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'Modern Family' recap: 'Everybody's got their stuff'

May 19, 2011 |  8:22 am

123737_0900_preThis week on “Modern Family,” young Alex Dunphy is graduating from the top of her eighth-grade class (apparently, there is such a thing.) The honor of being class valedictorian comes with great responsibility -- not unlike being Spider-Man. In Alex’s case, it means having to give a speech. As "See You Next Fall" begins, we see her take to the stage in her cap and gown, but the row reserved for her family is nearly empty.

This episode forgoes the usual “Modern Family” narrative structure, in which each of the three families gets its own storyline, in favor of something a little more experimental. It pays off. Instead of an A-plot, a B-plot and a C-plot, there are five or six mini-plots swirling all at once:  Alex’s controversial speech, Phil’s ploys to get Claire to break down, Cameron and Mitchell’s spat over the ducky pool, Phil’s botox mishap, and Luke’s attempts at telekinesis. And there’s the added twist that the episode is told in flashback, something we also saw in “Manny Get Your Gun,” (another great episode) when the families each arrived late to Manny’s birthday party. With so many moving parts, this episode might have been a mess, but it works perfectly. A major factor in the success of the episode is that everyone in this fantastic ensemble has something to do this week — not an easy feat on a show that’s stacked with great performers and is barely 22 minutes long.

If I had to isolate a favorite storyline from this episode, it would be Jay’s unfortunate dermatological experiment. Not necessarily for the sight gag of his “Phantom of the Opera”-esque face, but for the look on Gloria’s when she finds out he’s gotten botox. “Like the ladies use for the wrinkles?” she asks, her face contorted with scorn, as if Jay had just told her he took money out of the collection plate at church. One of the most entertaining things about Gloria is that, for all her feistiness, she’s a believer in traditional gender roles. So the idea that her husband is getting cosmetic procedures is anathema to her. A lot of fuss is made over Sofia Vergara’s appearance — and with good reason — but she should get at least as much attention for her skills as a comedian. (Though, for someone as cartoonishly voluptuous as she is, these things are obviously related.)

But there were lots of other wonderful moments scattered throughout the episode. There was Cameron’s run-in with the screen door at Jay’s house. Eric Stonestreet is a master of this kind of slapstick comedy and I have to say, it tickles me every time. Or we had Phil and Claire, tumbling down the hill on their way to Alex’s graduation, eliciting involuntary chuckles from Cameron.  “It's the juxtaposition of absurdist comedy against the backdrop of a formal setting,” Cameron explains, sounding a rather self-referential note. Another highlight is the three-way phone conversation between Jay, Gloria and Manny, which plays like high-tech version of "Who's on First."

Even the sentimental stuff feels just right, and is tempered with enough humor that it doesn't get cloying. I like that that Alex reconsiders her speech after Haley reminds her "everybody's got their stuff"--that just because she's (somewhat) nerdy, she's not the only one with problems. It was just heart-warming enough, and thankfully Haley was quickly back to her vapid teenage self. With just one episode left in its second season, "Modern Family" is showing no signs of a sophomore slump. Sure, even this fine show will occasionally have its less-than-stellar installments, but blame that on the demands of network television.

Lines of the night:

“She's the main brain, the cerebellum of them all. Weighing in at ... a healthy amount for a girl her age!” –- Phil

“Our hubris will be our undoing.” –- Phil

“Not now. I think I’m moving the ball with my mind.” –- Luke

“It was kind of a grande deal. I was up against an actual Puerto Rican.” -– Phil

“Trust me, that is not a phone call you want to make to a bunch of ex-college male cheerleaders. They will mock you with a hurtful rhythmic taunt.” –- Phil

“It's graduation, a celebration of being done with thinking.” –- Haley

“Mahatma Gandhi went on a hunger strike for what he believed in.” –- Alex
“That's because no one would eat with him in the cafeteria.” –- Haley

“His face looks like a candle.” –- Claire

“What were you thinking? You're a veteran!” –- Cameron

“Do you think he got his butt done too? It looks fantastic.” –- Phil

“I keep hitting my boobs with my knees.” –- Gloria
“Champagne problems, right?” –- Phil

“Wait, I have an idea.” –- Luke
“We don’t have time to build a rocket.” –- Phil
“Never mind.” –- Luke

“It is my bathroom too, and I like when the old guy is there.” –- Gloria

"This is very embarrassing for me.” –- Jay
“For both of us.” –- Gloria

-- Meredith Blake


Photo: Luke (Nolan Gould), right, shows off his telekinetic skills to Manny (Rico Rodriguez). Credit: Eric McCandless/ABC