It’s been a little while since the last new episode of Modern Family. If you missed it, read a recap here.
This week’s episode, “Travels with Scout, begins with Phil receiving a phone call at work (yes, he does work!). Claire, back at home, informs her husband that Phil’s father, Frank, has arrived at their house. It seems Phil forgot to tell her that his dad was coming. Further, Phil forgot to tell her that Frank was bringing a dog named Scout for the kids. Phil confides to the camera that he was waiting for Claire to be in the right mood to tell her about the dog. “She got in one the other night, but I cashed it in for something else.” He continues on the phone, “Am I in trouble?” Covering her true meaning from Frank, Claire responds, “Oh, really, really big.” How big of trouble? “New rule:” Claire tells her husband, ostensibly about the dog, “No sleeping in the bedroom.”
Jay is in the waiting room at the dentist. A man, Ben Doogan, approaches Jay, reminding Jay that he was in the Drama Club in high school with Mitchell. Jay tells him that Mitchell is a lawyer now, and asks what Ben is up to these days. Ben is still acting, and in fact, is starring in a new movie, “Maple Drive.” Ben leaves, and Jay brags to the rest of the waiting room about how he knows a movie star. Manny comes out of the dentist’s office, happy that he has no cavities. Jay asks him, if in celebration, he wants to go see a movie. Manny protests that he has to go back to school. Jay confides that he loved when his father would pull him out of school to go to the racetrack. He’s like to pass that tradition on to Manny, and if he does something nice for Manny, it might pay off later with Gloria, in the bedroom! “Wait,” Jay remembers, “is that why my old man did it? Oh crap.”
Claire quizzes Frank further about the dog — is he sure Scout can’t be returned? Phil enters and father and son each bow to “Mr. Dunphy.” Phil tells the camera that he and his father are best buds, two peas in a pod, Siamese twins, a two-headed snake, all of which, incidentally, are some of their past Halloween costumes. Phil asks where his mother is, to which Frank explains that she is on a cruise with some of her girlfriends. Frank leaves to get some gifts from her in his RV. Claire, now alone with Phil, tells him that she doesn’t want the dog because she will end up being the only one taking care of it. Phil counters that this is a perfect opportunity to teach the kids responsibility. “that’s what you said about Luke’s paper route,” she replies. Cut to Claire on Luke’s bike, wearing a helmet, and feebly throwing papers onto driveways.
Jay and Manny are taking in the movie. As a bra-clad young woman inches her way through the darkened hallways of her house, Manny clutches his large bag of popcorn closer to his body. “Maple Drive” is clearly not a family film Ben’s character appears behind the woman with a large machete, causing Manny to jump and shower himself with popcorn. Back at the Dunphy home, the kids love the new dog. Claire reminds them that the dog is a family responsibility and that they will all be expected to help. “Can do, Mrs. D.,” Dylan (Haley’s boyfriend, if you don’t remember) chimes in. “Not you,” Claire replies. “Phew, ’cause I have a lot on my plate right now.” Cameron arrives with Lily to see the dog. Frank says hello and compliments Cameron on his shirt. “Oh thanks. I buy them online. I’ll send you a link.” “Well, I smoke sausages, so I’ll send you a link,” Frank jokes in response. Cameron leaves Lily in her car seat on the kitchen counter so he can run over to play with the dog. Dylan receives a text; he has to leave immediately. His drummer is moving to Portland because his parents are getting back together. Dylan’s going to have to cancel the band’s planned gig. Cameron says that he plays drums and could join the band. “I’m not sure we play the same music,” Dylan informs Cameron. “You think I only play showtunes because I’m gay?” Cameron asks. “No, it’s because you’re old,” Dylan replies. “Wow, that hurt more, Dylan,” Cameron responds. Haley says Dylan should let Cameron play because he doesn’t want to cancel the gig. “You’re right,” he tells Haley, “and I don’t want to lose my deposit on the fog machine.” Cameron tells the camera that he was a music teacher until they adopted Lily. He knows a lot of parents work, but he and Mitchell are more of a traditional family. “Yes, that’s what the disabled lesbian shaman who blessed Lily’s room said, too,” Mitchel retorts (this was my absolute favorite line of the episode. Loud guffaw #1).
