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'Modern Family' recap: Guess who's coming to dinner?

February 17, 2011 |  6:44 am

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Two familiar faces returned to this week’s “Modern Family, causing mayhem and provoking palpable levels of anxiety among the Dunphy-Pritchett-Delgado clan.  It’s been a while since last we saw Fizbo and Dede (sounds like the name of a ‘70s soft-pop duo, doesn’t it?), but it was great to have them back.

This time around, Dede’s staying at Claire and Phil’s house, a fact that has Claire on edge. Knowing that mother and daughter will be at each other’s throats, Phil sits the kids down for a talk: When things get tense, as they inevitably will, they’re going to have to stage a cuteness intervention. Luke is especially up for the mission, and even tells Phil he’s got some material prepared, so already we’ve got something to look forward to. 

Dede never shows up without an unwelcome surprise in tow, and this time, she’s got Claire’s creepy ex-boyfriend, Robbie Sullivan.  He’s one of those guys who hit his peak sometime in his junior year in high school and, in an example of pitch-perfect casting, he’s played by Matt Dillon.  Robbie shows up with a six-pack of fuzzy navel wine coolers, ready to romance Claire once again. Dede hasn’t bothered to tell Robbie about Phil or the kids— “All she said was that she’s still trying to figure out your life,” he says — which makes for a spectacularly awkward dinner. It’s all wonderfully uncomfortable to watch. The only question is what’s driving Dede. Phil thinks she’s trying to break up his marriage to Claire, a theory that’s quickly disproven when they spot Dede and Robbie locked in a passionate embrace in the driveway.

The only person who’s really happy about Dede’s arrival is Haley, who loves hearing details about Claire’s wild youth — all the more ammo to use the next time she clashes with her. “Modern Family” frequently makes a point of emphasizing the similarities between Haley and Claire, similarities that fuel their often-heated confrontations over boys, curfews and cellphones. It’s not the most novel observation — sometimes parents are strict because they want you to avoid making the same mistakes they did — yet something about this mother-daughter tension is especially convincing.  I wonder if Haley will end up like her mother, a tightly wound woman desperately trying to keep her teenage daughter away from the long-haired bad boys she used to date.  As family-oriented and “perfect” as Claire is, her wild past never really seems that implausible; There’s suburban PTA member and a hard-partier co-existing in her body. I think this duality stems from the fact that, underneath her all-American looks, Julie Bowen has an almost manic edge. She always seems to be vibrating onscreen, like a rubber band that’s just been snapped. I also appreciate that Claire isn’t completely reformed, i.e. she falls asleep on the stairs after drinking a bottle of wine. (Who hasn’t?)

Over at Cameron and Mitchell’s house, the argument this week is over Lily’s second birthday party.  Cameron is planning to revive Fizbo the Clown, but Mitchell shoots him down.  The party should be about Lily, not Cameron’s ego. “Nobody wants a clown for a dad,” he says. Cameron is -- cue the gasp — outraged. Mitchell also shoots down the alternative Cameron suggests, a court-jester version of Fizbo.  Yes, it was ludicrous, but it was hard not to laugh at his terrible cockney accent (which, for the record, is always funny). I think Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson are a fantastic duo, but I do wish that the writers would come up with something new for these two to do; lately it seems that their plots have fallen into a predictable routine. Cameron wants to do something Mitchell thinks is ridiculous, Cameron is offended by Mitchell’s objection, wash, rinse, repeat. It would be great if this relationship was given a bit more attention and room to grow. 

With anxiety levels through the roof, the family comes together at Lily’s princess party.  Cameron, still miffed about Fizbo’s banishment, harasses the hired princess for not staying in character. Dede shows up with Robbie, and Claire finally snaps.  The only exception to this is Gloria who, in anticipation of a confrontation with Dede, has popped a Xanax, topping it off with a shot of tequila for good measure.  She’s the only one who sees no problem with Dede and Robbie’s little affair. “Maybe it’s about passion, about what the body wants,” she reasons through the drug haze. Turns out she’s wrong: It’s about her. After what appears to be a mature conversation with Jay, she pounces on Gloria.  Some things never change.

This episode was unusually full of great lines, even for “Modern Family”:

“She’s going to be in Chicago.” -– Mitchell

That’s fantastic. What part is she playing? -- Cameron

“My tummy’s growling. Can I have some ‘pasghetti?” -- Luke

“Maybe a fuzzy navel wine cooler will loosen you up. Sure used to.” -– Robbie

“Maybe Robbie’s not rich, but he needs a limo because he has a lot of DUIs.” --Phil

“The truth is, I am rich. But not with money. I’ve got my abs, I’ve got my hair, and I’ve got a super sweet job ridin’ that limo outside.” –- Robbie

“I know Claire from being married to Claire.” --Phil

“A bear? I was gonna get a crucifix.” -- Jay

“Every time he opens his mouth I can feel my daughters losing respect for me.” --Claire

“He could charm your socks off, though I doubt he stopped there.” --Dede

“Let’s just say, if I’m late, I’ll be in Jeopardy.” --Robbie
“Who is... Alex Trebek?” -- Alex
“He’s a game show host. Why?” -– Robbie

“All those Mother’s Day cards I sent her, all those joke e-mails she forwarded to me months after I’d already seen 'em. No more polite LOLs for you, Dede.” -- Phil

“Princesses don’t get paid, except maybe in laughter and sparkles.” -- Princess

“She and I had a long talk after you and I ‘split that bottle of wine’ and you ‘fell asleep on the stairs.’”  --Phil

“You’ve just made a little girl very happy.”  -- Cameron   
“Yes well I can see that.” -- Mitchell

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--Meredith Blake

twitter.com/MeredithBlake

Photo: Phil (Ty Burrell) squares off with Claire's ex, Robbie (Matt Dillon); Credit: ABC/Peter "Hopper" Stone

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