There are times where Modern Family can stretch itself too thin in how separate each of its stories are, and “The Future Dunphys” veers close to this territory, pulling itself out only by some fun gimmickry, and the dependability of its actors’ performances. It had its weak spots, and still felt less than unified, but overall gave us a solid half hour of family TV comedy.
The worst chunk of “The Future Dunphys,” for me, was Manny and Jay’s adventures at private school, but this can be pretty much expected – it takes a lot of work for the show to make me back off my discomfort with Manny stories. And when I say discomfort, I mean it viscerally; his acting style feels so mannered and affected, which is how the character is written as well, and the piling up of affect tends to suffocate any chance of real comedy from that character. This night isn’t any different, and while Ed O’Neill tries valiantly, he can’t quite pull this third of the episode out of the dumps.
Cam and Mitchell fare much better, bringing Gloria over to provide Lily with some girl time, only to have to deal with the fact that she announces that she’s gay. Of course, she’s made a cute kid mistake, and thinks being gay is like being Italian or Irish. This takes them to a Vietnamese restaurant, since Gloria has become nervous about Manny forgetting his heritage and is projecting that anxiety onto Lily, and this scene is a pretty great moment of farce. Everyone involved can’t stop themselves from saying the wrong thing at every possible turn, and always there’s someone walking by to give them a disapproving look.
The plot that gives the episode its title, however, is the strongest of the lot, employing the very silly sitcom device of a family that looks exactly like the Dunphys, only fast-forwarded fifteen or twenty years. Claire and Phil are both nervous about Claire’s heart, which, combined with some revelations from the family one bed over, propels them both to switch parenting styles with the other, leading to that very funny scene in the kitchen with the ones. That’s the kind of choreographed family comedy that Modern Family is great at pulling off, and “The Future Dunphys” really provided it.