This episode was an important first for Modern Family. “A Stereotypical Day” featured a transgender child actor and a story line about gender identity. The actor, 8-year-old Jackson Millarker, plays Lily’s friend Tom. The show doesn’t talk about Tom’s background explicitly — all we’re told is that he used to be called Tina. And that’s mostly because it’s no big deal to Lily: He is simply her friend Tom.
Although it’s too bad Millarker doesn’t get more screen time, his character does serve as a conversation-starter for Cam, Mitch, and Lily. Tom comes to their house for a play date, and Cam and Mitch pat themselves on the back for being such accepting parents with such an open-minded daughter. Then they hear Lily call Tom a weirdo. They assume that she is being mean to him because of the way he identifies, so Cam and Mitch to go into parenting crisis mode. Mitch implies that Lily got this sudden bout of intolerance from spending the summer with Cam’s conservative family in Missouri, and Cam gets upset when Mitch calls his family a bunch of hicks.
Mitch and Cam air their concerns to Jay, who teaches them an unexpected lesson. He puts forward the hypothetical situation that Lily might want to become “Lou,” and posits that Mitch and Cam would be accepting, but would still need a minute to adjust. They admit that Jay is right. Among other things, this means Mitch would never get to realize his dream of seeing his daughter in her wedding dress. Jay tells them that that’s exactly how he felt when Mitch came out: He was ultimately accepting, but needed a minute to adjust. But he reminds Cam and Mitch that while he was taking that time to adjust, they accused him of being a bigot. Did Jay teach Cam and Mitch a lesson about acceptance? Why, yes, he did.
Back at home, Cam and Mitch finally confront Lily about calling Tom a weirdo, and it turns out to be a big misunderstanding. When Tom saw the notorious mural in Lily’s room (the Sistine chapel-like one in which Cam and Mitch appear as naked gods posing with baby Lily), he called her dads weirdos. In retaliation, Lily called him a weirdo. While they’re on the topic of the mural though, Lily admits that she hates it. And so, the family paints over it, which Cam can’t get through without crying. But in a sweet moment, they see that Lily memorialized it with a framed picture in her room. Turns out she can be sensitive when she wants to.
NEXT: Phil’s 127 hours [pagebreak]
Something major happened to Phil in this episode: After showing a house, he accidentally locked himself in a room… for 18 hours. 18. Hours. We see his experience in a darkly funny montage with the following highlights: He hurls himself at the door to try to break it down, but trips. He tries to ration out a box of Tic Tacs (the only food he has with him) to last a week. (Yup! Phil has nothing but Tic Tacs to eat for 18 hours. Like I said: dark.) When the owners finally find him, he hightails it out of there, but not before grabbing his pee bucket and mentioning that he wrote his will on the wall. He was really prepping for the worst, and it’s great when the writers get to wield some dark humor on this show.
Back at home, Phil finds out that no one in his family even realized he was gone. They’re too absorbed in their own worlds, as usual. For the rest of the episode, he has serious PTSD symptoms. Alex is home from college with mono (for the whole semester!), and Phil copes with his jitters by treating her like a therapy dog: petting her leg while she’s asleep, going on walks with her, generally talking to her like one would talk to a dog.
Meanwhile, in the Pritchett-Delgado household, Joe has just seen The Jungle Book and wants to live outside like Mowgli. We see him unsuccessfully try to sneak outside in his underwear toting a suitcase. Joe’s obsessive quest to live al fresco prompts Jay to recall his childhood days hanging out with a hobo: “He taught me how to open a can with a bird’s beak.” Also, we learn that Joe has a habit of peeing on the floor of the house. Yikes.
Even though Jay was just preaching tolerance to Cam and Mitch, he regresses a little after trying too hard not to look racist when a black family moves in across the street. Jay parades his black friend Miles around the front lawn in hopes that the new neighbors will notice. Finally, when he introduces himself to the dad across the street, he laughingly calls Jay out for the whole “showing off his black friend” thing. “It’s not my first time moving into a white neighborhood,” he says. “I did my residency in New Hampshire.”
Whether it’s Manny briefly taking up Communism or Claire trying to keep Alex at home, it seems like everyone in this family still has a few lessons to learn.