surprisingly delightful. It doesn’t quite get everything back on track in terms of an overarching narrative, but it does finally begin to give the back half of this season a much-needed sense of direction. “Spuds” is a pseudo-clip show. It’s peppered with scenes from older episodes, but it also isn’t overwhelmed by them. It blends the current stories with memories from season’s past to create something different and new. It’s a very welcome surprise.
The catalyst for the clip show is everyone convening at a restaurant called Spuds, a local favorite that’ll soon be closing its doors. It’s a complete accident that much of the family ends up there. Cam and Mitchell are there to chaperone Lily’s first date; Phil and Claire show up with Haley and Dylan because they want to treat them to a dinner away from the anxieties of parenting; and Gloria, Jay, and Joe come through after a school play that everyone else ditched.
It’s the kind of setup that usually devolves into chaotic comedy, but this time around things are different. Sure, there’s some stale jokes here and there, but for the most part “Spuds” is interested in exploring the passage of time, and how this family has grown over the years. If that sounds like something this final season should have been grappling with all along, you’re not wrong. Despite Haley and Dylan creating a new generation of this family, the show has failed to dig into some of the more obvious but fruitful themes that come with aging, parenthood, and the idea of everyone growing up.
Even if “Spuds” doesn’t change everything about this final season, it’s a wonderfully emotional half hour that gets into the heads of these characters in a way that feels meaningful. It grapples with the dynamic of this family in a way that hasn’t been done all season. There’s finally a sense that things are changing, and that’s a good thing.
For the most part, the changes are predictable but moving. Phil is holding on to his father’s RV in the hopes that he can have his own memories with it, and Claire, realizing that her children are all about to be out of the house, comes around to the idea of travelling around with Phil and shaping this next stage of their life. Jay, high on meds for back pain, muses on the rapid passage of time, and how every kid you have is seemingly the one who will stick around and keep you in that stage of your life forever, only to then join everyone else in becoming an adult and building their own lives; a bittersweet pill indeed. Haley and Dylan have inherited the worries of generations past, a passing of the torch when it comes to fretting about how you might mess up your kids and be terrible parents.
There’s a cycle here, and as much as that cycle is exhausting and terrifying and a whole lot of work, it’s also immensely rewarding. So, when Mitchell tells Cam that he didn’t get the head coaching job in Missouri he was hoping for, it looks like life is about to take another unexpected turn. And it does. Cam gets a call from their old adoption agency. The agency, transferring all the files to a new system, accidentally reactivated their file, and a family has chosen them as potential parents for the child they’re putting up for adoption.
The two men hem and haw, playing coy about what they really feel. They watch Lily, who’s gone from awkward to ecstatic when it comes to romance, get an innocent cone of ice cream with her date, and inwardly contemplate how she’s growing up, crossing that threshold that puts her at a distance from her parents. Maybe this is the time to go back, to start the cycle again, and have another baby. It’s a truly beautiful swerve. After weeks of setting up Cam taking this job and the family being split up, this is a moment that lands with real emotion.
- I’m not totally willing to accept that Cam didn’t get the job. It doesn’t feel official until he gets the call. Even if the show backtracks for a bit and gives Cam some moments of hesitation, I think the rawness of this episode still hits home.
- “An au pair. That’s two nannies, right?”
- “We’re aiming a little higher than Luke.”
- Jay to Dylan: “Sometimes you can just ride out a pause, buddy.”