Modern Family: “Message Received”

(Episode 5.22)

TV Reviews Modern Family
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Modern Family: “Message Received”

Modern Family took a sharp turn this week, ending the episode with an unresolved fight between Jay and Mitch. Last week I discussed the lifespan of a sitcom, and how the ironclad, isolated, episodic tempo inherent to sitcoms can become a rubik’s cube for TV writers to solve. Modern Family’s scribes continue to experiment with their structure, and this week really broke their own mold by having an unofficial “To Be Continued…” ending.

In “Message Received,” The Dunfys find a box of old junk which contains Phil’s old answering machine. Working more like a time machine, there are recordings that were never deleted, like one where Claire announces to Phil that she is pregnant after their night at the Duran Duran concert and reveals they’re not married yet. The kids use the voice recordings to prank their parents. On the other side of town, Gloria, Jay and Manny challenge each other to see who is actually willing to try new things: Jay has to eat a Colombian blood sausage, Mannie a pickle, and Gloria must caress Stella’s belly.

In a “Gift of the Magi” scenario, Cam and Mitch are scrounging to pay for their nuptials, and both decide to part with an old memento from their childhood. Cam has a belt buckle that supposedly belonged to Wyatt Earp, and Mitch has a vintage Spider-Man comic in mint condition. At the pawn shop, they learn the buckle is a worthless knock-off, but that the comic book is worth $5,000. Mitch goes to his father’s house to retrieve the comic, and reveals to Cam that the reason he likes Spider-Man so much so much is because “it’s about this nerdy kid who has this special secret side of himself that he can’t share with anybody. Actually, that’s how I’ve always felt about the superhero. Spider-Man makes you feel like it’s okay to be different, and like you’re tough enough to get through the rough times.”

Modern Family never has a sour ending. It always wraps up its storyline in a sweet little package, and gives hump day a bump by sending you off with laughs and happy tears. Not last night. Last night, Jay was very real, and sometimes when people get real, it gets ugly. He confesses that, while he has grown to accept his son’s relationship with Cam, he still is not thrilled of the idea of Mitch having a huge celebration. When Mitch gets offended, Jay tells him, “Why do you get to be you and I don’t get to be me,” and then reverses the common line, “I didn’t choose to be uncomfortable, I was born this way.” Mitch disinvites Jay from the wedding.

To quote comedy legends Del Close and Charna Halpern, “the truth is funny.” Modern Family doesn’t brush the ugly side of humans under the rug. In an ideal world Jay would be fully at peace with his son’s lifestyle, but he isn’t, and watching Jay battle within himself makes him unlikable—and simultaneously relatable. While comedy is meant to make you happy, it is best when it does not represent a happy world, but a real world. The scene between Jay and Mitch is a heartbreaking scene to watch, but its realism topped with the dialogue still manages to bring out laughter.

As for the new style, it’s interesting to note that 30 Rock became more narrative-based in its final seasons, and that worked out well. I enjoyed how the writers left me hanging with no resolution. It was definitely a jolt, and piqued my interest for next week. And of course, with every episode, we are closer to the TV wedding of the year (or at least my year).

Jokes to Remember:

When Mitch suggests they get rid of the centerpieces to save money on the wedding, Cameron responds in horror : “Why even have a wedding?”

Cameron: “This here’s a belt buckle once worn by the great Wyatt Earp. My grandpa gave it to me when I was seven years old, and he said, ‘Son, this will keep the bad guys away.’ Well, in my early-20s, I wore it to a ‘Cowboys and Indians’ disco party, and let’s just say it didn’t.”

Phil, on stealing Claire away from her former boyfriend: “Let’s just say he took his eye off the ball and struck out. So I stepped up to the plate and nailed her in the cheap seats.”

Manny taunts Jay about having to eat the blood sausage: “Looks like you’re in quite a conundrum.”
Jay: “You know, you could’ve said…”
Manny: “A pickle! Dang it, it was right there!”

Madina Papadopoulos is a New York-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.