In the car, leaving the movie theater, Manny is huffing and puffing into his popcorn bag. Jay just shakes his head. Claire, meanwhile, takes the garbage out, but hears some whimpering. She follows the sound and sees Frank crying in the RV. She tells Phil what she saw. “Maybe it only sounded like crying. Have you ever heard the sound he makes when he gets out of a chair?” Phil asks. Claire suspects Frank’s having a problem with Phil’s mother. Phil insists his father would tell him if something was wrong. Claire counters that Frank would never tell Phil because the two of them never actually talk. “He crank calls me at work three times a week, at least!” Phil says. “Crank calls don’t count,” Claire replies. “They count for fun!” Phil answers. He continues, telling his wife that his father isn’t like hers: deep and dark on the inside. “My dad’s hard candy shell is just hiding more candy,” he says. The dog barks by the sliding kitchen door, so Alex lets him out, noting how smart Scout is to bark to have the door opened. “All dogs know how to do that,” Claire responds. “I’m playing outside!” Luke yells as he runs through the screen door (Loud guffaw #2). Claire and Phil just stare at their son, dumbfounded.
At Cameron’s house, Dylan and his band-mates prepare to hear Cameron’s audition. Cam begins, and plays…terribly. In fact, he looks like some weird wind-up drummer toy. The band is horrified. “Oh, sorry, I had the sticks in the wrong hands,” Cameron notes. He begins to play again…awesomely. With an adorable Lily with her own drumstick looking on, Cameron completes his audition. all the band can say is, “Dude, you should label those sticks.” Jay, meanwhile, is trying to fix the doorbell, which keeps ringing incessantly. Manny runs in wondering if it is an alarm. “Has the perimeter been breached?” he worries. Gloria enters, wondering who is ringing the bell. “We’re pretty sure it’s a demon,” Manny informs her. “I’m getting a weapon,” Manny states as he leaves. Gloria yells at Jay for taking Manny to a scary movie. Scared? Why should Manny be scared? Jay knows about really being scared. He lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, and slept with a butter knife under his pillow so he could kill a Soviet army colonel if necessary. Why would a Soviet colonel want to kill Jay as a child, Gloria wonders? “Because I could identify every Soviet plane,” jay responds matter-of-factly. Jay continues, saying being scared is part of growing up; it builds character. Manny reenters holding his fencing foil. “I’ll take the first watch. You two should get some rest,” he informs his parents. “Character,” is all Jay can reply.
Phil enters his father’s RV and asks him if there is anything Frank wants to tell him. Frank replies in the negative , but says he is concerned that Claire is put out by the dog. Phil says not to worry, “She didn’t like me at first either.” “I can’t blame her,” Frank jokes in response. Phil uneasily tries to continue, mentioning that Claire saw something earlier, but when he sees his father’s forlorn look, all Phil can finish with is Claire’s desire Frank where pants to dinner. Frank assents to Claire’s request, and Phil leaves. He enters the house and finds Claire wrestling her purple bra away from Scout. Phil wonders how the dog got her bra. “Well, we were out on a date and he has a really nice car…from the laundry basket!” Claire says. Phil asks if Claire tried putting the dog in his cage. She did, but the dog figured how to get out of it. Phil tells his Claire that he spoke to his dad, but Claire calls him on his short conversation. Men, she explains, need more of a push to talk about their feelings. Getting annoyed, Phil tells her, “If he wants to talk, he will. Man, you’re panties are in a bunch.” “I thought I was showing concern…” Claire begins to respond, but Phil cuts her off. “No, right there, your panties,” Phil says pointing out her underwear on the floor. “Damn dog,” she responds, gathering the underwear. “Guys? A little help?” Luke’s voice rings out. Luke is stuck in the dog’s cage. “I have to go to the bathroom and I’m not doing it in here.” Again, all Phil and Claire can do is look at each other in disbelief.
Cameron is jamming on the drums when Mitchell arrives home from work. Cameron introduces Mitchell to the other members of the band, Craig and Neil, who is playing with Lily. “I’ll always remember him as the stranger holding my baby,” Mitchell notes. He pulls Cameron aside and asks, “What’s up with 21 Jump Street?” Cameron explains about the band and their gig that night. Mitchell reminds Cameron that they are supposed to go to their friend Pepper’s fondue party. Pepper is very particular about his parties, like his request that everyone wear a large sweater. Cameron really wants to skip the party and play in the band. “I feel I need this,” he tells Mitchell. “Why, to round out your college applications?” Mitchell retorts. Cameron admits that he’s going a little stir crazy at home: he keeps repainting the den as soon as he finishes the previous paint job, like the Golden Gate Bridge. Mitchell is just left contemplating the situation.
