With a title like “The Last Walt,” we were expecting a lot from this week’s Modern Family episode. We imagined the possibilities of exploring Luke’s friendship with his crotchety neighbor Walt (played by Philip Baker Hall), and the fallout from the old man’s death. It’s usually not sitcom fodder, but we believe that if anyone could make light of a dark subject, it’s Modern Family creator Steve Levitan.
Unfortunately, he didn’t write or direct this episode. Instead, writing credits were given to Dan O’Shannon, Paul Corrigan and Brad Walsh, and the use of three writers showed the seams.
The episode opens with Claire and Phil trying to find the best way to tell Luke that his old friend has passed away. When they finally manage to tell him, he doesn’t react the way they expect or want—in fact, Luke has no reaction at all, even when his mom has the creepiest smirk on her face when delivering the news. (Apparently, Claire reacts to bad news with an unnerving smile.)
The only reaction that little Luke has is to steal a TV from Walt’s house; he later tells Claire that he would look out his window and see the TV and know that Walt was up and around watching it. Claire wells up at the end, finally losing the smiley face. It was a very unsatisfying end to the segment: Not many laughs, and even the tears felt forced.
There were two stories weren’t terribly developed: Haley throws an unauthorized party, and Phil tries to have a special and memorable day with Alex.
Haley stops by Gloria and Jay’s house, knowing that they’re going to Mitchell and Cam’s. She asks Gloria if she can invite a few friends over if her uncle chaperones. We’ve never met this uncle, have we? Oh yes, we have. It’s her “Uncle” Manny, who does a better job of chaperoning then most adults. He vacuums and cleans during the party, and he serves as the morality police, too.
He scolds a couple who made their way upstairs, and reminds them that the bedrooms are off limits: “Young lady, I don’t think you’re ready up here (points to his head) for what you’re planning to do up there.” We weren’t shown nearly enough of Manny being Manny.
When Phil finds out that Walt was estranged from his daughter, he realizes that he’s never had special moments with Alex and doesn’t want the same fate to befall them. He drives them to destination: adventure. Unfortunately they encounter more misadventures than adventures: They drive 50 miles for the world’s best milkshake only to find that the machine’s broken; Phil tries to scare a pregnant waitress into labor so they can deliver the kid, and Alex pukes in the diner’s booth. This inorganic bonding wasn’t funny—even the heartfelt ending of Phil carving Alex’s initials into the restaurant’s moon sign (just like what Eugene Cernan, the last man on the moon did for his daughter, except he did it on the real moon).
What we were happy to see in this episode was a stronger Jay, not getting all sentimenal or acting like Gloria’s lapdog, relegated to the background. He finally had a substantive storyline, in which he and Cam’s dad Merle (Barry Corbin) come to terms with why they don’t like each other. They’re both tough guys—men’s men—who’ve come to terms that their sons are together. But what they argue about is who then is the “wife” in the relationship. We could totally see that type of question and confusion coming from both of those characters.
In a corresponding scene, we watch Mitch and Cam argue about whose father is tougher. Cam says that Jay’s “city tough” not “farm tough,” to which Mitchell responds, “Oh, you mean cities, where there’s gangs, as opposed to farms, where there are ducks…”
That was the funniest line of the night—but unfortunately, it didn’t have much competition in “The Last Walt.”