It can seem forced when TV shows do episodes in which several groups of characters experience some version of the same conflict. For an extended-relations show like Modern Family, it works more naturally, because each member is, to an extent, a variation on the same person. This worked in “Airport 2010,” in which the members of the extended family came together at the airport and found that they were having different versions of the same communication problem.
Each of the subplots here followed from a classic marriage problem: one spouse not telling the other directly what he or she wants, leading to a battle of “You don’t understand me” vs. “You expect me to read your mind.” What worked nicely here is that the conflict didn’t just happen randomly: in each couple, it was the blood-related members (Jay and his kids Calire and Mitchell) who were the uncommunicative ones.
Part of the personality of their family is a certain unexpressiveness, and what challenges/saves each of them is that they’ve found spouses who are more outwardly directed and expressive than they learned to be. It didn’t make for a laugh riot episode, but it was a funny one with nice depth. The capper was the cross-cutting between Phil/Mitchell and Claire/Cam—as each of them talked the other through the problem, it was clear that, in a way, they were really having an argument with their spouse in absentia. It was an insightful way of showing the kinds of misunderstandings that can crop up between people who care about each other, but show it in different ways.
Next week: the gang gets to Hawaii! Someone had better find a tiki idol.