Episode 21: Career Day
By: Carlos Uribe
Modern Family is a show about three branches of a family.
The episode is largely built around the concept of Career Day. This is supposed to be a day where the parents of kids come in to class and talk about what they do for a living. Kids can ask questions about the job and the parents can do their best to answer them. I had my own experience with Career Day when I was in middle school (I think). The whole day was basically spent going to different classrooms so that I could learn about any careers I could possibly be interested in pursuing. The only job I remember from that day is from someone who worked as a military contractor. I don't remember what she (or he) said. My own parents didn't participate largely because I don't think they even knew it was going on. I didn't tell them, not because I was embarrassed but because I didn't care about the whole day. I knew I wanted to go into entertainment and as far as I could tell nobody who came to visit that day worked in the industry. That was the Career Day I remembered but it's different from the one presented in television shows. I understand that this kind of Career Day might work in elementary school where you have one teacher and are stuck in the same classroom for most of the day. The kids who have Career Day this week, Luke and Manny, are actually in middle school but for some reason the teacher claims they're not dismissed as they still have three hours of school left. In other words, it felt more like they were still in elementary school rather than having to go to different classes at the end of the period. Now it's possible I understood that line wrong but that's not the only reason I had that feeling.
Having a Career Day basically meant different things to the parents of Luke and Manny. Luke invites his dad to go and speak in front of the class. Phil takes it very seriously to the point where he prepares a video presentation where he talks with what he assumes to be a hip kid is. It's the kind of embarrassing skit that he would do simply because of his misconception of what cool is. At the same time, it's pretty impressive how well rehearsed it was. He doesn't get to present it properly because Gil Thorpe kept interrupting him. Thorpe's daughter (?) is in the class so he comes in and basically steals the spotlight from Phil. He not only gets in the way of the presentation but he offers fried pickles to the students. The only think more embarrassing than Phil's presentation is the way that he was so helpless and yet so desperate to try to salvage it. He's not happy about this so he storms off. Since Gil gave his own speech during Phil's presentation, the class has some time left dedicated to Career Day. Claire is basically forced to present her career as housewife and stay-at-home mother. She wasn't ready for the tough questions that made her question her life decisions. This actually fits into the season's theme for her pretty nicely. She had tried to flip the house because she wanted to financially contribute to the family. This Career Day was basically another way to confront her with the feeling that she should be back in the workplace. Gil does offer her a job but it's only as an excuse to act like a pig towards her and torture Phil with texts and phone calls. She quits because she wants a job to be appreciated for her merits, not her looks. She wants to be appreciated by society, not just her family. A strong plot as Phil's presentation created tension due to his rivalry with Gil while Claire felt guilty by not going to work.
While Phil was invited to speak about being a realtor, Jay takes offense when he wasn't even asked to speak as a home contractor. He insists that he has great stories when building closets but he can't deliver one when he's called out. He does reveal that he had always wanted to write spy thrillers but he couldn't because life always got in the way. He had been too busy with providing for his family. Once they had grown up, he uses his marriage to Gloria as an excuse. She gets offended so she gives him a whole day to work on a novel. The series never actually makes the connection but basically Jay has been using life as a crutch. He wasn't writing because life got in the way but because he didn't have the confidence to do so. When he's finally forced to do it, he quickly realizes that he doesn't have the talent for storytelling. I actually like how his story about his job at the beginning of the episode basically foreshadowed this. The person who does have the talent is Manny as he takes Jay's rough outline into an actual story. When Gloria gets home, Jay tries to take credit for it but Gloria's constant criticism of the manuscript forces the truth out of Manny. He gets offended because he doesn't take criticism to well and he basically admits it's his story. It's a basic sit-com plot but it works because it uses the characters very well. Of course Jay isn't going to be a good writer. It helps that the series has a lot of fun with his writing process. The Career Day had exposed how Claire doubts her decision to stay at home and raise the kids, how Phil is insecure in his position in relation to Gil, and how Jay used his life as an excuse to hide from the fact that he doesn't have any talent as a writer.
The only parents who aren't affected are Cam and Mitchell. Lily is only in preschool so they couldn't get invited. The episode comes up with a different plot for them when Lily loses her first tooth. The two have to sneak in so that they could keep the tooth fairy myth alive for her. It's funny how Lily tries to stay awake in order to capture the tooth fairy but it's weakened somewhat by Aubrey Anderson-Emmon's weak delivery of her lines. The big mess-up in the plot comes when Cam accidentally gives her a hundred dollar bill instead of the one-dollar he meant to give her. They have to get that money back but it's made difficult because Lily wants to keep it. The two try their best to guilt her but she won't budge. This is yet another sign that they're raising a selfish daughter. They get so desperate that they enlist the help of Haley to dress up as the tooth fairy to ask for the money. This doesn't seem like it's going to work when Lily is able to figure out that Haley is just wearing a costume rather than being the real tooth fairy. Just like when it seems all hope is lost, Haley basically uses Santa Clause to their advantage. After all, if Lily keeps the money then she'll end up on the naughty list and she won't get any presents on Christmas. It's a smart and manipulative move by Haley but it's just using greed to solve another problem caused by greed. Oh, well, you get the victories that you get. It's a pretty funny plot.
Career Day is a mostly good episode of Modern Family. The way that the show used the Career Day event at the school to generate conflict was pretty smart. Phil's presentation was hilarious but so was Gil interrupting him. Claire's freak-out over her status as housewife was strong and fit with what her character has been going through this season. Jay is forced to confront that he's not a writer because life got in the way but because he's not a storyteller. The whole tooth fairy plot was also pretty funny as it used one of Lily's few character traits (selfish) as a way to complicate a situation when the tooth fairy messed up. It had some flaws (school didn't feel like middle school and Anderson-Emmons' acting remains weak even compared to other child actors) but it was funny nonetheless.