This freshman season of Modern Family has been solid and confident for the most part, with some merely ordinary half hours of television sprinkled throughout. The finale isn't until next week, but it's almost inspiring to see the show near the top of its game presenting one of the hoariest cliches on the tube: the Hawaiian vacation. The writing is inventive, the timing is crisp, and all three nodes of the extended family get their laughs in. It even ends with a rather beautiful moment, underplaying the "everybody hugs" finales that the show introduced as a theme early on. We devotees of the sitcom form have seen some incredible high points on the networks this year, but I'd put "Hawaii" up against any of them. It's not flashy, but it's so assured. That alone earns my respect.
I had intimations that we were in good hands in the cold open, as the family climbs out of the airport shuttle and Mitchell wants Cam to exit again with Lily so he can get a better video, causing Jay to grumble "we're not doing it a third time." Then Phil shows us his version of romance mode ("there she is, the prettiest white woman on Maui"), and we're off. Manny and Luke are bunking together, creating an enticing vision of a new Odd Couple: "Score! There's an iron in here!" versus "I am from the Nebula of the Great Toilet, beep boop." Haley is looking forward to ditching the parents, which fits in perfectly with Phil's plan to get Claire alone for the honeymoon they never had. "Turning a family vacation into a honeymoon takes commitment," he murmurs to her as she fights her parental instinct to keep Haley out of trouble. "Eye of the tiger, honey." Jay is determined to enjoy rich food and leisure on his birthday trip. "Instead of salad I want fries, and instead of fruit I want chili fries," he instructs the waitress while ordering a giant cheeseburger. Then his brother calls to wish him a happy 63rd birthday and remind him that their father died at that age. ("He did die doing what he loved: Refusing service to hippies who came into his store," Jay reminisces.) So Jay suddenly wants to turn the vacation into an exercise regiment, disappointing Gloria who wanted to sleep and relax by the pool.
Mitchell and Cam, meanwhile, clash over how much adventure they want to include in their trip. "I may have exaggerated my interest in adventurous travel by implying that I had any," Cam confesses. The conflict comes to a head over an excursion to the Lavendar Ranch, where they grow 46 kinds of lavendar, and which is, according to Mitchell, "something two men are meant to do together." Cam stays behind in the cabana, and when Mitchell gets back he summons a small army of hotel staff to show Mitchell the good life of fruity drinks, foot massages, and naps. ("It felt good and weird," Mitchell confesses about the latter. "Kind of like that one nozzle in the infinity pool.") Then they panic over leaving Lily in the elevator accidentally, making them wonder if all that relaxation brought down their guard.
Naturally we have to get everyone back to normal before the half hour is over. Mitchell and Cam lose Lily again after ill-advisedly dressing her in jungle prints for a trip to a working banana plantation; Haley justifies Claire's vigilance by using her free afternoon to get drunk with strangers. Jay throws his back out and spends an uncomfortable period stuck in a hammock with Phil on top of him ("I keep my wallet in my front pocket, so that's what that is"). And Phil? Well, he pulls off the husband adventure of a lifetime, surprising Claire with not a honeymoon, but the wedding they never had, complete with Jay gingerly walking her down the aisle, Cam filming everything, and a ukelele rendition of "Eye of the Tiger." It's a moment that indicates the potential Modern Family has for heart to go along with its demonstrated expertise in comedy.
- Phil's determination to get Claire unhooked from her kids extends to throwing Haley's cell phone in the pool. "In nature, fathers are known to eat their young," he begins his explanation. "Is it because they're delicious? No."
- How about that deadpan from Lily appearing in the elevator as Phil and Claire argue over Haley's indiscretion?
- Claire flashes back to her teenage years — complete with a game ominously called "Truth or Claire" — as she comforts hung-over Haley. Then the inevitable lie based on that experience. "Does this happen every time you drink?" Haley wails. "Yes. Yes, it does," Claire asserts.
- Jay and Phil return from their intimate hammock moment with Phil trying to explain his wooing of Claire: "I know we're parents, but can't we be lovers too?" "This may be my worst birthday ever," Jay observes under his breath.
- "I just ordered an extra-long straw to avoid accidentally doing a sit-up."