As expected, Modern Family‘s “Mother’s Day” episode was saccharine in tone. Unexpectedly, it skirted some important issues, but ultimately ignored them in order to focus on some mediocre laughs.
I like Modern Family best when the stories from each of the families intersect in an organic manner. Too often, the show just has everyone meet at dinner to close the episode with all the characters together. This happens at the end of “Mother’s Day.”
This episode included three main stories, that did at least shake up some of the usual character groupings. Unfortunately, the gay couple still did not interact with the other families until the end.* In fact, I have a lot to say about the Tucker-Pritchett story in this episode.
Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) have the most interesting narrative this week. Mitch surprises Cam with a Mother’s Day breakfast in bed, not realizing that his male partner might not appreciate being celebrated as a maternal figure. Tension escalates as their usual playgroup celebrates Mother’s Day and everyone includes Cam as an “honorary mother.” Cam complains about Mitch referring to him as his “wife,” as shown by a sequence of quick cuts to Mitch doing so, both at home and in the office. At the end of the day, Mitch says he understands Cam’s feelings, but also thinks that celebrating Cam’s maternal, nurturing kindness shouldn’t be an insult.
The Cam and Mitch story is the most politically pointed and sociological important story of the episode. How does one reconcile the traditional nuclear family with a family that includes parents of the same gender? (Requisite reference to The Kids Are All Right.) Does one necessarily have to become the mother, and one the father? What do those roles really mean? What about single parents? Can a single mom not also instill tough virtues in her son? Can a single father not be nurturing?
A lot of interesting depths to be plumbed, and I’m afraid Modern Family dropped the ball on this one, choosing to go with a pat ending instead of really exploring the issue. Contrast the easy solution of this episode to the unease at the end of Carol Leifer-helmed “Two Monkeys and a Panda.” Both episodes dealt with issues that have only recently come to national attention, but which have been important issues within the LGBT community for a long while. However, “Two Monkeys and a Panda” actually directly addressed the issue and dealt with it in a realistic manner, as described in this AfterElton article.
Gay family aside, the rest of the episode was somewhat bland. In the most maudlin, overdone storyline, Phil (Ty Burrell) and Jay (Ed O’Neill) prepare a Mother’s Day feast for their wives. Along the way, Jay finds a poem he had written for his mother in his childhood. The stalwart family patriarch tears up, and refuses to confess to crying. I always enjoy the pairing of Phil and Jay, for the obvious contrast between the characters and the comedic tension that ensues. However, the narrative was trite and unoriginal.
The rest of the characters embarked on a more interesting adventure. Claire (Julie Bowen) and Gloria (Sofia Vergara) take their children hiking. The child actors on Modern Family are always a treat to watch, especially the talented Rico Rodriguez as Manny. The children quickly get bored, and their mothers decide to go on without them, leaving the kids with the knowledge that they have “ruined Mother’s Day.”
Claire’s children decide that the only way to stop the cycle of maternal guilt trips is to not apologize for their bad behavior. This mostly serves to give the audience a few shots of Nolan Gould’s Luke looking uncomfortable. Manny, on the other hand, is in for another surprise. Claire complains about her children, which shocks Gloria, until the single mother finally breaks through and honestly speaks about some aspects of her child that annoy her. Of course, in accordance with sitcom law, Manny happens to reach the mothers right after this little speech. Gloria quickly recants everything she just said, to which Claire responds “That’s healthy.”
Gloria’s overprotective mothering is an interesting character trait, but it’s not explored here. The entire hiking adventure just seems to be a ruse to get the characters together and have them do something, anything, that might elicit a few chuckles from the audience.
In general, this episode just seemed lazy. Modern Family can do (and has done) much better. However, themed holiday episodes do have the tendency of veering on the sentimental and rote, Community obviously notwithstanding.
*It’s interesting how often this occurs, given that the Tucker-Pritchett family is still a pretty basic sitcom family, so you would think it’d be easier to include them in multi-family storylines. The Pritchett and Dunphy families are arguably also very dissimilar, though they share children of similar ages, so that definitely helps in creating storylines that bring both families together.