Modern Family is in a bit of a slump. In last week’s “The Last Walt” episode, which we thought would play tribute to the Dunphys’ late, grumpy neighbor, the show chose to focus on other things—like Luke’s lack of emotion and Claire’s weird smiley reaction to bad news. Unfortunately, that episode never got off the ground.
We were expecting much better, then, from this week’s episode, “Planes, Trains, and Cars,” but sadly, we expected too much.
We can tell that the show’s budget has grown because this episode included a number of external shoots around Los Angeles, including a popular Red Line Metro station and the beach, though we want to know what beach in LA doesn’t have a soul on it on a beautiful day. (Yes, it’s television, but still.)
The show opens with Phil making an impulse decision at a car dealer. Instead of leasing his usual Cadillac sedan, he’s talked into a Porsche, confessing that he’s wanted a car like this since he was a kid: “I used to imagine the wind blowing through my perm, blasting some Hall and Oates, maybe horsing around with Mr. Microphone.”
When he gets home, Claire goes into full-throttle passive aggression, which is funny because the Modern Family audience can relate to the situation—the passive aggression, not Porsche buying. Jay tries to make the sports car work for his business, but admits defeat when he can’t fit his real estate signs and his clients into the two-seater. Claire trades him the Porsche for the minivan, leading to a day off at the beach for her, and a day for him carting the kids around and actually listening and learning about their lives.
The “Trains” storyline focuses on Lily’s first Metro subway ride to LA’s Chinatown, where her two dads promptly lose her favorite bunny on the train. They try to locate the stuffed animal, even putting up fliers around the station. We can’t say this enough, but Mitchell and Cam—played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet—are our favorite couple on TV. They tease, they love, they fight—and most importantly, they make us laugh. Here’s a throwaway line from last night, when Cam shows Mitchell the fliers: “I should have used Helvetica. It much better represents the seriousness of our situation.”
In a nice resolution, they find the bunny, and germophobic Mitchell makes a valiant effort to save the stuffed animal, which is more than what the old Jay would have done for Mitchell when he was growing up.
Speaking of Jay, we come to the “airplanes” plot of the episode. He, Gloria and Manny are prepping for a trip to Pebble Beach for a college reunion with his old football buddies. Jay points out to Gloria and Manny that he was kind of a big kahuna on campus, so he goes all out—packing his expensive watches and even chartering a private prop plane for the trip. Gloria balks at the twin engine ride and insists that they drive, encountering more trouble along the way. Jay’s getting grumpy, fearing he’ll miss the reunion, to which Gloria has a great retort: “We wouldn’t be in the air, we’d be in rock ‘n’ roll heaven!”
Out of all the plot threads running through the episode, this one proved to be the most problematic. First of all, Jay admits that the real reason he wants to get to the reunion is to show off. He wasn’t a big kahuna after all. He was a benchwarmer. And in a million years, no one on the team would have expected him to have a wife as good-looking as Gloria, so he wanted to show her off.
And you know what? She buys into the trophy wife role. We know that Gloria has often used her, ahem, assets to get what she wants, but it’s a little degrading to watch her objectified. And in this episode, Manny wasn’t quite himself either, turning from a sensitive old soul, who’s wise beyond his years, into a snotty brat. The ending of the episode really turned us off, when Manny orders flowers for the concierge at Pebble Beach via phone. He snaps his fingers at Jay and says two words: “credit card.”
Bad move, Manny. And not a great move to cap off this mediocre Modern Family episode. As in life, money and bigger budgets don’t always lead to great TV endings.