Category: Modern Family

'Modern Family' recap: The sweet hereafter


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."

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'Modern Family' recap: The wedge issue

122893_4334_pre"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.

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


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. 

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'Modern Family' recap: 'You can't win Valentine's Day'



Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a day when couples bask smugly in the warmth of their love for one another, rubbing their noses together between sips of Veuve Clicquot and nibbles of chocolate-covered strawberries: You know the drill. But is this Hallmark holiday really just a competitive event? That was the question posed by this week’s “Modern Family.” Judging from the evidence, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

For Mitchell and Cameron, the competition is instigated by a third party. Broderick, Mitchell’s meddling assistant, has been tampering with Cameron's Valentine's Day plans -- not delivering flowers to Mitchell and scheduling a late meeting for him at the office. Cameron assumes Broderick's got a crush on Mitchell and is trying to tamper with the relationship, but when he confronts Broderick, he discovers that the crush is, in fact, on him. Once these two finally sit down for their long-awaited meal at Ibiza (pronounced "i-bee-thuh," mind you) the question of Broderick's crush escalates into a Valentine's Day spat. Both partners pretend not to be flattered, but each clearly has some ego invested in the answer.

In many ways, Cameron and Mitchell are the most emotionally realistic couple on this show. While they are very much in love with each other, and are acutely attuned to each other's hidden messages -- notice how, at dinner, Mitchell knew almost right away that Cameron had something he wanted to boast about -- they're also competitive. No, it's not in a destructive way -- there's little chance either of these guys are cheaters -- but in a very human one. Who doesn't like to feel wanted?

Claire and Phil are fighting a different kind of battle: one against marital boredom. The Dunphys happily settle into their early-bird dinner at Ibiza, but once Claire realized everyone else at the restaurant is about twice their age, she panics. "I know Phil and I are going to grow old together someday, but today is not that day." Claire decides she and Phil should revive their sexy alter-egos, Clive and Julianna, and retreat to a hotel room for a night of role-playing. The dialogue between "Clive" and "Julianna" was the highlight of the episode, and the fact that we only got sketchy information about these "characters" -- "Clive" is apparently some kind of speaker salesman -- made it even funnier. Predictably, their fantasy tryst does not turn out well, and Phil/"Clive" winds up naked in a stranger's hotel room. For those of you keeping track, this is the second episode in a row in which the Dunphys' "zesty" sex life has taken center stage. It's either wonderfully inspiring or wildly unrealistic that these two are still so hot for each other, though it would be nice to see some of the other couples get some action once in a while, too. Maybe next Valentine's day.

Jay and Gloria's rivalry is much more straightforward: The point of Valentine's Day is to one-up each other, plain and simple. Gloria manages to win this battle handily, outsmarting Jay by relocating his surprise dinner and buying him a brand-new, shiny motorcycle.

As I've mentioned here before, I'm not really crazy about holiday sitcom episodes. They tend to be too sentimental for my taste, especially the Valentine's Day and Christmas ones, and there's just something about them that feels obligatory. "Modern Family" usually strikes just the right balance between biting humor and heartfelt emotion, but occasionally things can get a touch sappy, especially in the last five minutes of the show. This episode had some amusing gags, and the fact that all three couples ended up at Ibiza was a clever touch, but it didn't quite have the usual zing. Or am I just a Valentine's Day grinch?

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'Modern Family' recap: Coitus interruptus

Wednesday night's "Modern Family" was a useful reminder to parents everywhere: get a lock for your bedroom door. It's the Dunphys' anniversary, and their loving children decide to treat their parents to breakfast in bed. Little do poor Alex, Haley and Luke know that Claire and Phil are starting their day with, um, a feast of a different kind (Sorry. No more bad sex metaphors, I promise.) The parents scramble, the kids shriek in horror and trays fly everywhere. 

