Half of civilization consists in what you don’t say.
Other than “hustle and have fun,” this is my dad’s favorite bit of wisdom to bestow on my siblings and me. He usually dispenses this pearl during calculated interviews with disgraced sports figures or at moments when we should hold our tongues, instead of smartly retorting and making ourselves look immature.
But I never thought that these wise words could be more universally applied. Until the third season of ABC’s hit comedy Modern Family premiered. Complete with a new Lily, aged about three years and fully capable of speaking in full sentences. And thus her character was ruined.
It actually wasn’t even the fact that the new Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) aged three years in one summer that gave me such a negative view of the adorable little Asian child, though that was a bit irksome. Rather, it was her new talkative nature. On screen, talking toddlers are straight up not as funny as silent babies.
For those who don’t watch Modern Family — well, first off, start watching it immediately — it is a mockumentary following three related families and the problems they face. Lily is the adopted daughter of gay couple Cameron Tucker (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell Prichett (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). The families of Mitchell’s father, Jay (Ed O’Neill), and sister, Claire (Julie Bowen), are the two other, somewhat chaotic families the show follows.
Baby Lily didn’t have a huge role in the show. She was more just a fixture in Cameron and Mitchell’s life than an important character. Now, Lily is in almost every episode (she’s been in 14 of the 16 this season). She talks back. She swears. She’s developed a bit of an attitude. What happened to the adorable girl who could communicate her wants and desires with a cute smile, head nod or exit from the room?
Lily’s sassiness just isn’t as funny as that coming from Haley (Sarah Hyland) or Alex (Ariel Winter). “But Daddeeeee” gets old fast, too.
Sassy babies should be funny because it’s unexpected. But in reality, and especially on TV, they’re not. Because toddlers with ‘tude disrupt the natural order of life. Babies and toddlers are supposed to smile and hug you and follow everything you say because you’re a god to them. Or at least god-like in size proportionally to their tiny selves.
So when they talk back, it’s disconcerting. And we don’t have any line of defense for their attitude. If one of our friends or family members above the age of eight sassed us, we could one-line them back. All would be well in the world. But young children don’t understand sarcasm. Or rational arguments. Thus Lily’s chatterbox nature becomes grating. Even on TV shows depicting a somewhat dysfunctional family, we still want life to follow its natural order.
Lily, though, can comfort herself in knowing that she is not alone in turning from an adorable baby to an annoying, chatty toddler. Michelle Tanner (Mary Kate and Ashley Olson) from Full House also fell victim to this problem of growing up on TV. She went from a smiley baby that just laughed at everything people said to a toddler/young child with more sass than a large black woman. And while those scenes make for great #whatshouldwecallme entries, they really just made you want to lock her in her room for about five years. Stop wagging your finger at me, Michelle!
And so, not only am I slightly peeved by Lily every time she steps on screen and opens her mouth, I feel cheated. Because the casting directors could have prolonged Lily’s introduction to speech. We could have had at least one more year of an adorable, semi-communicative toddler.
I will admit, though, that there was one moment this season where I was glad Lily could speak in full sentences. Episode 14, “Me? Jealous?,” featured Cameron and Gloria competing in petty arguments, one of which was over Lily’s affections. Cameron became incredibly jealous when he saw Gloria and Lily return from a shopping trip in matching outfits. But before he could fully succumb to the Green Monster, Lily walked over and handed him a bag, saying quietly, “we got you one too, Daddy.” Hearts melted everywhere.
But there’s also no use dwelling on decisions we had no control over. Instead, all we can do is wait for Lily to outgrow this phase. Who knows, maybe she’ll age three more years this summer. For now, we’ll just concentrate our attention on Phil (Ty Burrell) and Luke Dunphy (Nolan Gould), the best two characters on that show anyway.
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