'Modern Family' recap: The wedge issue
"Modern Family" episodes fall into one of two categories. Most of the time, each family has its own distinct storyline but occasionally, the show will deploy some more experimental storytelling devices. Wednesday night's episode, which made use of flashbacks and interwoven plot lines, was about as high-concept as "Modern Family" gets. Think "The Hangover" meets "Crash," take out all the stuff about racism and prostitutes, and you kinda-sorta have it.
The episode begins the morning after an explosive fight between Claire and Phil. There is evidence of their argument everywhere -- the microwave door is broken, there are broccoli florets strewn about the kitchen, and Claire's hair is a bird's nest on her head. Clearly, something monumental went down last night. The catch here is that Phil doesn't know why Claire got so angry, so he doesn't quite know how to proceed.
He seeks advice from Gloria, who's agreed to stay at the house and cut Phil's hair. ("I do Jay. I can do you," she says. "You can do me," Phil replies, gulping.) In between dodging Gloria's breasts, Phil reconstructs the events of the evening and we see, in flashback, what transpired the night before. Gloria, clearly a far less tolerant wife than Claire, suggests that each of Phil's possible infractions -- writing a message on a tiny scrap of paper, buying broccoli instead of cauliflower, noticing that an ex-girlfriend had lost weight -- was a crime punishable by death. Ultimately, Gloria is not particularly helpful to Phil, but it doesn't matter. There's something forbidden and a little taboo about any interaction between these two. It's a hoot to watch Phil try to squelch his attraction to his stepmother-in-law, especially because Gloria treats him like a rambunctious puppy dog. (My favorite was when she slapped him on the forehead with her comb.)
This is exactly what "Modern Family" does so well: dusting off the most threadbare comedy cliche -- the old "My wife? She's crazy!" bit dates back to the early Babylonians -- and, somehow, making it new and funny again. Phil is not the first television husband to be baffled by his wife's seemingly irrational outbursts, nor is Claire the first television wife to be irritated by her husband's emotional obtuseness. But what makes it work is the clever (but not too clever) storytelling and -- lest we forget -- the sublime performances of Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen.
While Gloria counsels Phil, Jay and Claire have their own gab session at the mall. Claire confesses the real reason for her meltdown which, naturally, is the one thing Phil didn't even consider: Phil finally ate a wedge salad, which she's been trying to get him to do for years, at the suggestion of a co-worker. "He listens to everyone's opinion but mine." It's a tiny, seemingly trivial detail, but when put in context, you can understand Claire's frustration. Jay tells Claire about his own minor domestic problem -- Gloria's new karaoke habit is making him crazy but he can't bring himself to tell her. (In the end, it's Manny who has to do the dirty work.) Haley, who's pretending to work as a hostess at River Run, a restaurant at the mall, nearly runs into her mother, who's in the throes of a rather stimulating back massage. Later, Phil, Claire and the kids head to River Run for dinner, and Haley goes to elaborate lengths to maintain the ruse: She orders drinks for the whole family and, by way of explanation, tells the waitress she's pregnant. Much to Alex's chagrin, Haley pulls it off.
Just like last week, Cameron and Mitchell are left with a storyline that's only tangentially related to this episode's A-plot. And, again like last week, an event at their house provides the raison d'etre for the entire family to come together in the third act. Cameron is hard at working planning a benefit at their house. He wants to raise money for the "Friends of the Third Street Overpass Musical Society," but more than that, he wants to outdo his work nemesis, who organized the event the previous year. (Cleverly, the writers give the key piece of expository dialogue to Mitchell, who delivers it in an exasperated fashion.) Unfortunately, Mitchell forgot to send out the invitations, so he has to scramble to get bodies in the chairs by the time the fundraiser begins. It was an especially formulaic Cameron-Mitchell storyline, but thankfully, oddball Luke is around to keep things interesting. He's there to help Cameron prepare for the big event, but Luke winds up in the middle of the fight between his uncles. "Get me your Uncle Mitchell," says Cameron. "I don't know his number," Luke responds. Cameron picks up the phone, angrily dials the number, then hands it back to Luke. Little moments like these are what that make "Modern Family" so fresh, even when the plots are a tad on the stale side.
There was a lot going on in this episode. What was your favorite moment?
Lines of the night:
"Did a raccoon get in through the dog door again?" -- Luke
"Are you going to get upset and start eating all the appetizers again?" -- Luke
It's amazing what you notice and what you don't notice." -- Cameron, re: Luke's unzipped fly
"You can't move like that. It's like cutting the head of a cuckoo bird." -- Gloria
"If you give me a message this tiny, I kill you." -- Gloria
"You insult a woman's driving, and you use the air bunnies? You do that to me and I kill you." -- Gloria
"When you get a massage. you sound like a Tijuana prostitute." -- Jay
"So far it's anger, betrayal, terror and sadness. Congratulations, Mitchell, you packed the house." -- Cameron
"If your mother had a name tag, it would say 'good driver.'" -- Phil
"Let me guess, it's a copy of the book that I begged you to read but you wouldn't until your dental hygienist told you it changed her life." -- Claire
-- Meredith Blake
Photo: Phil (Ty Burrell) presents Claire (Julie Bowen) with a cauliflower bouquet. Credit:Adam Larkey / ABC