Modern Family Review: “Other People’s Children” (Season 5, Episode 17)


For a comedy with such an eclectic ensemble cast, it is a bit puzzling why Modern Family so rarely shifts the characters into new groups for storylines. “Other People’s Children” is an episode that forces the extended family to spend time with people we normally do not see them interact with. Here, as the title infers, the adults spend their day with children who are not their sons and daughters, to rather fresh results. Also, Adam DeVine recurs as lovable hick nanny Andy, an always welcome surprise. He gets one of the week’s funnier storylines and some time to bond with Ty Burrell’s Phil – a match that works from start to finish.

Cam and Mitch take Alex and Manny to a “retrospective on postwar abstract expressionism” at a modern art museum – although the three males try their best to seem as culturally astute as Alex. This subplot opens with a tracking shot – something Modern Family rarely tries, but should, especially given the refined comic timing of its cast – as the “cultured” folk insult the dim intelligence of other family members. The frequency of long takes in this episode, which is rare for a multi-camera or single-camera sitcom, only solidifies how smoothly the actors can play off each other.

The men chuckle at each other’s put-downs and try to convince Alex that they are snobby elitists, but they end up turning into the dunces they dissed at the start. An especially astute creative choice from writer Megan Ganz was to have the three men abandon the group in different scenes, one by one, before confessing to the camera their inferiority in Alex’s presence. It was a funny plotline – and like the exhibit, it was circular – and led to a clever bit over the credits.

At the mall, Gloria has the responsibility of buying Lily a flower girl dress for her fathers’ upcoming wedding (that the network is, predictably, saving for May sweeps). Claire chaperones to make sure Gloria’s choice is not too exotic. However, Lily derides the traditional dresses Claire insists on and, exhausted, runs away from the store. (“This is endless,” Lily stresses, rolling her eyes in the character’s typically dragged voice.) She would rather try on a Belle costume at the Disney Store (some subtle corporate synergy from ABC and its parent company). Here, Gloria gets the chance to help two daughter-like figures in her life – remember, Claire is like her niece – pick out clothing, a luxury that Manny does not afford her. As Gloria should have realized, girls are far pickier than boys.

Jay and Luke spend the day together, as Luke wants his grandfather to help him with more traditionally “masculine” pursuits. Embarrassed that his father wants him to choose pottery as an elective – Phil must have a soft spot for the movie Ghost – Luke wants to impress those ninth grade girls with a bit more heft. (The only thing Luke can build is “suspense,” offering a coy joke that reminds us why he is one of the most underused characters on the show.) Alas, Jay is the one who teaches him about where to kiss and how to do some basic woodworking – although that first sip of beer has to wait for Phil’s presence.