S3E14: There is a certain well that Modern Family goes to a bit too often: pettiness. Mitchell/Cameron stories are the most frequent culprit of this, with Jay/Gloria stories not too far behind. Episodes with plots of this nature as the focus are generally my least favorite—instead of two of the family members pit against each other for childish reasons, I’d prefer to see them working together towards a common goal, working against a common enemy, or enrapt in something legitimately emotionally trying.
This week’s episode of Modern Family does have a petty story, but I am far less bothered by it than I usually am for two reasons. First: it pits Cameron against Gloria—a combination that is fresh (and comically extravagant on both ends). This is also a plus because whereas childish fights between Mitchell and Cam or Jay and Gloria might incite thoughts that these romantic relationships are unhealthy and unpleasant, the Cam/Gloria pairing is obviously exempt from those thoughts. Second: this storyline is pushed from the foreground by the more prominent Phil/Claire and Mitchell/Jay stories, both of which are far more interesting and funny.
“It’s a progressive culture. Most of them travel by zip-line.” – Phil
Phil invites a potential new business associate, a jet-setting man of the world named Tad (Greg Kinnear), to dinner in order to woo him into a professional relationship. While Phil is too enamored by Tad, and too enveloped in his moneymaking strategy to notice, the houseguest crosses a line with Claire: before leaving, he gives her a lingering kiss on the lips. Oblivious Phil writes Claire’s discomfort off as her trying to get attention or boost her own ego—Phil tries to rectify what he believes is Claire’s low self-esteem with a hilariously backhanded compliment: “The other night, when you put on makeup, I was like, ‘There she is!’” But this, obviously, only makes Claire angrier.
And angrier still when Phil maintains his naïveté after Tad swings by the house to help Claire fix their broken dinner table—sans shirt and again with the kissing. Upon Tad’s invitation, the Dunphys dine at his house that night, with Phil eager to solidify this partnership. When they arrive, real estate agent Phil’s eyes become glued to the architecture of Tad’s glamorous home, so he misses a string of similarly passionate kisses that Tad doles out to his children and their elderly nanny. Claire realizes here that Tad was not, in fact, putting the moves on her, and is just a strangely affectionate kisser. Thus, she lets her guard down.
But another problem arises quickly: Tad tells Phil and a newly relaxed Claire a monkey-related story about his travails through exotic locations, which makes her laugh hysterically. Phil’s demeanor immediately changes, and he grabs his wife and leaves Tad’s house for home. Phil admits in a talking head that no one but him is allowed to make Claire laugh like that. Throughout the episode, Claire takes issue with Phil’s lack of jealousy, or even concern, with the situation. She is thrilled to realize how jealous he is over Tad making her laugh. It’s a sweet thing, really. It’s not just about Phil wanting to be the funniest man in the room. It’s about him wanting to be the funniest man in the room to Claire. Yes, we’ve seen him dote on Gloria and make offhanded comments about his wife’s demeanor (among other things), but we know that Phil is deeply in love with Claire, and it is sweet to have a tangible reminder.
“That seems mean.” – Alex Although this story takes up no more than a few minutes of the episode, it might be my favorite: at the behest of her parents (after lying about it on her college application), Haley gets involved in the Big Sisters program. To her surprise, she makes a real connection with her Little Sister, which makes Alex extremely jealous and bitter, since Haley never paid her that kind of affection. The two fight about it until a fed-up Luke intervenes, telling them that they’re both bad sisters to one another and to him. What follows is Haley and Alex joining forces (very sweet) to dress up Luke like a girl as they used to when he was younger (not as sweet). Haley and Alex have had some wonderful moments on the show together. This week’s might be swept away too quickly, but their sole mutual interest in tormenting their little brother is authentic and hilarious. What’d you think of this week’s episode? Do you like it when the show mixes up the pairings? Do you think Manny needs to stay away from “bad news” Danielle? Let us know in the comments section, or on Twitter (@MichaelArbeiter).