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

Modern Family: "Travels With Scout"

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I wish I were as hot as Claire Dunphy.  Sadly, she's got me beat in that department.  But in the not-wanting-a-dog-because-you-really-want-a-dog area, we're twins.  I had dogs while growing up, lots of dogs, for whose care I was largely responsible.  And while I loved them and they never went hungry, I probably wasn't the most conscientious caretaker in the world.  My memories of cleaning up and failing to train my dogs are not exactly my proudest moments.  That's why we don't have a dog now, and why I am determined that it will be a long time before a dog comes into my family again.  (Well, that and the fact that Noel is a cat person).

But if my father-in-law showed up with a dog like Scout, I would bitch and moan and then get attached to it, just like Claire does in "Travels With Scout."  And if my daughter's boyfriend needed someone to fill in on keyboards for a gig, I would step right up and then get addicted to the rock-and-roll lifestyle all over again.  Kernels of truth there, my friends, ones that perhaps hit too close to home.  Would I take my son to a horror movie — even by accident — and not leave immediately after the genre became clear?  Never.  No kernel of truth there.  But Manny's slim little story of well-intentioned nightmares is the most successful of the three plots tonight.

Let's be clear, this is a sloppy outing for Modern Family.  It's an episode that feels plunked down out of order, not advancing any storylines in particular, and nothing in particular happening.  We're just marking time until sweeps.  I liked moments in the Fred Willard and Cameron Rocks Out plots, but there wasn't anything here to celebrate as particularly well constructed.  And it's too bad, because based on the cold open, the Dunphy plot looked really promising.  Phil's dad Frank shows up unannounced in an RV, as Claire informs Phil in enthusiastic sarcasm-code over the phone: "Guess what he brought us?  A dog!  To keep!"  And while the relationship between Phil and Frank — based on pulling each other's chain and then congratulating each other on the performance — has good rhythm and a touch of poignancy, Claire's insistance that Phil get beneath the surface and find out what's really going on with Frank made the whole thing far too literal.  Right at the beginning of the first act, Claire glances meaningfully at the camera when Frank gleefully describes how he can't return the dog because it came from the pound.  Then Phil glances at the camera when Claire accosts him for not warning her this was coming.  Given all of this awareness of the audience, the disintegration of the plotline into standard "you don't have an adequate relationship with your father and you're going to get one right now" territory was disappointing, and not very believable.  I kept waiting for the characters to be embarrassed because they were having these heart-to-hearts in front of the camera, to add an extra layer onto the humor, but it didn't happen.

As for Cameron and his drumming dreams, two shining moments: Cameron fakes out Dylan and the rest of the band by pretending to be inept, then pulls the old "sticks in the wrong hand" gag and goes to town.  "Dude, you should label those sticks!" a band member deadpans.  And it's undeniably nice when the band launches into their first song, delighting Haley and Mitchell ("our boyfriends rock!" she yells to him).  But the garden-variety hubris of the never-ending drum solo and assigning himself a permanent place in the band, while vintage Cameron, are also too predictable by half.

No, give me Manny spilling his popcorn, popping up between Gloria and Jay in bed, and especially freaking out when the horror-movie actor shows up at the window with his machete ("Are you Manny?  I'm here for you!  Look what I got!").  Give me Manny, anxious over a doorbell that won't shut off, proposing the theory that a demon is ringing it, and then asserting to his mother when she asks what's going on, "We're pretty sure it's a demon."  Give me Manny taking first watch with his fencing foil: "It's going to be a long night."  It may never happen that way to my kids, but here it's both true and funny.

Stray observations:

  • Phil was going to wait to tell Claire about dog until she was in the right mood, but never got the chance.  "I did get one right mood a couple of days ago," he confesses, "but I cashed it in for something else."
  • It's not enough to hang a plot on here, but Luke is awesome as usual — running through the sliding door, getting himself locked in the crate (and refusing to pee in there), and running after the RV while his parents shout "Luke!  Stay!"
  • Frank Dunphy has no deep dark secrets like Claire's dad: "His hard candy shell is just hiding more candy."
  • "Someone's panties are in a bunch.  No, right over there."
  • Mitchell ends up missing Pepper's apres-ski fondue party for Cameron's gig.  Big sweaters are mandatory at the first, not recommended at the second.
  • "I'm just going to drive wherever the wind blows me, which is usually into the next lane."