Modern Family – “Airport 2010”

“Airport 2010”

May 5th, 2010

There’s a point in this episode where I became very afraid. I really like episodes where the characters are all part of the same situation, but there’s a point where it seemed like the show was intending to play out every airport/flying cliche imaginable. Mitchell left his wallet at home, Claire was afraid of flying, and Manny was pulled aside for being on a “No Fly” list – combine with a lot of unpleasantness surrounding those events and Jay’s outward disappointment about the entire family joining them on their Hawaii vacation, and it just wasn’t coming together all that well.

However, “Airport 2010” ended up coming together rather remarkably well: there were some nice use of some non-linear narratives to keep things interesting, the cuts between different stories provided a real sense of dynamism, and when the show eventually gets to its heartwarming conclusion it feels more earned that most similar stories. This is largely because at a certain point the show lets characters talk to one another about their feelings rather than just getting into wacky comic situations that reveal them, very clearly laying out a reason for them to come together to fly to Maui at episode’s end and very clearly identifying what makes this show better than its sitcom situations.

Usually I have more to say about Modern Family when it isn’t working well, but there was only one thing in this week’s episode that bugged me. It’s  not a new problem for the show: I still think that the show would be better off without its confessionals 90% of the time, at least when they are clearly reacting to a particular situation. It’s one thing to show us Mitchell and Cameron talking about flying: it’s a general discussion topic that isn’t responding directly to events we’re seeing, so we can enjoy Cameron’s tearful frustration at missing out on seeing his own life story on stage in Billy Elliot without concern over the context of the interviews (which is entirely imaginary, as there is no actual documentary film crew). However, when Haley learns that her “beau” is fourteen years old and drawing robots and dinosaurs, the show cuts to Alex and Haley on the sofa, at home, which means that this would have to be happening at least six days later. The logistics of those confessionals is sketchy enough as it is most times, but that one really hit me as problematic considering the situation the characters were in, and I also don’t think it was entirely necessary. Alex falling off the couch was funny, but Haley’s embarrassment stood fine on its own (and Alex got her revenge in a more natural fashion during the tag as she points out another young paramour colouring as they get on the plane).

However, it was the one moment that had me frustrated with the show, as the rest proved really quite dynamic. I loved the various cuts between different stories, the flashbacks seeming at first to be a fairly lame device until the show switches things up by having Dylan end up trapped inside Phil and Claire’s house panicking. Once that part of the story was there, it popped up in other places: Haley ignores a text from Dylan that says “I’m trapped” for being too melodramatic, and then Phil and Mitchell ignore a text from the alarm company as we see Dylan bolting from the house. The show didn’t just tell cutaway jokes in the episode, it actually kept them lingering throughout and between the two stories. Mitchell realizes he left his keys at the airport just as we see Cameron playing with the keys in order to keep Lily awake (which was a lot of fun, by the way), and eventually it allows the show to start converging individual stories into one quite easily now that the various storylines have started to intermingle.

And then the episode becomes about key scenes of conversation, with Phil and Claire talking Mitchell and Cameron (respectively) through their argument earlier in the day, and then Claire helping Jay through his issues with the whole family coming along. Eventually the characters come to the heartwarming conclusions, but they achieve it through talking about it rather than someone providing voiceover which seems to tie off any emotional loose ends. The episode could have gone into the Hawaii trip with a lot of tension, but this isn’t that show: it doesn’t do extended anger or any real dramatic situations, so of course Gloria booked an extra day for just the two of them as another surprise (she loves those), and of course Claire gets so drunk that she forgives Phil for abandoning her, and of course Mitchell and Cameron aren’t actually allowed to kiss when they reunite at the airport for reasons I don’t entirely understand.

But in this episode I thought that fit well – rather than turning into one big airport cliche, or completely falling into epic antics, the show used some non-linear storytelling to nicely merge the three main stories together and tighten the bonds of family ahead of their trip to the islands of Hawaii. When I complain that the show is too saccharine or that its heartwarming conclusions don’t feel earned, I’m not suggesting the show needs to become cold or spiteful. I simply want the show to really earn its conclusions, and I thought “Airport 2010” did a fine job with that.

Cultural Observations

  • Apparently, with 24 no longer set in Los Angeles full-time, Modern Family decided that romantic depictions of L.A. traffic needed to be returned to television.
  • Nice little Lost connection with Luke terrifying Claire by bringing up the show’s plane crash – Bowen, of course, has a recurring role on Lost, and I wonder if perhaps she booked a sixth season cameo for when she would be in Hawaii shooting Modern Family? Just a thought.
  • Cameron using the squirt bottle on Lily isn’t the first time we’ve seen one of those in television comedy (See: Jim on Dwight in “The Injury” episode of The Office), but I liked the sort of nonchalant nature of it here. Lily didn’t even react.
  • “Let’s do Bride of Frankenstein!” – Julie Bowen/Ty Burrell killed that tag, folks.


Filed under Modern Family

5 responses to “Modern Family – “Airport 2010”

  1. Danny

    In some interview with Sepinwall the creators mentioned that the talking heads aren’t supposed to function as a “real documentary” (a la The Office). They take place in some space/time that doesn’t really exist, I guess. There’s no camera crew following the family around that they’re aware of. The show is just using the mockumentary style to provide some humor and gain additional insight into the characters.

    That at least addresses the timing issues you had with that TH tonight. I just thought it was unfunny.

    • Yeah, I read that myself – as I said above, they’re “imaginary,” which is fine when they’re fairly general or when they feel like they’re adding insight.

      That, however, was a very specific reaction, and the very specific location of the episode made the living room setting more bizarre/out of place than usual. I’ve accepted the show isn’t going to pay attention to reality, but this stretch seemed particularly egregious and perhaps should have been reconsidered.

      • Danny

        That’s what I get for skimming! But to be fair, if we’re going to accept that they are imaginary, it seems odd to try and work out the logistics of how/why they might have happened regardless.

        • I think my distinction is this: I accept that they don’t want to make them “real” (as an actual documentary film crew filming their family has no basis in reality and would be ethically complicated to say the least), but I don’t accept that they insist on including ones which so directly relate to the action on-screen that seeing them as imaginary makes it seem like some sort of Mystery Science Theatre-style commentary. If the show were consistent, I’d be fine, but the inconsistency always bugs me, and (try as I might to stop) I can’t keep from thinking about the logistics.

  2. Pingback: A Glitch in TV Land « The Dramadies

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