Jay and Gloria are asleep, but there is a sound somewhere in the house. Manny bolts upright between his parents. “Yeah, we gotta fix this,” Jay notes. Later, Mitchell is at the club. Jay asks him about the large sweater he’s wearing, “Is it a gay thing?” “No, Dad, it’s for Pepper’s party…yeah, it’s a gay thing,” Mitchell concedes. Claire and Phil are there, too. Claire suggests they stay for just a bit, because Scout doesn’t like being alone for too long. “You love the dog,” Phil teases his wife. “No, it’s just that he was eying the couch like a large sausage before we left,” Claire responds. Frank approaches, and tells Phil that he’s going to be leaving in the morning. Phil asks if he’s heading home, but Frank says no — he’s just going to drive on and see where life takes him. Frank leaves. “I always felt bad for people with emotionally unavailable fathers, but I am one,” Phil tells Claire. “It’s a wonder I didn’t turn out to be a stripper.” Dylan’s band begins to play, with Dylan singing and Cameron (wearing a t-shirt with Lily’s picture on it) tearing up the drums. “Our boyfriends totally rock,” Haley says to her uncle. Mitchell agrees. Over Cameron’s drum solo, Mitchell confides that he was only going to stay for ten minutes before heading out to Pepper’s party, but Cameron was so great, how could he leave? Cameron was having his moment. “And his moment went on…for a really long time,” Mitchell notes as everyone in the club starts to be come very uncomfortable with the length of the drum solo.
Returning home from Cameron’s gig, Jay send Manny up to bed. He asks to watch a little TV, so Gloria gives him ten minutes. Jay and Gloria go into the kitchen and listen to their phone messages. There is a message from Ben: he’s going to swing by the house tonight to help Jay out with Manny. Jay explains to Gloria that he invited Ben over to show Manny that the movie is just pretend. Ben is even going to bring the fake, rubber machete used in the movie. Ben arrives at the house and rings the doorbell, but since Jay ripped it out of the wall, it doesn’t work. He sees a light on in the window so he walks through the bushes, stands over an eerie yellow light, and presses himself up against the glass. Seeing Manny on the couch inside, he says, “Hey you, Manny. I’m here for you.” Manny is frozen. Ben then shows Manny the machete and smiles. “AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!” cries Manny, bolting upstairs. Gloria and Jay rush into the living room and see Ben in the window. “We’re going to need a bigger bed,” notes Gloria.
Mitchell and Haley meet Cameron, Dylan and the band behind the club after the gig. Cameron tells Mitchell how great it felt to be up there, and he can’t wait to really learn the songs for next time. Next time? Mitchell thought this was going to be a one-time thing. As Cameron begins to protest, the band’s original drummer walks up. It turns out his parents broke up again, so he’s not moving. Cameron, trying to defend his new turf, sidles up next to the rest of the band and says, “Well, this is awkward.” Everyone looks at him, not having to say the obvious. “For me,” Cameron says, realizing he’s the odd man out. Cameron walks away with Mitchell, yelling back after him, “Good luck following that, Ringo.”
The next morning, Frank is departing. Phil asks if they can talk for a minute before he leaves. He tells his father that he’s not being honest with Phil. “What’s up?” he asks Frank. “Well, my boxers are riding a little high,” Frank jokes. “No, Dad. No jokes, although you nailed that one,” Phil replies. He wants to know if there’s something wrong with Frank and Phil’s mother. Frank admits: he’s in love. “What’s her name?” Phil asks. “Well, she’s a he,” Frank answers. Caught by surprise at first by the implications of Frank’s pronoun correction, Phil notices that Frank is staring at the dog. “Scout? You don’t want to leave the dog?” Phil asks. Frank explains that he’s had such a great time traveling with Scout that he is sad to leave him. Luke pipes up that he doesn’t want the dog if it’s going to make his grandfather sad, so the kids offer to give Scout back. Claire hesitates, though. Does Frank really want the dog back? Isn’t Phil’s mother allergic to dogs? Phil says his mom can take allergy medicine, and hands the leash back to his father. Claire is distraught. “Thanks, son, for poking through my armor,” Frank tells Phil. “You’re poking through your armor down there!” Phil replies. As Frank checks his fly, Phil says, “Made you look!” Frank loads Scout into the RV, but Claire stops him. She wistfully unfolds the purple bra and hands it to Frank to give to Scout. It’s his favorite. As Frank pulls out of the driveway, Claire says to Phil, sadly, “I can’t believe he took my dog.” Frank starts down the road, and Luke runs after the RV. “Bye, Grandpa, Bye!” Luke shouts, as he chases the car. “Luke! Stay! Stay, Luke! Stay!!” Phil and Claire yell after their son (Loud guffaw #3).
