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'Modern Family' recap: The sweet hereafter

March 3, 2011 |  7:59 am


As this week's "Modern Family" deftly illustrated, nobody likes to think about death, least of all those of us with much older -- or much younger -- spouses.

Jay "doesn't like loose ends" so he decides it's time that he and Gloria pick out a burial plot. Gloria is horrified to discover the primo real estate Jay has in mind is not in a traditional cemetery, but a crypt. She doesn't want her body "shoved" in a "file cabinet," even if she's within spitting distance of Bugsy Siegel for all eternity. It turns out that the Rutledges, their other neighbors-for-eternity, aren't so interested in having Jay and Gloria around either. They're concerned by the age difference between Jay and Gloria: What if she remarries, decides to be buried with her new husband, and leaves her plot to go to a perfect stranger? It's a wonderfully funny "plot" (no pun intended) -- insightful, awkward and a touch morbid.

Most uncomfortable of all is the idea that Gloria might remarry after Jay's gone. I'd imagine this is something that older-men-with-younger-women think about all the time, but I wonder how often they actually sit down to talk about it? In any case, Jay decides to clear the air and tell Gloria she can remarry after he dies, as long as she keeps his ashes around for all eternity. "It will drive the old putz crazy," Jay explains. It's an oddly heartwarming solution to their problem. All the death talk also leads to a sweet scene in which Manny tells Jay he has nothing to worry about."If you think she’s going to replace you when you're gone, then you are the putz."

Cameron and Mitchell have a much more immediate problem to resolve. In the process of writing a book for Lily, "Two Monkeys and a Panda," Cameron discovers that Lily's adoption certificate has her name not as "Lily Tucker-Pritchett," but "Lily Tucker Pritchett." Somehow, the hyphen is missing, leaving Mitchell's last name with "top billing." After an intial denial, Mitchell admits the dropped hyphen was not a mistake. He was worried that Cameron would panic, leave, and Lily would forever be stuck with the last name of a stranger.

On the one hand, it was a refreshing change of pace to see Mitchell and Cameron finally deal with a more substantive, emotion-laden conflict -- rather than, say, the return of Fizbo the Clown. But here's a situation that was patched up too easily, if you ask me. Adopting a daughter together, but then secretly changing her name because she's yours? That's some messed-up stuff right there. I also wonder about the motive. Cameron might be the nervous type, but he's the last person I'd expect to up and leave his family.

A more quotidian dispute is underway at the Dunphys. In between making dinner and running her many PTA-mom errands, Claire is trying to quell an ongoing feud between Haley and Alex. It's the sort of petty, clothing-related squabble that, as any woman who grew up with a sister can tell you, can explode into Armageddon. Their incessant bickering rings completely true to me. Granted, I say that as someone whose sister once threw a shoe at me and told me I was "an accident." (Nearly two decades later, we hardly ever throw things at each other anymore.) The only thing hyperbolic about their fighting is how witty Alex and Haley are: Most teenage girls would resort to calling each other "fat," "ugly" or "fat" and "ugly."

One thing I find more worrying is Claire. There's such fine line between tense and shrill when it comes to her character, and in this episode she is definitely the latter. Julie Bowen is a great comedic actress who almost always exudes roiling, nervous energy -- like a whippet that's been locked inside a studio apartment for a week straight. It has nothing to do with Bowen's performance, it's a matter of writing. It must be tempting for the writers to want to harness her jittery energy all the time. Last week's episode was based on nearly the same premise: Phil walking eggshells around Claire. This week, he's spending an afternoon at the spa while she's frantically running around town trying to find a sweater to replace the one that Alex accidentally ripped. Phil proposes reasonable solutions -- i.e. not driving around town in search of a sweater -- but Claire's not interested. She just wants him to make dinner.  The women at the spa have some advice for Phil: Just express your sympathy, don't tell her what to do. Of course, Phil puts this to use, and it works like a charm. It's funny, but there's something a little tiresome about it. Is Phil really that scared of Claire?

Also, did he even bother making dinner?!

What do you think? Do want to be "stuffed in a drawer" when you die? Do you think it's crazy that Mitchell dropped the hyphen on Lily's adoption certificate? And do you think Claire is too shrill, even if her anger is justified?

Lines of the night:

"If you don't use them, then all our money just goes to charity." -- Phil

"Here you're just a mushy bag of bones rotting away for all eternity." -- Gloria

"Then I will just go put on your favorite nerdy T-shirt, the one with the guy from 'Back to the Future' on it." -- Haley

"What did Oprah do now?" -- Mitchell

"She had a girl on who at 16 found out that she was adopted, felt betrayed, ran away and became a stripper and not the heart-of-gold kind, the by-the-airport kind." -- Cameron

"Go get your gavel, Judge Judy." -- Cameron

"Half the 11th grade's been inside this sweater." -- Alex

"I want them to share clothes and gossip about boys and do each other's hair. Like I used to do with Mitchell." -- Claire

"Remember how I used to wear it and act like I had a giant head?" -- Cameron

"Mmm hmm. That was good acting." -- Mitchell

"I'm a lawyer. I fill out all the forms ever since you signed up for a 12-year gym membership." -- Mitchell

"Good luck getting someone into your drawers." -- Gloria


Complete coverage of "Modern Family" on Show Tracker

"Modern Family" recap: The wedge issue

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

"Modern Family" recap: Coitus interruptus

--Meredith Blake

Photo: Jay (Ed O'Neill) and Gloria (Sofia Vergara) discuss their future plans. Credit: Adam Taylor / ABC