Modern Family “Planes, Trains and Cars” Review

Compared to a lot of other family sitcoms, the characters on Modern Family spend quite a bit of time in their cars. I suppose it’s only natural that a show set in Los Angeles would include daily commutes as part of their standard family time, but tonight’s episode, “Planes, Trains and Cars” took transportation beyond the standard commute.

There was a heavy slice-of-life feeling to this episode. Outside of Jay, Gloria and Manny’s travel fiasco (which included attempts at boarding small aircraft, freight trains, and helicopters) the rest of the characters were wrapped up in very normal stories.

Rather than continuing his usual lease on a new sedan, Andre was able to convince Phil to buy a used convertible. Alex immediately recognized the car for the midlife crisis it signaled, while Haley automatically assumed the car would be for her. Claire was so stupefied by her shock and anger that the only reaction she could muster was an unblinking admission that the car was “beautiful.” Realizing that the car wasn’t practical for his normal work day, Phil ended up swapping cars with Claire for a day.

To contrast the unusually playful day that Claire was having, Modern Family could have easily done a series of gags in the van which would have emphasized how stressful a commute with kids could be. Instead, the kids were completely normal. Their little quirks – like Luke’s odd take on the girl watching him play soccer, or Alex speaking Mandarin to Haley – were not really played for laughs. These scenes gave us a glimpse into Haley, Alex, and Luke’s social dynamic outside of the usual stuff we see which normally involves their parents and extended families. Phil, like the rest of us, was simply a curious, silent observer and it ended up being really special.

I also really liked seeing Claire let loose and take a break from her usual obsessive ways. Listening to her describe her day of eating fish tacos and cruising up PCH made me share her feeling of relaxation. I was relieved that even after losing the keys to the convertible and admitting to Phil that she was wrong, she was still able to describe her day of frivolousness as “the best day.” I would have been disappointed if, in retrospect, she determined that she would have been better off running her errands.

Having lost Lily’s precious stuffed animal on the LA Metro, Cam and Mitch went into immediate damage control. Lily actually responded rather well to the loss of Bunny. I’ve seen children have uncontrollable fits of rage after a stuffed animal was accidentally forgotten in the car, so if Lily’s worst public tantrum amounts to her demanding loudly, “I want Bunny,” then I hope Cam and Mitch realize how easy they have it.

I think I would have preferred to see Lily actually freak out and go bonkers at the rail station. At the very least, I would have liked to hear the sound of her rage behind closed doors. Cam and Mitch talked about the rough night they had without Bunny, but since Lily was so matter-of-fact and unemotional in all the scenes we did see her in, I had a hard time believing it was that big of a deal.

Mitch and Cam came up with two weak ideas to solve the missing bunny problem, but they never addressed the most logical solution – the internet. Cam was able to find a “shortie robe” Luke Skywalker for Mitch after all those years, so why didn’t they think to find an identical bunny for Lily online?

Gloria, Jay, and Manny’s attempted trip to Pebble Beach was the least grounded of all the story lines tonight. It wasn’t too ridiculous at first, but I had a hard time buying the helicopter bit, and I totally checked out when Jay suggested that they freight-hop to Pebble Beach.

Once again, Manny was the highlight of the story line for me. Gloria and Jay both realize how peculiar Manny has become, but he’s grown so confident in himself that there’s not much they – or anyone else – can do to change him. I respect the fact that he’s a weird little kid who knows exactly who he wants to be and refuses to to change just meet societal norms.

Although the missing bunny plot line and the impractical convertible plot line didn’t deliver a whole lot of gut-busting hilarity, they were amusing stories because they were relatively realistic and relatable. The more subtle approach to the Dunphy family’s story line was different from the usual humor we get from Modern Family and, in this case, it worked really well.