Modern Family: “Travels with Scout” (1.21)

TV Reviews Modern Family
Modern Family: “Travels with Scout” (1.21)

The best thing about Modern Family, by leaps and bounds, is its characters. The show’s plots tend to be extremely minor (though that’s sometimes the point) and its jokes can be beyond telegraphed, but there’s no getting away from how sweet the family itself is and the nuanced performances offered week after week from its cast. With the exception of “Fizbo,” the show’s simply not as funny as other ones out there. But these strong characters let it frequently get by regardless, especially when they’re coupled with truly universal-to-every-family stories.

“Travels With Scout” begins with the arrival of Phil’s dad, played by a Fred Willard who exists so naturally in the show’s environment as to feel like he’s been a part of the show since its inception. Fred works well in the episode because he’s so much like the rest of the cast: affable and earnest, yet flawed. Fred’s arrives early, and he’s brought along with him a dog that Phil (for reasons unclear) asked him to bring for the family. Phil hasn’t actually told Claire about this and she’s understandably mad, but that’s not really what the Dunphys spend the episode dealing with. The dog Scout is around, but isn’t all that important, especially compared with Claire noticing Phil’s dad crying in his RV.

Claire wants Phil to find out what’s going on and see if they can help. Despite how we just met Mr. Dunphy this struck a chord with me. A lot of men have trouble talking to their fathers about these sorts of problems, and vice-versa. Phil’s straining to break through this barrier is rough, and while the twist that it’s all about the dog (which Claire has grown to love) is a bit cheap, that doesn’t cheapen the relationship between the two men. Joking is always a lot easier than really talking, and Willard’s character also helps explain a great deal about Phil. He was a nice addition to the show—with any luck, he’ll be making his way back before too long.

Fred isn’t kept to this plotline, though, which is a nice change for Modern Family, and he ends up spending some time hanging around with Dylan’s band, which is going through some problems. Their drummer left, so Cameron offers himself as a replacement. The performance here is enjoyable, but watching Cameron and Mitchell trying to balance their lives together was what really made this part of the episode work for me. Though the whole playing with a teenage band bit is obviously unrealistic, the couple’s emotions and the difficulty they have balancing commitments felt real. It’s one of those things that epitomizes what Modern Family does best.

On the flip side, the last plot of the show in which Manny gets scared by a movie has kernels of truth in it, but is really played up for laughs. Most children have some movie or TV show or whatever that freaks them out, but why Jay stuck it out in the theater isn’t broached. This plot never actually resolves, but a moment when the movie’s villain comes around back with a machette under suitably spooky lighting is priceless nonetheless.

It was still a very sitcom-y episode of the show, but the strings the writers pulled were significantly more invisible than they’ve been in a while. I can’t say I laughed straight through the episode, but I was always interested, and the big set-pieces were good enough to make up for any shortcomings.

Stray Observations:
“How much trouble am I in?” “Well, we have a new rule: no sleeping in the bedroom!!”
-Really loved the cut away to Claire doing Luke’s paper route. Not a very Modern Family moment, but it definitely works.
-Seth Gordon, the man behind wonderful The King of Kong, directed this episode. It’s a surprise not that he’s behind it, but that he was directing an ABC show—most of the time he seems to be doing his work for NBC.
“You’re right. I don’t want to lose the deposit on that fog machine.”
-I know the “Luke is stupider than a dog” jokes are easy, but they kept making me laugh anyway.
“Dude, you should label those sticks.”
“I’ll always remember him as the stranger holding my baby.”
“What’s with the big sweater, is that a gay thing?” “No Dad…it’s for my friend Pepper’s apres-ski fondu…yeah, yeah it’s a gay thing.”
“It’s a miracle I didn’t end up a stripper”
“Our boyfriends totally rock!”
“Cameron’s moment went on for a really, really long time. Turns out I could’ve run to the party and made it back for the end of his moment.”
“Did you hear that one lady screaming my name?” “That was Phil … he had a redbull.”

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