It was exactly the kind of perfectly orchestrated comedic sequence "Modern Family" does so well. This show is great at taking scenarios that are so familiar as to border on the cliche and actually make them funny again. Phil and Claire's coitus interruptus is a perfect example of this formula: What parent hasn't dealt with this at some point or another? But it was also groundbreaking in its own way. For one thing, as I've mentioned before, for all its politically incorrect humor, "Modern Family" has been -- until now -- a little prudish when it comes to actual sex. Here were Phil and Claire, not only caught doing it, but -- without getting into too much detail here -- in what appeared to be a "zesty" version of it. The scene was raunchy and refreshing at the same time, a rare feat. Now, give us a sex scene between Mitchell and Cameron, or even Jay and Gloria, and "Modern Family" would really be pushing some buttons. 

After the accidental barge-in, the Dunphy kids are traumatized. Alex frantically flushes her eyes out, screaming, "I can still see it!" while Luke puzzles over what, exactly, his dad was doing to his mother. The kids decide to flee the house before their parents can sit them down for what's bound to be an awkward conversation. So they loiter around a gas station parking lot in their pajamas, trying to figure out their next move. It's rare to see all three Dunphy kids in a scene together, especially on their own, and it was nice to see them have an actual conversation. They collectively decide that, hey, running in on their parents is gross, but isn't it better than a divorce? Wise kids indeed.

As usual on "Modern Family," the other two branches of the family tree were in the thick of their own dilemmas. Mitchell and Cameron are on a play date gone horribly awry. Trying to woo Amelia, the owner of a hot-spot restaurant in the neighborhood, Cameron steps on one of Lily's juice boxes, leaving a huge purple stain on Amelia's impeccable white rug. As Mitchell poetically describes it, "It looks like someone bled out." Pandemonium ensues, and they contemplate rearranging the rug (genius idea, if you ask me), but settle on the classic "blame-the-kid" solution. From week to week, I always find myself amused the most by these two. Phil may get the best lines, and there are no duds on this show, but the timing between Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson just can't be matched. For me, it all came down to the line about the rug. "I saw it in Architectural Digest. It costs $50,000. It was in Diane Keaton’s house," Cameron recalls, at length. "Oh no, it was in what’s-her-name’s house. From 'Prizzi’s Honor...'  Exasperated and panicked, Mitchell screams, "Anjelica Huston!" These two understand each other almost innately, and, as a result, drive each other nuts.

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

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? 

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TCA Press Tour 2011: All about the funny men and women [Updated]

Juliety The 2011 Press Tour headquartered in Pasadena went off campus Tuesday, traveling to studios and sets to give reporters an up-close look at the shows they cover. The morning festivities were highlighted by a visit to 20th Century Fox Studios, where the scribes were treated to two distinct panels featuring "the funny men and women of 20th Century Fox," featuring cast members from several hit comedies, including "Modern Family," "How I Met Your Mother" and "Glee."

Jason Segel of "How I Met Your Mother" looked a bit concerned when he first gazed out on the sparse audience in Fox's Little Theatre gathered for his "Funny Men" panel.

"This looks like the opening night of 'Gulliver's Travels,' " said Segel, referring to the recent Jack Black flop. It wasn't a cheap shot — Segel was one of the stars.

The theater eventually filled up — the bus ferrying reporters from Pasadena was late — and Segel and his fellow panelists discussed the business of being funny.

Ty Burrell, who plays Phil Dunphy on "Modern Family," gave enormous credit to the show's writers, who channel some of their experiences to characters on the series:  "We constantly pray for catastrophes on our writers' lives."

Lucas Neff downplayed some of the difficulties he has working with a baby in "Raising Hope," the Fox comedy in which he plays a young single father of an infant: "Babies are really truthful. They never break character. And you can't blame them. So it helps with learning how to be patient."

