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'Modern Family' recap: So great to see you! No, really, it's great!

January 13, 2011 |  6:59 am

122251_552_pre Watching "Modern Family" from week to week, I've realized that the show's basic comedic formula looks something like this: small-stakes crisis + couple + different reactions to said crisis = hilarity.  And one of its very favorite types of small-stakes crises is the uncomfortable chance encounter -- with a grumpy neighbor, an old flame, a boss you lied to about being out of the office that day, whatever.  The scenarios differ but the idea is always the same: How we respond to these abundantly awkward but ultimately not all that earth-shattering situations says a whole lot about us, and it sure can be funny.

For Cameron and Mitchell, a day strolling at the mall suddenly takes a turn when Mitchell bumps into his high school girlfriend, Tracy (Mary Lynn Rajskub), who doesn't seem to know that Mitchell is gay and has a life partner and a daughter. Tracy's understandable surprise is exacerbated by the fact that the last time she saw Mitchell, at their 10th reunion, she slept with him.  So who can blame her for being a little weirded out?  Tracy abruptly ends the strained conversation, leaving Mitchell wondering what he might have done to offend Tracy -- then he spies her talking to what appears to be a young, red-headed boy. Mitchell is convinced he fathered a son with Tracy, and tells Cameron about his fears.

At first, Cameron freaks out at the news -- no surprise there -- but after mulling it over, decides that if Mitchell does have a son, it can only be a good thing. It was a touching scene, even if all along I knew there was no way that Mitchell would have a kid. Here's how I knew: It's all about the payoff. It's a whole lot funnier to have MItchell in a panic, thinking he's got a son he doesn't know about, but to wind up being totally mistaken, than it would be for him to have one.  Did anyone else guess that Tracy had married a little person with red hair?  I did, but only about three seconds before she introduced Bobby, her husband.  The following scene was wonderfully awkward, and I cackled out loud when Cameron, making a beeline for the door, rammed into a chest of drawers. (In moments of confrontation, Cameron is a flee-er.) Eric Stonestreet might be the best physical comedian on television.  I've re-watched the scene a few times and it makes me laugh just as hard each time.  "Modern Family" is as exceptionally funny as it is because of these tiny little comedic beats.

Claire and Phil, too, have their own chance run-in, bumping into Nina and Vish Patel (Anjali Bhimani and Ajay Mehta) at the movies. The Patels are the parents of Sanjay, Alex's chief rival and the only kid in school who consistently gets better grades than she does. Alex has already told her parents that she thinks they're to blame for her runner-up status. "I’ll just have to do the best I can with what I was given," she tells them.  So it's understandable that Phil and Claire feel the need to prove themselves to the Patels. They ditch plans to see "Croctopus" and opt for "Deux Jour de la Vie," an acclaimed French film.  Predictably, boredom ensues. Perfectionist Claire decides to stick it out, even though she falls asleep in the movie, while Phil, the overgrown kid, sneaks out to catch the end of "Croctopus."  Phil and Claire's intellectual insecurity was a funny and novel plot point, but the dig at French movies felt a little stale. N'est–ce pas? 

Finally, Jay and Gloria had their own uncomfortable surprise in the form of Mike and Steph Hoffman (Adam Kulbersh and Stephnie Weir), a boorish couple they met while on vacation in Cabo (why is it you always meet the most irritating people while trying to relax?). Neither Jay nor Gloria is excited to see the Hoffmans, but each responds differently. Gloria feels the need to play along and sit down for a long, tedious dinner with the couple. Jay doesn't understand the need to pretend to be friends. I confess: I tend to act like Gloria but wish I could be more like Jay. Gloria keeps the ruse going, pretending that Jay's rude outburst is the result of incipient mental illness. There was something about how all the strands of this plot line -- Jay's refusal to do the polite thing, the made-up "illness," Manny's dribble cup, the golf/game metaphors -- all came together so perfectly, that was reminiscent of "Curb Your Enthusiasm."  And to me, that's always a good thing.

What did you think?

Lines of the night:

"It’s an obsessive-compulsive thing, I read like a hundred things about it." -- Claire

"Those are characters from musicals. You’re so gay you can’t even think of real girls’ names." -- Mitchell, re: Cameron

"You naughty little girl." -- Cameron, talking to Lily

"Well, you know that’s what happens when you give me Kahlua." -- Mitchell, misunderstanding him

"You don’t just tell your partner you may have a baby with someone else and expect them to go back to eating a delicious and inventive meal like it’s nothing." -- Cameron

"Claire and I share a true love of cheesy cinema. Our favorite categories include genetically engineered animals gone wrong, old and young people switching bodies, tough guys taking care of babies, and any sequels 3 or higher." -- Phil

"Sanjay’s dad’s a surgeon and his mom’s a professor. I can’t compete with that." -- Alex

"I don’t know, I’m still thinking about all the Sanjays. I don’t know any, but I know three Miltons." -- Phil

"Why do I have to watch a French movie? I didn't do anything wrong." -- Phil

"How can we encourage our kids to have intellectual curiosity when we don’t have any?" -- Claire

Photo: Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) bump into Mitchell's high school flame, Tracy (Mary Lynn Rajskub).

Credit: ABC / Adam Larkey

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 -- Meredith Blake

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