The season finale of Modern Family was disappointing, especially in comparison to last week’s episode.
Last week, I questioned the wisdom of placing “See You Next Fall” before the season finale. “See You Next Fall” was so primed for finale-hood, with its heartwearming, integrated storyline. The graduation theme felt like a perfect way to mark the passage of time and the start of a summer break for the characters and the show itself.
In contrast, “The One That Got Away” was funny, but a little flat and disjointed.
The family prepares to celebrate their patriarch’s birthday. Jay (Ed O’Neill) chooses to spend the day by himself, only to see his plans go awry due to the mistakes of his family members.
Phil (Ty Burrell) runs into a college rival and pretends Gloria (Sofia Vergara) is his wife, in order to impress the other man. Phil’s attraction to Gloria has always been played for laughs, but he comes across a little skeevy in this episode. Vergara is a talented comic actress, but this episode mainly made fun of her affected accent and took advantage of her sex symbol looks.
Meanwhile, Cam (Eric Stonestreet) gives relationship advice to Manny (Rico Rodriguez). Advising Manny on sports makes Cam wish for a son, which seems like an oddly gender normative plot device. Cam, the pink gingham-wearing former college football player can’t take his daughter to a batting cage?
There’s also an odd moment when Manny’s foppishness gives Cam pause. While Modern Family has usually shown Manny as a precociously mature sophisticate-to-be, this episode focused only on Manny’s love for cooking and bubble baths. Paired with stereotypically female behavior, Manny has also been depicted as almost aggressively heterosexual. He constantly pursues girls (even some older girls), even though Luke (Nolan Gould) is the same age and shows no interest in the fairer sex. There’s depths to be plumbed in Modern Family‘s creation of the character of Manny, and I can’t help but to wonder how this character would have developed on a cable network.
Getting back to the story… Claire (Julie Bowen) and Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) decide to recreate a childhood photo as their birthday gift for Jay. This involves breaking into their childhood home, now under new ownership. The siblings run into trouble, and end up calling Jay to rescue them.
It’s interesting that a wine-infused conversation between the two siblings leads to a brief discussion of the effect of Jay’s new family on the Pritchett inheritance division. The thought was quickly waved away, but the discussion was one of the few moments where Modern Family went outside of the usual sitcom family problems and reflected an issue that would actually affect an extended family like the Pritchetts.
I suppose its the inclusion of that one exchange (Is it really fair that Manny inherit a third of Jay’s estate?) that marks the tone of this episode. While last week’s episode was almost cloyingly sweet and sentimental, this week’s episode shows the family in a plainer, less idealistic light.
Nothing quite goes well in this episode. Claire and Mitch don’t finish their birthday surprise. Phil fools a rival, only to find himself the fool. The kids collaborate to create a lousy video. Miscommunication embarrasses Cam. Jay doesn’t get to spend a day at the lake. The dog ruins his birthday cake. His wife gives him a “sexy phone” instead of the saxophone he wanted. Of course, in the end, the family gathers by the pool and all is well.
Season 2’s finale shows the Pritchett clan in a perhaps more realistic manner than usual. While “Graduation Day” was an elegantly-crafted, emotionally simple, feel-good episode, “The One That Got Away” was gritty, messy, and honest. Not unlike most modern families in the viewing audience.