The panelists kept referring to the current popularity of TV comedies, arriving only a few years after many in the industry speculated that comedy was dead. Said Segel: "The pendulum swung too far the other way on reality TV. Eventually people got tired of it. They wanted to watch something nice, that could make you laugh in a calm world at the end of the day."

Other panelists included Jesse Tyler Ferguson ("Modern Family"), Neil Patrick Harris ("How I Met Your Mother") and Mattew Morrison and Chris Colfer ("Glee").

Said Colfer: "I'm not funny. I'm not sure why I'm here."

When the stage was turned over to the female performers, much of the discussion centered on the changing role of women. Julie Bowen ("Modern Family") said she was often cast as girlfriends whose main attribute revolved around her sexuality. Now women in comedies have more complex and dimensional roles in which they are involved in the humor rather than just reacting to it.

Added Lea Michele of "Glee:" "There are fresh rules. You can be beautiful and funny too."

The panelists included Alyson Hannigan ("How I Met Your Mother") and Martha Plimpton ("Raising Hope").

A slight buzz erupted when Jane Lynch ("Glee") was asked about recent comments attributed to Ed O'Neill ("Modern Family") that his TV wife, Sofia Vergara, should have won last year's Emmy for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy instead of Lynch. O'Neill later said his comments were taken out of context and apologized to Lynch.

"I love Ed," said Lynch, who sat next to Vergara on the panel. She said the fracas was stirred up by the media. "That was you guys, not us."

[Updated, 8:30 p.m.: A previous version of this post misspelled Jason Segel's name as Segal.]

— Greg Braxton

Photo: Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell of "Modern Family." Credit: Adam Taylor / ABC

'Modern Family' recap: A stranger in the hot tub

122437_5663_pre There are issues that every couple — gay or straight, black or white, rich or poor — will eventually have to face. What to do about the handsome, half-naked stranger living in your daughter’s princess castle? Generally not one of them. 

That was the dilemma faced by Cameron and Mitchell on Wednesday night’s episode of “Modern Family.”  James Marsden guest-starred as Barry, the Pritchett-Tuckers’ chiseled new neighbor and aspiring reiki master. Cameron discovers Barry lounging in their backyard hot tub, leading to this exchange:

Cameron: “There’s a stranger in our hot tub.”

Mitchell: “Who is it?”

Cameron: “You do know what stranger means, don’t you?”

Their concern quickly disintegrates once they get a load of Barry’s ripped abs.  “Maybe we’re overreacting,” says Mitchell.  They decide to say hello instead of grabbing their baseball bat.  It was an interesting moment for these two.  Mitchell and Cameron are gay, but they’re fairly asexual creatures — as, indeed, are most of the characters on “Modern Family.”  It’s not that we think Cameron and Mitchell (or Jay and Gloria, or Claire and Phil) don’t have sex, it’s just that we don’t really hear them talk about it or see them engage in any real P.D.A.  So watching these two collectively drool over Barry was certainly a new experience. 

The Barry incident also highlighted the temperamental differences between Cameron and Mitchell.  While they both drool over Barry’s physical charms, Mitchell is less enamored of his New-Agey persona.  “I have an appointment with Dr. Bigfoot tomorrow,” he jokes.  Cameron encourages him to keep an open mind and to stop being so judgmental of small flaws — saying “but yet” instead of “but” or “yet,” serving salad after a meal, or using the word “literally” when not being literal.  Between the rat-a-tat dialogue and Mitchell’s completely understandable pet peeves about double conjunctions (here I am betraying my own grammatical prejudices), this was my favorite moment of the episode.  The rapport between Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet is always remarkable — they simultaneously work as a romantic couple and a comedic duo, which is not easy — and especially so in this scene.

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2010 Favorite TV Duos


TV's full of wonderful pairings. It was hard to narrow it down to 10, so we offer you our Baker's dozen.

