Three-time consecutive Emmy winner Modern Family is now three episodes into its fourth season, and its proving to be a rollicking senior year for the riotously funny mockumentary series. The first of the night’s double-header, however, wasn’t about senior year, but college. Haley’s finally moving out, but rest assured, TV obsessees and fretters: the episode made it very clear that actress Sarah Hyland will continue to appear in each episode, though it remains to be seen whether college will pull her out of some of the more central Pritchett shenanigans.
The main storyline in “Schooled” belongs entirely to the Dunphys, who are not, in fact, tearing up sadly a la season two episode “The Old Wagon”, but are busily constructing a Five Year Plan to make their lives fun again. Of course, there’s some requisite sentimentality when Phil and Claire try to help Haley unpack her room and, of course, end up embarrassing her in front of her new roommate and her dad. After season one’s “My Funky Valentine”, in which Phil mistakenly entered the wrong hotel room on Valentine’s Day, and last season’s “Little Bo Bleep”, in which Phil became a viral video sensation for defending his and Claire’s lascivious activities, Phil is gaining a quite alarming reputation.
Gloria and Jay’s story arc concerns their disastrous tenure as the “trouble” students in a parenting class. “Like a burrito,” there instructor tells them about proper swaddling form. It’s more than a little stereotypical to see Gloria correcting her instructor’s analogy, saying you don’t want a loose burrito, but there’s nothing getting in your way of cracking up about Jay’s sage parenting advice. “When they’re hungry, feed ‘em; when they’re teething, give ‘em scotch.” The great irony of the story is the classic Modern Family status switch, in which Jay and Gloria are positioned as dropout flunkies and Manny awaits them at home, a flustered worrywart. The third storyline of the night nicely parallels Haley’s first day of college with Lily’s first day of kindergarten, and again, the statuses switch. Lily’s hair is immediately pulled by a boy in her class, and Mitch and Cam are called to the principal’s office when
they Cam get a little too exuberant in their death threats to the boy. That isn’t the half of it, though – they have to put up with the boy’s stereotypical lesbian parents for a prescribed playdate.
As always with Modern Family, there are simply too many laugh-out-loud funny lines to list them all, but this episode especially had more than usual thanks to Phil’s parting gift to Haley, a quotes book called Phil’s-osophy. The spectacular life lessons in this book range from the obvious (“you can tell a lot about a person from their biography!”) to the racist (“old black ladies make the best tea!”) and the strangely funny (“success is one percent inspiration, ninety eight percent perspiration, and two percent attention to detail!”).
As for as Family episodes go, this one was pretty great. Genuinely funny, with a great joke every thirty seconds, there was no forced sentimentality (as hampers some of the more clumsily directed episodes) and the phone conversation in the car with Haley at the end was genuinely moving. But let’s face it – the most lasting achievement of “Schooled” will be the Venn Diagram of Sexual Identity. For better or worse, it’s gonna be an Internet meme.
The second episode of the night, “Snip”, was by far the weaker of the night. It suffered from serious lulls and script contrivances, but Cam and Mitch’s storyline is a winner. All true Modern Family Trivial Pursuit devotees will know that Cam used to be a music teacher but became a homemaker husband when Lily came around. Now that Lily’s in preschool, Mitch is trying to get Cam back to work. The episode features the duo’s friend Longine’s boutique (the assistant’s name is pronounced Joe, spelled Jeoux), but it all ends in a violent flurry of shoplifting and dramatic mermaid cat costume catharsis. The final showdown between Mitch and Cam is alternately funny, sweet, and a little jarring – Cam’s packed suitcase for Mitch teeters on the edge of plausibility and verisimilitude for the sake of a joke.
Jay and Gloria are debating whether or not they want to know the sex of their impending baby, though the throughline is virtually forgotten in creating opportunities for Gloria to look funny in refusing to wear maternity leave. It does, however, give us a great exchange between Jay and the UltraSound doctor:
“Is that a license plate and a hubcap? You know, like in Jaws?”
“I saw it but I don’t remember a scene with a hubcap inside a pregnant woman.”
“The episode title, “Snip”, refers to Phil’s vasectomy, the first step in the aforementioned Five Year Plan. Phil has cold feet in the waiting room, which unfortunately doubles as the recovery room. There’s a scene in which Jay chases Phil down after he flees the recovery room and the two have a heart-to-heart. The scene, which had so much potential, simply refuses to be funny, and a great sight gag is used one too many times. Ultimately (SPOILER) Phil and Claire decide to wait another five years before going through with the vasectomy. Because we need a bigger cast with more child actors on this show, right?
“Schooled” Rating: 8/10 ★★★★★★★★
“Snip” Rating: 7/10 ★★★★★★★
Stay tuned for Maxwell’s Modern Family recaps and review throughout the season.