Modern Family Review: “The Late Show” (Season 5, Episode 5)

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Phil and Claire’s prolonged trip to the restaurant, meanwhile, is less about the fit of one’s clothing than ensuring that their youngest son, high-schooler Luke, can stay at home by himself. Phil, however, went to a hip boutique and bought a tight-fitting gray suit to impress his wife. Claire does not give it more than a passing glance as she worries about Luke, and this upsets Phil.

With so many of the predicaments in this episode revolving around clothes and on one’s appearance – even Lily decides to do Alex’s hair and apply makeup – the characters look shallow. The bickering, which barely takes a break from the first minute onward, becomes obnoxious. In one moment, Phil rudely tells his wife that he really had hoped to be eating by this point, and that she would be doing the same, hinting that he hopes for some eventual quiet. You will be hoping for the same long before the episode is over.

As the show infantilizes many of the adult characters, the children also act in ways unsuitable to their characters’ ages. The subplot of Claire worrying about her son being left home alone feels like something that would run in a much earlier season. As past episodes this season have demonstrated, Luke has matured. He is now interested in girls and is more generous and polite to his family. However, when he busts out his paintball gun to shoot at intruders that walk in the Dunphy front door – an obvious Home Alone homage – it does not fit this phase of the character’s life.

If Luke was nine, the carnage and carelessness would make sense. He may still have boyish qualities, but Luke is no longer a kid. If the character needs to get those high-school coming-of-age moments that teenagers often receive on family sitcoms, the show’s writers better start treating him like a proper young adult.

Another character thread among the Dunphy kids in this episode that does not make a lot of sense: why would Alex bring a copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women to entertain Lily? How many first graders do you know who would be interested in listening to a nearly 150-year-old book for a couple of hours?

The Dunphy kid who gets the best moment in this episode is, surprisingly, Haley. She decides to break out in an a cappella rendition of Gladys Knight & The Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia” as a way to get Joe asleep. (Haley reminisces earlier in the episode that Jay used to do the same for her when she was a baby.) With backing vocals from Luke and Manny, this quick cutaway joke provides the only big laugh of the episode.

In The Late Show, the adults are all acting like spoiled teenagers, and some of the teenagers are behaving in ways that betray their characterization at this point in the series. One exception is Lily, who is no longer just a smart aleck, but ones who tries quoting Bette Davis while being smart-alecky. In the episode, Lily messes up the iconic line from All About Eve, which goes “Fasten your seatbelts – it’s going to be a bumpy night.” It would have been an appropriate phrase to use for any Modern Family viewers about to start Wednesday evening’s episode.

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