1. Sally and Glen of "Mad Men." Our dear Little Sally (played by Kiernan Shipka) has grown into a pre-teen -- one who likes boys. And Glenn (Marten Weiner) is the perfect crush candidate: he's a fellow kid of divorce AND her mother isn't fond of him. Plus, he gets Sally. And their phone calls kind of make us swoon.

2. Virginia and Burt of "Raising Hope." Martha Plimpton and Garret Dillahunt have amazing comedic chemistry together and are totally believebale as this hapless but loving couple.

3. Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) and Blake (Scott Porter) of "The Good Wife."  She's a badass with killer detective skills. He's a badass with killer detective skills. So, naturally, they're rivals--despite working for the same people. And we love every minute of their tortured chemistry.

4. Eric and Tami Taylor (Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton) of "Friday Night Lights." Is there a better husband and wife on TV? Not by a longshot.

5. Cameron and Mitchell (Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson). "Modern Family" is full of winning combinations but just for trying so hard to get Lily into a good daycare, we recognize this hilarious romantic pair. (Also: Mitchell's flash mob and Cameron's biker shorts).

6. Sue and Becky of "Glee." If you don't love the sweet and wise Becky, you have no heart. The sweet and sour combination of Lauren Potter and Jane Lynch is one of "Glee's" best gifts to its fans. (Campaign for Becky as ruler of the free world starts now).

7. Mike and Molly of "Mike & Molly." The only thing excessive about this couple is their adorableness factor. He buys her tubs of shampoo and conditioner. She puts up with his overbearing mother. Together, they bring RomCom moments to the small screen every week. We're dreading the day when there's trouble in paradise.

8. LaFayette and Jesus of "True Blood." Besides all the hotness this pair exudes, how can we not be happy for LaFayette after all he's been through? Who cares if his new man is a brujo? Kudos to Nelson Ellis and Kevin Alejandro.

9. Jacob and the Man in Black on "Lost." Mark Pellegrino and Titus Welliver's mental chess game was riveting to watch. Why couldn't they both be right?

10. Raylan and Boyd of "Justified." Who needs Blair and Serena? Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins play the best frenemies on TV these days.

11. Olivia and Peter of "Fringe." Finally! There is love on "Fringe." We realize technically it was between Bolivia (Anna Torv) and Peter (Joshua Jackson) but there is hope.

12. Hank and Britt of "Terriers." What makes the cancellation of this FX series so heart-breaking is how wonderful these two actors were together. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James need to be cast on another show together pronto.

13. Lisa and Giggy of "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." For weeks we've been oh-too-happy to get jiggy with Giggy. The miniature pooch and his loveable owner, Lisa Vanderpump, put Danielle Staub and her yanked weave to shame. The Gigga man even has his own Twitter account.



--Yvonne Villarreal and Maria Elena Fernandez

Photo: Kiernan Shipka and Marten Weiner as Sally and Glen on "Mad Men." Credit: AMC

2010's coolest TV characters under 30


They’re the folks whom we welcome into our living room, even when it’s messy. The personalities that fill up 99% of our DVR space. The lives we get a glimpse into week after week.

Coolest-gallery They are TV characters. And we at ShowTracker are reliant on them to keep this blog running. But  rather than shell out kudos to all the leading men and women that kept this season bright (since, uh, the Emmys take care of that), we're casting a spotlight on the young-uns that often get overlooked in the sea of Don Drapers, Liz Lemons and Sue Sylvesters.

Click on the gallery to the right for a list of our picks of the coolest TV characters under 30 — from a high school clique with a haunting secret to a pint-sized pickle-loving guidette to a baby with all the right spunk.

 --Yvonne Villarreal and Maria Elena Fernandez

Photo: Baby Hope (Rylie or Baylie: it's a mystery) on "Raising Hope." Credit: Fox

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

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.

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'Modern Family' recap: Happy hands-giving!


