Spoilers for the "Modern Family" finale after the jump:
"Modern Family's" sophomore season has had its fair share of issues, but episodes like this are a reminder that it's still one of the best comedies on TV most weeks. And it did so not by trying anything bold or inventive (we've got shows like "Louie" for that), but simply by paying tribute to the bonds of family in an extremely moving and satisfying way. It was drop-dead funny, too.
It's a typical sitcom cliche that big events (Jay's birthday in this case) never go as planned. Jay just wanted to go fishing, but instead he wound up driving all over town to rescue Claire and Mitchell, buy his own birthday cake, and pick up the dog. And yet at the end of the day, he chose to just let it go because he knows these people really do care about him. Ed O'Neil probably gave his best performance of the season in this episode, by the way.
It's been a while since we had a good Claire-Mitchell storyline, and I thought this one was just about perfect. Claire insisting that trespassing was okay since "we used to live here" was a delight, and watching them crack open a bottle of wine and indulge in a little bit of wistful reminiscing (while trapped in their old tree house by a scary-looking dog) was even better.
Initially I feared that the Phil-Gloria stuff wasn't going to work, or else was going to go down a predictable path: Phil realizing that he doesn't need to try and impress his rival, for instance. Instead, the rival reminded Phil just how lucky he was to be married to Claire.
And I think that was the overall theme of the episode: how lucky all of us are to have family. They help us through both the good times and bad, and we're usually better off with them than without them (even if we don't always feel that way).
Finally, this episode deserves bonus points for being the first one in a while to feature a believable and likable Cam. He's been turned into a rather irritating cartoon character recently, and having him bond with Manny and realize he might want another kid was a great way to remind us of his basic good nature.
Episode Grade: A
Season Grade: B+
Coming Soon: With the fall season behind us, it's time to take a look at what to expect from summer TV (including the return of the best show currently airing).