Last night, ABC’s sit-com Modern Family showed “Slow Down Your Neighbors,” a re-run of an episode that deals with both the joys of cycling and the danger that speeding drivers create on local streets. A show that takes place in Los Angeles that shows children biking to school to fit in with the cool crowd and excoriates unsafe drivers?
In one plot, Claire, the mother of a nuclear family is on the warpath against a woman who is speeding through their neighborhood. At first, she tries to memorize the license plate while screaming at the car through a mega-phone as it zooms past. Later, we realize that the driver was on the phone with Claire’s husband during the drive by. Her next plan is to create signs with the car’s license plate that reads “Slow down your neighbors.” Because what’s the one thing a speeder cannot outrun? Shame.
Eventually, Claire realizes that her nemesis is also her husband’s top client (which explains why his stack of signs hasn’t been put up). From there things go down hill.
While Claire is certainly presented as though she’s on a crusade, the speeding driver is portrayed as a borderline maniac in her personal dealings with the husband and certainly when she’s behind the wheel. At one point, she nearly runs over her real estate agent as he stands in her driveway and sees a couple of prospective drivers off. The only bad part of the story is that we don’t get to see the ending. Does the speeder come to justice? Is she eventually shamed in to not putting the entire community in danger so she could get somewhere ten seconds quicker? Or does she just sell her house and move on to terrorizing another community?
“There’s a bunch of cool kids who ride their bikes to school everyday. I thought I’d join them.” explains Manny, the Colombian immigrant, and teen (or maybe pre-teen) stepson of “Jay.” After realizing that Manny’s bike has training wheels, Jay berates his wife for not teaching his stepson to bike earlier, and they decide that Jay will teach both of them to ride that weekend. The wife dresses her son in a suit of armor for the lesson, but he’s a natural and takes to it immediately.
On the other hand, the wife does not. She crashes in to the bushes and insists on a new teacher. When her 10 year-old nephew is asking her what her fears are, he seems incredulous that being snatched off her bike is a concern. The lesson? Adults find riding a bike a lot scarier than kids do.
In short, in one half hour episode, the show covered unsafe neighborhood driving and irrational fear of cycling. It’s too infrequent that these issues are given a fair shake on network television. As much as I like Modern Family, it would be nice to see kids bicycling and safe driving get this sort of play on something besides an absurdest comedy show.