The final episode of Modern Family’s third season had a number of surprises for viewers, not the least of which was an added element of pathos with Mitchell’s and Cam’s struggles to adopt a second child.
“Baby on Board” opens with Cam and Lily practicing for her dance recital, with Cam demonstrating how to spot the walls while twirling to prevent dizziness. It’s hilarious to watch Eric Stonestreet act as seriously as any stage mother on Toddlers and Tiaras.
Mitchell then gets a call from their adoption agency that sets the rest of their storyline in motion: A birth mother in Calexico has chosen them to adopt her baby, and she’s gone into labor. While they’re torn about missing Lily’s recital, they know that they must head to Mexico to pick up the newborn.
Gloria road trips with the boys to Mexico to serve as a translator, while Manny and Jay are tasked with taking Lily to the dance show. (In a funny wisecrack, Gloria says that she’s happy the new baby will be Mexican—after which Manny turns to Jay and asks “How’s that giant fence working out for you?”)
The adventure continues with Gloria getting “carsick” on the drive down, and the storyline devolving into a telenovela. Literally. The madcap hospital lobby scene is ripped straight from Jay’s favorite Mexican soap opera: Fire and Ice. It’s all fun and games until the abuela refuses to let her grandchild be adopted.
This is territory we’ve never seen in Modern Family before—the actual despair that overcomes Mitchell, and to a lesser extent, Cam, in losing a child they never had. The ups-and-downs of this adoption are much closer to real life than the smooth process of the Lily’s adoption.
Back at home, Jay and Manny are semi-clueless when it comes to babysitting Lily. She doesn’t want to perform at the recital because her dads aren’t around. There’s a Little Miss Sunshine moment between Jay and Lily, which, for a change, doesn’t feel like a forced happy ending for the old guy.
Over at the Dunphys’, the family is amazed that Alex is going to prom and Haley isn’t—until they meet Alex’s date. The boy obviously doesn’t realize he’s gay yet (though the rest of the world does). “I’m basically his beard…his stubble,” she says.
Haley, on the other hand, is acting way too mature and grown up: Registering for classes at the community college, cooking dinner for the family and getting a job at The Gap, since she’s considering doing a “gap” year between high school and college. (Oh, that’s what a gap year is for!) It’s all a ploy to break it to her parents that she and Dylan are moving in together. A side note: Reid Ewing (Dylan) does a great job of playing the dumbest guy on the planet.
There are terrific one-liners in and around the dinner table. At one point, Luke pipes up and asks, “Are you doing sex?” and is immediately hushed by Phil and Claire. And in the “serious” parents-daughter conversation, we hear a snippet of Phil talking something about being “toothless and alone wandering in a post-apocalyptic wasteland” at age 60 if Haley were to make this life-changing decision.
The conversation with their daughter is tinged with regret and rife with hidden meaning (i.e., there’s a backstory to Phil and Claire’s marriage), which the writers have alluded to in a couple episodes this season. We can only hope that we get to see the early stages of their relationship at some point. Though we’re not crazy about flashbacks, we have a feeling that would be a trip.
There are a lot of unanswered questions in this episode—will Cam and Mitchell play a larger role in Gloria’s pregnancy? Is Jay too old to raise a child? Will Haley go off to college? There were a number of semi-cliffhangers usually not seen in half-hour sitcoms, and we didn’t mind at all.
We liked the fact that the Modern Family writers didn’t spoonfeed us happy endings. We were in stitches one moment with Cam and Mitchell in the hospital, watching the soap opera unfold, and in the next we were feeling their loss. We laughed and we cried in a 30-minute period. And that’s what good TV is all about.