Modern Family: Dysfunctional Family Values

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The characters on Modern Family rarely ever fight. Well, they bicker relentlessly, and passive-aggressively torture one another in minuscule ways. But a full on, knock down, drag out brawl? Never.

Or so I thought, until the finale of this freshman comedy wrapped things up last night with some literal mud-slinging, soiling the family's matching white clothes and ruining Claire's dreams for the "perfect" family portrait. It was a beautiful scene that perfectly encapsulated Modern Family's MO this season: All families are dysfunctional, and that's what makes them wonderful.

Though the end of the episode saw all three parts of the family coming together, the major action revolved around what happens when the individual family units are broken up and left to their own devices. Phil attended a basketball game with Gloria, Manny, and Haley (and antagonized guest star Kobe Bryant with zero follow-up), only to find himself sorely needed/missed by Claire, who was frantically preparing their house for the impending family photo. Jay and Gloria separated so Jay could talk to his grandson about what it was like to have grown up in the '60s, and without Gloria to keep him in check, he spouted ridiculous made-up stories about cutting Martin Luther King, Jr.'s hair. And when Cameron went off to sing at a wedding, Mitchell found himself himself dealing with a pigeon in the house, Ave Maria-style. The storytelling on Modern Family has always been strong; by the end of each episode, it manages to connect the disparate elements into one cohesive piece.

Watching the family throw mud (at least, I hope it was mud) all over each other, I couldn't help but think back to the beginning of this show. There were stories about the adults, there were stories about the kids, and there were stories about the adults dealing with the kids. But in only a short amount of time, Modern Family has begun to explore far more interesting, unexpected territory: The adults sometimes act like kids, and the kids act like adults. Modern Family gives these characters permission to make mistakes, say the wrong thing, get upset, feel incredibly guilty, and even, occasionally, find themselves in situations they don't totally understand. It's refreshing that a show lets itself get so chaotic and grounded, and that final mud fight was catharsis incarnate as a result.

Modern Family hasn't ever tried to be something it's not. It is what it is, and as evidenced by this stellar first season, that's all it needs to be.

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