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

January 6, 2011 |  6:52 am

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.

Cameron’s credulousness is a recurring theme on “Modern Family,” and once again it’s his open mind that leads to trouble: Namely, an itinerant wannabe reiki master living in their daughter’s playhouse.  Likewise, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Mitchell’s eye-rolling skepticism proven right.  (Remember Lily’s brief, disastrous foray into acting?)

Similarly, a speeding driver highlights the differences between Claire and Phil.  Tightly wound Claire makes poorly punctuated signs and posts them around the neighborhood. (I wonder how Mitchell would have responded to “Slow down your neighbors.”)  Phil’s chief goal in life is to be liked, and after that, it’s to sell homes.  So when it turns out that the reckless driver is also Laura (Jami Gertz), a woman with a pricey house on the market (priced to move at $1.25 million?  Where, exactly, do the Dunphys live?) and looking for a broker, Phil is in a real pickle.  Does he turn his back on his wife, or his wallet?  This storyline was inspired, but the resolution was weirdly unsatisfying.  Phil never had to fess up, nor did he have to ask Claire to take her crusade down a notch for the sake of the family's bank account.  It felt a bit like a lost opportunity.  

More satisfying was the dynamic between Luke and Gloria.  It’s not often that we get a scene between just these two — could this have been the first, in fact?  I have always appreciated the way the writers depict Luke, as a rather inexplicable little weirdo with some latent violent tendencies.  Witness last night, when he got Aunt Gloria to ride a bike by dousing her with a Super Soaker, or when he advised Claire to “drag [the speeding driver] out of his car and take turns punch him in his stomach 'til he barfs.” Funny kids are by no means a new thing on sitcoms, but Luke doesn't really fit any conventional mold. He's not precocious like Manny, or ditzy like Haley, or nerdy like Alex. One of the very best things about “Modern Family” is that it’s not too hung up on the dreaded “L” word — likability — especially when it comes to kids. Haley is irredeemably vapid, Manny is coddled and socially inept, and Luke is a serious oddball.  Thank God for that. 

Lines of the night: 

"Order a pizza and call the cops.  We’ll see who gets here first."  -- Luke

"Stephen Hawking could ride that bike." -- Jay, re: Manny's bike 

"Why can’t you just volunteer at the museum or bring pudding to old people?" -- Haley

"Two-thirds of my house can’t do what a billion Chinese do?" -- Jay

"I think you mean you couldn’t care less because if you could care less it means that you care a little bit." -- Mitchell

"There’s no reason you should stay upright, but it just works." -- Jay to Gloria

"Nobody remembers Scotty Pippen. The only reason I remember him is because he’s named after my favorite musical." -- Phil

"The only thing that offends me is a man who doesn’t know his own truth." -- Barry

"It’s probably some bored housewife who hates her husband and hates her life." -- Laura

"You two so lucky they don’t let you get married." -- Mrs. Ko

"You are living in a little girl’s toy and you have to move out." -- Cameron

 Which ones did I miss?

-- Meredith Blake

Photo: Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) is not convinced that Barry (James Marsden) has healing powers. 

Credit: ABC / Adam Larkey



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