In the episode tag, Jay and Frank run into each other at Cameron’s gig, with Jay noting he didn’t expect to see Frank at the club. “When my granddaughter’s boyfriend’s band plays an under-21 club with my daughter-in-law’s brother’s gay partner, I show up. That’s how I was raised,” Frank explains. Jay introduces Frank to Gloria. “It’s a pleasure,” Frank says to Gloria as he kisses her hand. “You must be Frank,” Gloria replies. “OK, you’re hotter than a Las Vegas sidewalk on the Fourth of July,” Frank responds. Seeing Gloria and Jay a bit shocked, Frank asks Jay, “Did I go too far?” “No, not you, Frank,” Jay answers.
We are at that stage in the brilliance of Modern Family that no matter the actual quality of a given episode (and the quality is never “Low”), I’m more than happy to spend a half-hour with these characters. “Travels with Scout” wasn’t the best episode of the series, nor did I find it as funny as the iPad/Phil’s birthday episode (“Game Changer“); however, as is evident by my three “loud guffaws,” I still really enjoyed the episode very much. There are always going to be really funny lines and situations on the show, as the writers and cast are just top-notch, so there has been no such thing as a “bad” episode. It’s just that sometimes the stories meld better than others. For example, in this episode, the Jay/Manny story seemed to be a “Break in Case of Emergency” plot — one in which the writers had tucked away just in case they couldn’t come up with a storyline that merged well with the others. This is not a problem, overall. It’s very hard to find three different plots that can all be sewn together seamlessly, especially if the show wants to avoid the opposite problem of always finding some false reason to have the whole family together every week, which would be unbelievable. Further, the plot itself was fine, and had a nice payoff at the end with Ben in the window scaring Manny (remember, despite the way he speaks and acts, Manny is only 11 years old). I’m just of the opinion that the “better” episodes of Modern Family do, in fact, have the three plots blend or center around the same theme, and that wasn’t the case in “Travels with Scout.”
There were some great things in the episode, too. First, casting Fred Willard as Phil’s dad is just genius. Beside bearing a physical resemblance to each other, their comedic resemblance was obvious as well. I can only imagine what a great time the two of them had working together. Second, the “Luke is more like a dog than Scout is” jokes were brilliantly written and played. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: how great are the kid actors on this show? Third, any time Dylan is in an episode, it’s awesome. I only wish the song he was singing had some interesting lyrics the one he wrote for Haley earlier in the season. Lastly, the “de-cartooning” of Phil happily continues. Like in “Game Changer,” we were able to see a more serious side of Phil, one where he is disappointed. In “Game Changer,” he was disappointed in his family regarding the iPad and his birthday celebration. That was more of a child’s disappointment, but disappointment nonetheless. In this week’s episode, we saw Phil have a more adult disappointment in himself for not being able to talk to his father. Of course, the entire time he was being funny as well, but the different emotions Ty Burrell is having the opportunity to play are providing some nice shading around a character that started as “Michael Scott with Kids.” Good work by the writers and Burrell.
That’s what I have for this week. How did “Travels with Scout” stack up for you? Did you enjoy the Luke-as-dog stuff as much as I did? What did you think of Fred Willard as Frank? Does it matter to you if the plots are more expertly merged? Does it change your enjoyment of the episode? Please leave your comments and questions below. Also, be sure to check back at TVOvermind over the next week for photos and sneak peeks of next week’s episode. Until then, I’m off to fall into some Gruyere.