Spoilers for last night’s Modern Family below:
An unexpected thought occurred to me after watching last night’s Modern Family: Is it the 2012 equivalent to Friends?
It’s not the likeliest comparison: Friends was a hangout comedy and Modern Family, well, a family comedy, which would suggest comparisons to a whole other genre of sitcoms. Yet the A-plot of “Aunt Mommy,” in which Claire did not end up committing to donate an egg to be fertilized with Cameron’s sperm, reminded me of nothing more than Phoebe’s agreeing to surrogate-bear her brother’s triplets. (“My sister’s having my baby!”) In a strange way, Modern Family may be today’s closest analog to Friends, which when it came down to it—with all its unconventional, broken and ersatz families—was really a show about the improvisional nature of family structures today.
Also like Friends, Modern Family is a show I usually find enjoyable, thanks largely to an exceptional cast, but that has expected rhythms and patterns that don’t really bear weekly analysis. “Aunt Mommy” didn’t really break any of those patterns, but it was a good example of how they work when all elements are at their best: a strong premise, funny execution and stories that take the extended family’s dynamics seriously. And I liked the way the episode carried her and Mitchell and Cam through the idea, making it seem impulsive and ill-advised, but also natural and oddly sensible.
It worked because it came from a real place on both sides of the bargain. Mitchell and Cam dealt with the very real issue of worrying, as two men, that any baby they had would not truly be “theirs,” with or without the use of an insemination “swirl.” (A term that will probably cause me to take a pass on soft-serve ice cream for a couple weeks.) And Claire’s suggesting the deal came from the root of her character as well: a combination of a burst of pride in her own family and affection for her brother and his husband, brought to the surface by a little too much red wine. (Absolutely fitting, by the way, that the tightly wound Pritchett family would need a few glass of vino to bring their emotions to the surface.)
The episode closed with Mitchell and Claire, both wanting out of the bargain but feeling pushed toward it for different reasons, meeting under the table like two kids in trouble and working it out. Their sibling relationship is one of the best things Modern Family does; though the show can draw some of its characters broadly, including the two of them, when they interact you get a real, drawn-from-life feeling of the brother-and-sister dynamic. They’re quite different people, except where they are exactly the same, and there’s a real feeling of connection and unspoken history between them; they make you believe that they’ve been under that table before. Where Friends was a show about how your friends can become your family, Modern Family makes the point that you can be related to someone, yet keep discovering new things about them your entire life.
But “Aunt Mommy” also got a lot of little things right in the subplots, which helped make this one of the most satisfying episodes this season. I may be biased toward this kind of thing as a parent, but I got legitimately verklempt when Jay, seeing Gloria and Manny’s need for their shared ritual, pocketed four of their lucky pennies so their search wouldn’t have to end. What seemed like a pro forma story of Jay wishing Manny were a more normal boy again turned into an affecting reminder that Gloria and Manny have a whole history, not all of which was having good times in their fancy house. And I inordinately loved the out-of-nowhere line in which Luke called out Lily as being a mess of a person. Somebody had to say it, am I right?