TV Recap: Modern Family: Spread Your Wings (07.11)


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January 13th, 2016, 9PM, ABC

Claire tries to encourage the ducklings to move out of the house – by caging them up and releasing them in the public pond while Phil is off seeing Alex at college. She, Luke and Haley soon realize how much the ducklings mean to Phil – and to them – and frantically try to figure out which of the ducks are actually theirs and sneak the fowl back into the house before Phil gets home. Meanwhile, Phil, who’s dealing poorly with the fact that Alex is growing away from him, learns that Alex wants to return home due to her discomfort with the life at her dorm, feeling like a social outcast and unable to relate to the shenanigans of her fellow freshmen. It takes Phil’s calm advice to convince her to take part in a rush activity that involves jumping into a pool in a prom gown, and to stick around at the dorm without isolating. Elsewhere, Jay helps out Mitch at Lily’s sleepover for her Vietnamese dance troupe, where Mitchell cracks under the stress of watching the kids and asks Jay how to play ‘bad cop’ to the group of rambunctious girls. Mitch must also deal with the fact that he’s the whitest guy in a sea full of bio parents, and the fact that one mom in particular, Mrs. Tran, with whom he’s been feuding since he refused to eat her meal at a potluck, makes his life difficult as possible when he tries to watch after the kid. And Cam, Gloria and Manny work overtime to fulfill a big order for Gloria’s hot sauce line after Cam guarantees the stuff’s presence in a prestigious gift basket. While Cam’s overbearing stake in the sauce’s production and publicity causes Gloria’s rancor and leads to a showdown between the two, Manny deals with the fact that his football team has left him out of the big season-ending prank because they seem him as a a goody two-shoes. When his mother confirms that assessment, he copes by bailing his mom out of a pepper-related jam by leading a fairly daring daytime raid on a public garden for the needed produce.

Another week, another mixed bag of a Modern Family episode. There’s absolutely no doubt about what the show’s best subplot this week is – the Alex and Phil section takes the entire sequence in a walk. It’s a cute and well-acted storyline, and a rare glimpse at Alex and Phil as a dynamic father/daughter team, something that the show doesn’t often give us. That moment where he finally encourages her to give more of herself socially is beautifully rendered in every aspect, and when she calls him at the end to speak of her triumph tears are likely to prick the viewer’s eyelids.

The problem, sadly, is with the rest of the episode. I don’t know why Manny’s subplot exists – it’s mildly funny but not worth the effort of giving the entire heist an elaborate backstory and ultimately leads precisely nowhere – and Cam and Gloria’s argument exists as a dull tiff. A lot of the Mitch and Jay babysitting plot is memorable and funny, especially the detail about the Jane Fonda tape and the kids being set up as a mini production line for Gloria, but that ‘trans’ joke is positively inexplicable. And as for those symbolic ducks - didn’t Phil deliberately build an outdoor roost for them so they could live outside of the house? Do the writers of this show not know how to communicate with each other?

Some bobbles weaken this one, though it still has a few strong storylines that make those mistakes almost forgivable.

The Roundup

  • Phil and his dad apparently tandem biked across Mykonos after Phil’s junior year of college. “Come to think of it, there were a lot of other fathers and sons there…”
  • The ducklings apparently have taken to nuisance like behavior over a month’s time. Question of the episode: do ducks mature quickly enough for such a thing to happen?
  • Pranks back in Jay’s time: ”We told the school board that Coach Davis was a communist. The man spent a weekend in jail. Simpler times…”
  • Manny’s team’s big year-ending prank: they parked the principal’s car in the middle of the basketball court.
  • The key ingredient in Gloria’s hot sauce - the blood pepper, native, according to her, to her home country of Columbia – actually only exists in fiction, and the game Final Fantasy XIV. Maybe someone on the writing staff’s a fan. In the Modern Family world, it’s apparently equal in hotness to serrano chilies, which Cam tries to suggest as a replacement.
  • Mitch has trouble fitting in: ”Cam and I are the only white parents…the only gay parents…the only parents who think we’re funny…”
  • Jay denies that he’s Mitch’s husband: ”I prefer brunettes – without beards.”
  • Jay once tuckered out Mitchell’s friends out at his tenth birthday party by making them wash his car and then carry a grandfather clock to the dump.
  • Alex on her party-hardy dorm mates: “The nerd noise is deafening.”
  • Mitch finds out that Jay used Jane Fonda workout videos to tone up and that that toning up garnered him Gloria’s attention: ”Please, tell me you were wearing leg warmers.” “Leave me alone.”
  • Jay with more yikes-heavy dialogue: ”I’m not losing to the Vietnamese twice in one lifetime!”
  • Mitch RE breaking up with Cam: “Does he get weepy, angry, despondent? Yes.”
  • Next Week: Modern Family airs a repeat of “The Day Alex Left for College” and won’t be returning for new episodes until January 27th.
4.6 BAD

Inexplicable plot holes and cringeworthy racial stereotyping makes this a groaner, with some silver linings here and there.

  • 4.6

About Author

Staff Television Critic: Lisa Fernandes, formerly of, has been watching television for all of her thirty-plus years, and critiquing it for the past seven. When she's not writing, she can be found in the wilds of the Northeastern United States.