Modern Family – “Hawaii”


May 12th, 2010

I don’t think this was, in particular, one of the show’s funniest episodes. There were certainly some clever lines in “Hawaii,” as the show tried out some familiar but not yet tapped out character combinations within the central family, but the show wasn’t going for what you’d call broad humour here.

However, there was a nice sense of realism in the way these stories unfolded; everything reaches a heartwarming conclusion, but rather than undercutting some sort of broad comic satire it seems like a logical extension of a trip which got “real” in a hurry. Everyone was caught dealing with certain realities they hadn’t faced in their daily lives which people are technically supposed to leave behind on vacations, and that led to a focus on these characters as real people in a way the show sometimes elides in its search for comedy.

When Haley ended up going to another hotel with some strangers and getting drunk, I thought it was a joke – I presumed that the Dunphy children had banded together to pull a prank on their parents to teach them that it’s wrong to abandon your children while on vacation, and that Haley was going to be “fake drunk.” As it turns out, though, she was actually drunk, and she was definitely feeling the pain in a realistic fashion. It’s rare that the show has moments like that so early in an episode, but it was a sign that what we were seeing here wasn’t meant to be funny before anything else. We’re supposed to laugh at Jay trapped in a hammock and Phil struggling to get him out, but at the heart of that story is a man who is suddenly staring his age in the face, who has worked himself into injury to try to regain a sense of youth (which, not that the show makes this argument, also offers a psychological investigation of his relationship with Gloria). Mitchell and Cameron have a replay of their scene with Lily trapped in their car (complete with Mitchell’s girlish screams) as she gets left in the elevator, but it is an extension of Mitchell getting too relaxed after trying to over-adventure poor Cameron.

Claire makes the argument that traveling with kids is like a business trip, and I was worried about this episode would feel structured and organized in a way which would too clearly reveal its sitcom trappings. However, the show used Luke and Manny (two very reliable characters) to put a nice spin on the logical “room sharing” storyline, and even in predictable storylines had wonderful moments like Gloria’s “Where are you going, Lily?” as she nonchalantly steps into the elevator to rescue her which don’t feel like traditional punchlines. I wouldn’t say that the episode was outright unpredictable, but it was open to interpretation and could have come to various different conclusions. When it eventually came to its romantic renewal of their wedding vows, which was beautifully played by Ty Burrell and (in particular) Julie Bowen, it sent ripple effects through the rest of the episode without a saccharine voiceover that explicitly connects the various storylines. It makes you reconsider characters’ actions in a different context, which is what a good television ending should do (especially on a show where theme can often play a pretty substantial role).

“Hawaii” was just really well executed, managing to make an episode feel different (or “special”) without feeling like they transformed characters into something different or creating high drama situations. By telling a restrained story within the vacation space, it leads to a much more subtle show than we’re used to seeing but one which earns its conclusion a bit more effectively while maintaining some great lines.

Cultural Observations

  • It’s a bit strange that they’d travel all the way to Hawaii and never leave the hotel while on camera outside of the little “Cameron and Mitchell lose Lily at a Banana Plantation” bit at the end, but I think that was part of the point: they didn’t want to stretch the story too thin, and wanted to keep the characters in relatively close quarters.
  • However, it does create some inconsistencies with the busy family vacation they discussed in “Airport 2010,” just as it seems strange that we saw Cameron so excited about hiking up volcanoes last week but this week backing out of Mitchell’s adventurous plans. I could have used a bit of continuity there, and I think that Cameron could have backed out over something a little bit less, you know, completely not adventurous by any definition of the word.
  • The show has paired Luke and Manny before, as Manny’s playdate with Luke turns into a mature discussion with Claire when Luke is too busy being immature, but I liked the ability for Luke to voice his frustration. While he does become Bathroom Alien, and pees at the same time as brushing his teeth, Luke also complains to his mother about Manny’s compulsive folding, and he taunts Manny by taking his leather jacket. It isn’t just that these two characters are polar opposites and Manny gets uncomfortable, but Luke gets to be his own character, which goes a long way to keeping him “real” despite his hilarious one-liners and the like.
  • Ukelele versions of pop songs are a huge cliche, but “Eye of the Tiger” still worked nicely both as a piece of music to soundtrack the home video shot conclusion and as a pickup of Phil’s earlier discussion with Claire.


Filed under Modern Family

2 responses to “Modern Family – “Hawaii”

  1. Annie Petersen

    Great review, Myles. Just want to add that Bathroom Monster has been added to my top five television moments of the season.

  2. Chris Meek

    I don’t know if you remember me, but I met you last summer at Acadia. I just wanted to let you know I love your reviews and I read them after every show I watch! Great job!

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