We all want to be liked by our in-laws, but is it possible for them to like us a little too much?  This was the dilemma Mitchell struggled with on Wednesday night's "Modern Family." When Cameron announces that his mother, Barb (Celia Weston) will be visiting from Mississippi, Mitchell, who's already high-strung, switches into "barely sublimated panic" mode.  What's the source of all this consternation, especially if Barb is, as Cameron claims, the "greatest woman that ever lived"?  It turns out the greatest woman who ever lived is also "handsy." 

This trait is, of course, very funny -- cue the montage of Barb fondling Mitchell's calves after a run, or rubbing his hands while Cameron is sleeping -- but it also shed some light on Cameron.  Just to be an armchair shrink: It makes sense that Cameron, who's so (figuratively) touchy-feely, would have been raised by a mom who was so (ahem) hands-on.  Mitchell doesn't have the nerve to tell Barb that her tactile tendencies are freaking him out. Instead, Barb overhears Mitchell complaining to Cameron, "Your mother can’t keep her hands off of me and it’s creeping me out."   These two have developed a curious pattern of accidental confrontations -- remember the bike shorts episode a few weeks ago? I suppose with a partner as sensitive as Cameron, Mitchell has to pick his battles.

Dylan proved himself to be somewhat worthy of his name this episode. Not to say that he's morphed into a great poet or songwriter -- alas, neither seems to be in the cards for our Dylan -- but he is, in the very least, one sensitive dude. Though his appearances are infrequent, I've always been amused by Dylan. With his long hair, guitar and dopey demeanor, he reminds me of Nick Valentine (and Haley is nothing if not a millennial version of Malorie Keaton). After Haley unceremoniously dumps him via text message, Dylan has a minor breakdown.  "I see her face everywhere," he tells Claire, who reminds him that he is, in fact, looking at a family portrait.  Dylan eventually decides that he should take some time off from dating, and get to know himself. I'll miss Dylan, but I wonder what kind of weirdo Haley will bring home next; after all, when the comedy gods close one door, they open another, right?

Unlike last week, when each branch of the Dunphy-Pritchett-Delgado clan was running late to Manny's birthday, this episode wasn't tied together by a single unifying event or conceit.  As a result, it had a looser, more uneven quality to it. The Dylan-Phil bonding was sublimely silly, as was the confusion generated by Phil's girlie sweatshirt (the emasculation of Phil continues apace). This left Jay, Manny and Gloria with the short end of the narrative stick, and a storyline that felt a little tossed-off.

Gloria's casual relocation of her shoulder was pretty great, though.  That's all to say I'm not sure which type of "Modern Family" episode I prefer. The unified episodes -- the one with the bike shorts was actually another recent example -- are more cohesive, but they also verge on being gimmicky. The writing feels more strained, less organic. Forced to choose, I'd say I prefer my sitcoms to be low-concept, even if it's the super-high-concept episodes that have stuck with me (i.e. the "Cosby Show" where Heath gives birth to a hoagie).

How do you prefer your sitcoms:  straight up, or with a twist?

Lines of the night:

"How do we know the right Middle Eastern businessman wouldn’t treat her great."  --Alex re: Haley

"It’s got a very vibrant cowboy poetry scene."  --Cameron re: Mississippi

"She raised four kids, two barns and whole lot o’hell."  Cameron re: his mother

"You know what happens when I shop angry." --Gloria

"I’m gonna have to get my own ax. Sometimes I come in here and noodle on it." --Phil

"I was a lot like you in high school, except my hair was shorter and my guitar was a flute."  --Phil

"Why you are presenting to my mother like a baboon?" --Mitchell

"I’m never playing dumb."  --Dylan

"I need a little time to date Dylan, and I mean me, not another guy named Dylan." --Dylan (duh)

"Dollars to doughnuts it’s diverticulitis."  --Manny

"No that’s just an expression. America doesn’t have a king."  --Phil explaining Elvis to Dylan

-- Meredith Blake

Photo:  Barb (Celia Weston), Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) share a group hug. Credit: Matt Kennedy


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