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'Modern Family' recap: The case of the stolen thunder

December 9, 2010 |  6:49 am

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One of the things that makes "Modern Family" a great sitcom is the current of emotional honesty that runs through everything. They're wittier, their hair is shinier than yours, and they might have a nicer fridge, but the Dunphy-Delgado-Pritchetts behave in relatable, fundamentally human ways.  They're jealous, insecure and petty -- just like you and me!

Jealousy was the theme of Wednesday night's episode, particularly the strained relationship between Claire and her "stepmother," Gloria. There's always been a funny tension between these two, and in this episode it finally came to a boil.

Actually, let me revise that: Claire has always resented Gloria.  And, frankly, who wouldn't?  Gloria's a knockout, she's sassy, always looks perfect and to make matters worse, she's fundamentally kind and loving (well, most of the time, anyway). It makes perfect sense to me that Claire, a complete type-A and a robotically perfect blonde, would resent Gloria's unwitting one-upmanship.  At the same time, Gloria is keenly aware of how other women respond to her bodacious looks.

When she confessed that the reason she gets involved at school is so the other mothers like her -- and so that they'll let their kids play with Manny -- I got a little choked up.  It's great that "Modern Family" is allowing the audience to have some empathy for Gloria, a character who occasionally veers toward the cartoonish.  I also loved that at the school dance, it's the two grown women who end up in the bathroom crying and talking about boys.  Some things never change, I suppose.

Likewise, Jay and Phil have a long history of a more testosterone-driven rivalry. Jay is the alpha male, good at all the "guy" things, and Phil is the laid-back jokester. When Jay berates Phil for letting someone cut in line at the mall, Phil has had enough. These two have their own sort of confessional -- in the mall police station -- and, like their spouses, reach an accord.  Jay admits he's a little too hard on people sometimes, and that he might take a page from Phil's "Fun Dad" playbook.  Again, this scene typified what works so well about "Modern Family": a perfect balance between sharp humor and genuine (i.e. not always virtuous) emotion.

Still, the wistful voiceover at the end of the episode, in which Phil ruminated on the ironies of parenting when you yourself still feel like a kid, was a little much for this cynical blogger.  I've noticed "Modern Family" does this a lot, taking a sharp turn toward the schmaltz in the last minute or so, like it's afraid of ending on a note that's too irreverent.  I often like the show's more "genuine" moments -- like Gloria and Claire's heart-to-heart -- but this smacked of a "lesson," and I guess that's where I draw the line.    

Speaking of lessons, little Lily was in hot water after a vicious playground biting spree.  Cameron and Mitchell are shocked at their sweet daughter's nascent cannibalism, and, as is their wont, conflict arises over just how to deal with the issue.  Mitchell advocates an old school technique -- pepper on the tongue -- while Cameron, scornful of Mitch's "Spanish Inquisition" tactics, opts to write Lily a song: "People aren't food/Your friends will run away if they’re scared of being chewed/And as a side note, private parts are private."  It's moments like these that remind us why Eric Stonestreet won an Emmy last year.

Lines of the night:

"I want you to know there’s more to being a man than just shopping for fancy outfits." -- Phil

"Here’s something I didn't know about mannequins: They don’t have a wiener." -- Luke

"I have a daughter who bites and a partner who stings." -- Cameron

"Pay it forward. They don’t make movies out of bad ideas."  -- Phil (who's obviously never seen "Transformers")

"It’s like 'Twilight' back here!" -- Cameron re: Lily's biting

"You know she didn’t fight in Vietnam, right?"  -- Mitchell re: Lily

"Skipping burns more calories than running."  -- Phil

"I waterboarded our toddler, LOL!" -- Cameron

"Your thunder is your thunder and my thunder is my thunder."  -- Gloria

"Ay, here comes the hot one with the big boobies that she is going to steal my husband."  -- Gloria

"Your parents faked their way through it, you fake your way through it, and hopefully you don’t raise a serial killer."  -- Phil

-- Meredith Blake

twitter.com/MeredithBlake

Photo: For the first time in her life, Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen) is not the prettiest girl at the dance. Credit: ABC/Eric McCandless 

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