Episode 19: The Future Dunphys
By: Carlos Uribe
Modern Family is a show about three branches of a family.
Parents could have different perspectives of their own kids. These perspectives can influence how they see their child but also how they parent. They could be the people they might grow up to be, it might be where they come from, or who you want them to be. This is an episode that explores all three to varying results. Phil and Claire worry about where their parenting style is going to take their kids. Gloria, Cam, and Mitchell all worry that their child might be losing tough with their heritage. Jay projects his childhood insecurity into Manny by trying to get him into a prestigious prep school. There's a lot going on in this episode as a lot of the characters are involved in conflicts that are really about something else. It felt like the episode was a bit overstuffed at points as the writers tried to give everyone justice. The Future Dunphys is not a perfect episode of Modern Family but it's one that does explore a parent's fears and desires about their children.
The first perspective is the future of their children. Kids are great but who they grow up to be can be terrifying. It is a common comedy trope to present an older version of similar characters to the ones that regularly appear. The audience and the normal set of characters are able to easily pick up on the similarities. The usual road that the trope leads to is the characters wondering if they're going to end up like that. This can be a good thing as they could see a happy ending but they could also see one that they seek to avoid. It depends on what the episode is trying to accomplish. In this case, it was just to confuse the Dunphy kids. The episode basically begins with four elements. The first element is that Claire is going to the hospital for a standard procedure involving her heart condition. It's nothing to worry about but it's easy for the two get nervous. The other three elements have to do with the kids. Luke wants to work on dangerous inventions, Haley wants to quit her job despite recently being given a key to the store, and Alex wants to spend her spring break studying for the PSATs. The two different parenting styles of Claire and Phil come into play in that teaser. Phil wants to encourage his son's inventions, he prefers Haley to resign, and Alex can spend the break buried in her books for all he cares. Claire disagrees as she thinks Luke should be safe, Haley should stick with her job, and Alex should have fun. Phil is content to let kids run their own course while Claire wants to control their life. Those are the four elements of their plot but they're all combined.
The last three elements come into play when Claire and Phil happen to witness a family gathering at the hospital. The patient is a dad just like Phil. We don't actually meet the mom but she's basically their version of Claire. At first the patient just backs Phil up in a parenting debate but it becomes more than that when his kids visit. These kids are basically older versions of the Dunphy kids. Phil and Claire happen to witness the kids at their worst. Phil realizes that not being on top of his kids can lead to disastrous results. Haley can be divorced multiple times, Alex can be a cat lady, and Luke could be a felon. Claire learns that being controlling will only drive her kids away as none of the kids she witnesses even want to talk to their mom. The two witness where their parenting style could take their kids which causes them to panic. They call their own kids with conflicting advice that contradicts what they were saying before. This only panics the kids out because this kind of behavior implies that something is wrong with Claire. They rush to the hospital only to find out nothing is wrong. It really all has to do with the first element. At least that's what the show would like you to believe. Phil and Claire were so worried about the procedure that they projected their fears into their kids. I'm not convinced the episode really sold it but it seemed like the writers didn't know any other way to end it. My problem with this ending is that it completely takes their crisis about their parenting styles and invalidates them. It's like they didn't happen. It was funny but it was a conflict that didn't really end up mattering The vision of their kids potential future was a distraction that ended up being up creating a false conflict rather than a plot device that built to something. This is partly why I feel this episode was overstuffed: this part of the plot had too many elements and the first one ended up completely undermining the other three.
While Phil and Claire are pretending to worry about their kids' future to take their minds off Claire's operation, Gloria, Cam, and Mitchell worry about their kids' heritage. Gloria is disappointed that her son has forgotten Spanish. I'm sorry but I have to state that was all very out-of-character. It makes sense that Gloria would worry that Joe will not know Spanish or be very familiar with his own culture as he's growing up an American. One of the conflicts in my own family was my American upbringing versus my Mexican heritage. It was only due to the efforts of my parents that I can now get by in Spanish because they made me practice the language. The thing is I moved into this country when I was in kindergarten. It's understandable that I would forget a huge chunk of my first language. Manny moved into this country when he was like ten or eleven. There's no way he's forgotten Spanish to the point where he can't even build together a basic-level sentence. Even if he could, I doubt that a character as romantic as Manny would forget about one of the most romantic languages out there. You could tell that Manny is the kind of kid who would speak Spanish to impress a girl. So not only does it not make sense logically but it actually contradicts his character. Let's assume that it did make sense logically and it fit his character then I would still refuse to buy it because Gloria would speak to him all the time in her native tongue. I know this is a comedy and I'm probably over analyzing it but this felt like a betrayal of character.
Okay, so let's move on to the actual plot. Gloria is disappointed that her romantic son hasn't kept up with his romantic heritage. She agrees to spend some girl time with Lily. This explodes into a funny scene where Lily proclaims she's gay. Why is she gay? Because her dads are born with it. She thinks that being gay is like being Italian. They decide to teach her about her heritage by taking her to a Vietnamese restaurant. Only they find out that the reason Lily wants to be gay is so that she fits with her dad. It's a sweet gesture that actually works well. It also helps provide the biggest laughs of the night as Mitchell can't help but inadvertently betray his ideology almost every time he talks to his daughter. The scene at the Vietnamese restaurant as it quickly spirals into comments that are offensive when taken out of context is quite possibly the highlight of the episode. The conflict comes to an end as Lily feels accepted by her family and Gloria expresses her worry that her family will lose touch with her Colombian heritage. So she's given the great idea to take her family to go visit Colombia. It's a plot that works well when it comes to jokes but it began on a sour note where it betrayed Manny and Gloria with the whole spanish thing.
The Future Dunphys is a pretty funny episode but it has two critical flaws: the Phil and Claire story overloaded on the elements as the whole parenting style crisis turned out to be meaningless. The show's treatment of Manny and Gloria didn't work. The good news is that outside of these two flaws, the episode worked really well. The strong scenes at the Vietnamese episodes were really nearing the levels of classic season one Modern Family episodes. Overall, I would state that this is a good and solid Modern Family episode.
In the boring plot: Jay and Manny visit a prep school. It had it's moments and didn't drag down the episode but it was forgettable.