I still think last week’s episode, “See You Next Fall,” should have been the finale.
The biggest reveal from “The One That Got Away” is that Cameron and Mitchell might adopt another child next season. Cameron wants a boy because he enjoyed teaching Manny how to play baseball, or at least how to put a baseball glove on, and Mitchell wants a sibling for Lily, because he couldn’t have made it through childhood without the help of his sister, Claire.
But that’s for next season. This season’s finale focused on my second favorite development of the show’s sophomore season, behind the greatness of Luke (who didn’t have much to work with, but still hit “someone get me a chocolate milk, with extra salt,” a nice callback to a previous incident, out of the park): the evolution of Jay. He wasn’t a favorite of mine in season one; he too often was a grumpy old man for 99% of the episode, and only found his gooey 1% center only when it was convenient for the plot. But Ed O’Neil has found a nice balance of not coming across as too much of a cantankerous coot (although his “You know who did your job in my day? A hose” line was great), while not becoming overly sentimental, either; he’s the show quietest character, which is sorely needed when you’ve got the amped up Crazy Claire and Phil, and also its most consistent.
Like the “Airport 2010”/”Hawaii” two-parter from last season, all Jay wants is to have a relaxing birthday fishing by himself (not quite Ron Swanson eating and watching The Bridge on the River Kwai, but it’ll do), but his family keeps getting in the way. Gloria forgets her phone and can’t pick up the dog, forcing him to; Mitchell and Claire, who are both drunk and stuck in the background of their former childhood home, attempting to recreate a photo from when they were kids for his birthday, ask their dad to pick them up; Cameron needs him to buy his own cake due to a mistakenly pedophilic conversation; and everyone gives him fantastically awful presents, like a sexy phone, rather than a saxophone. The family means well, but their own lives keep getting in the way.
As for Phil, while out shopping, he runs into Glenn Whipple, a college rival who “won every robot battle.” Even though he was played by the fantastic Rob Huebel of Human Giant and Childrens Hospital fame, Glenn was just kind of…there. There was no real payoff from the storyline, other than Phil learning to not tell him he’s married to Gloria and to appreciate Claire, I guess. Because Modern Family is so insular, they’ve had a tough time making guest stars fit in the context of the story, even when they’re as talented as Matt Dillon, Shelley Long, and Justin Kirk (the only one that I think has been truly successful was Fred Willard and, at times, Nathan Lane).
What worked much better was Cameron’s phone call to Manny, who he’s instructing on how to win over his crush. While waiting in line to pick up Jay’s cake, he tells Manny to say, “You are the prettiest, smartest, funniest girl in the sixth grade. I know you’re only 11, but I can’t stop thinking about you. I’ve loved talking to you online. I think we should become boyfriend and girlfriend.” No more Crumbs for Mitchell, who’s asked to leave the bakery off-screen and calls Jay for assistance on-. That was the episode’s strongest joke, right ahead of Luke’s video composed of footage from events throughout the season, like “Clive Bixby” running out the door, Cameron putting his Fizbo makeup on, and Claire running out the door to place her safety signs throughout the neighborhood. (I’m not going to bother mentioning the Crazy Claire stuff from this episode, because I guess we should just accept it at this point, and be surprised when she’s not getting drunk to solve a problem, just like how we should be glad when Cam and Mitchell aren’t arguing, which they weren’t last night! Good job, “The One That Got Away.”)
A dinner and a WNBA game (go Sparks!) later, Jay’s ready to consider his birthday a bust, until Manny saves the evening: he dragged Jay’s boat into the swimming pool, and wants to go fishing with his father. Soon, the grandchildren, minus Lily, are on the boat, with the rest of the family standing around, happy for the eldest Dunphy. I’ve been down on Modern Family this season, but only because I know they’re capable of entire episodes that are as touching and funny as the final five minutes of “The One That Got Away.” Even if the episode wasn’t originally supposed to be the finale (or so one would assume), it left viewers with a nice reminder of how good Modern Family can be.
Josh Kurp would give the second season of Modern Family a “B.”