This week, Modern Family did what it does best and added a layer of depth and gravity to the show that it hasn’t reached before. As usual, the storylines were unified by one theme (pressure), and the relationships between the characters brought out witty dialogue and tender moments. But what was new and refreshing was that we got to delve deeper into Alex’s character and see her story arc through a therapy session. And as if a well-written, well-acted episode wasn’t enough, we were graced with Jane Krakowski, Jesse Eisenberg and John Benjamin Hickey as guest stars.
The episode is aptly titled “Under Pressure,” and all the characters deal with stress this week. Alex has a breakdown due to school pressures and goes to a therapist (played by Hickey). Claire, Phil, Jay and Gloria go to a high school for an open house. Back in a high-school setting, it’s a blast from the past, and they all quickly fall into their old high-school archetypes: Claire is a bad student, Phil is an AV nerd, and Jay and Gloria are the quarterback and head cheerleader. The adult family members all get in trouble and end up running into each other outside the principal’s office (the principal is played by Andrew Daly, who also played a principal on Eastbound & Down). After having spent a day in her shoes, Claire now understands all the pressure Alex is under, and in a touching moment at the end of the show, is able to relate to her.
Meanwhile, Mitch is in a passive-aggressive battle with his environmentalist neighbor (Jesse Eisenberg) who calls him out on not being green enough, and Manny and Luke go on a date with twins.
One criticism from many viewers has been that Alex and Manny have become boring and repetitive. By season five, both characters’ gimmicks have grown a tad stale. I had hopes we would see a turn in Manny’s character since he joined the football team, but the show hasn’t capitalized on that storyline yet, so it was nice to spend time with Alex in therapy and learn more about her. At first, the tone was a little off-putting because while Modern Family does have serious moments, they’re always buttoned with jokes. Those jokes are necessary to make the show comedic, but it does water down these weighty moments. In a turn of events, Alex’s storyline was just serious. Her opening up felt very real, and it’s hard not to feel compassion for her. She talked about the pressure of school, being isolated from her family for being so responsible, and how she feels lonely. Through going back to high school, Claire is able to understand Alex better. When she picks her up from therapy and she expresses to her daughter that she didn’t realize the pressures she was under, Alex bursts into tears and hugs her mom. And with that hug, the episode wrapped up the essence of the title: a loving family that faces modern issues.
Here are some of the killer lines this week:
Phil, commenting on how Alex is so responsible for booking her own therapy session: “She’s like a self-cleaning oven.”
Jay, commenting on Gloria’s sexy outfit she has chosen for the open house: “Why do you look like that when I look like this?”
Manny’s response: “My friends say it’s because of your money.”
Luke, trying to convince Manny that they should switch dates: “They’re twins, they’ll never notice.”
Phil, bragging to Jay how cool he was back in high school: “Back in high school I was in the AV club. We did all kinds of crazy things. One time, we hid a microphone in the gym. We could totally hear everything that was going on at prom.”
Haley, on self-righteous environmentalists: “There’s this girl at my school who was all over me about my boots because they’re leather. Meanwhile, she’s wearing Crocs. As if those aren’t endangered.”