Welcome back, Modern Family. It’s funny for a sitcom that’s so light in nature, and almost entirely devoid of multi-episode story arcs, would be so heavily anticipated while on hiatus. But many of us couldn’t wait to see the family again—with good reason. They’re easy, likeable and funny. Although neither of the two episodes aired tonight will go down in history as Modern Family’s greatest or most memorable, it was still nice to get back in with the Pritchetts/Dunphys/Delgados/Tucker(s).
S03E01: As seems to be Modern Family tradition, the season opens with a family vacation—everyone, Haley’s boyfriend Dylan included, heads to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to pay a visit to a Dude Ranch. I don’t think it was ever explicitly stated whose idea this was; it doesn’t seem like it could have been anybody’s (Jay was no good as a cowboy, Phil doesn’t have that much power over the family…Cam, perhaps?). As you’d expect, things immediately begin to go awry for everyone.
“After this, we’re gonna have some Angry Birds!” – Luke
“After this, it’s gunna be Bye, Bye, Birdie!... it was a musical in the sixties…” – Mitchell
Mitchell’s storyline was the most important, and one of the funniest, in the episode. Once the family is set in the cowboy way, he becomes immediately intensely aware of how “unmanly” he is. If you’ll recall, Season 2 ended with Mitchell and Cam deciding they wanted to adopt another child—a boy. However, Mitchell is afraid that, as he was unable to connect with his hypermasculine father when he was a kid, he will also be unable to connect with a son. He brings this to Cam's attention, who is uncharacteristically insensitive. The show disinvolves Cam from the situation in order to make more room for humor—especially in the form of the somewhat sweet comic pairing of Mitchell and Luke. Luke spends the entire episode trying to figure out what to blow up with his secret firecracker. Mitchell initially takes the explosive away from his nephew in order to protect him, but then, embracing his wish to be more “boyish,” joins Luke in the demolition of a birdhouse. Quick side note: as far as the laugh out loud moments go, five out of six of them in this episode came from Luke. There’s something about his delivery that is impossible not to laugh at.
“I’ve been practicing all the core cowboy skills: shootin’, ropin’, pancake eatin’.” – Phil
Phil’s storyline is actually not too dissimilar to Mitchell’s—he wants to prove himself manly, but only to impress Jay. Phil actually manages to become a surprisingly adept cowboy, but to no avail. At one point in the episode, Jay makes a crack about Haley marrying Dylan and Claire winding up with a “boob for a son-in-law,” which Phil takes as a veiled criticism of him. Once they are alone, Phil brings this to Jay's attention, stating that he has done everything in his power to be a good husband and father, and that if Jay doesn’t like him, that’s Jay's own problem. This seems to hit home with Jay. Although he barely acknowledges it outright, he does ask Phil if he can talk to him “man to man,” which is the closed-off Jay’s way of showing some respect and affection. The real issue is cowboy Hank’s “overly friendly” nature toward Gloria. Phil agrees that Hank has been inappropriate, and the two ride off to confront Hank, who is in the middle of making a move on a resistant Gloria at the time.
Gloria is wasted in this episode on a silly one-note joke: her ears never un-popped after the airplane ride, and she shouts a lot. That’s all. We also get nothing from the usually stellar Manny, save for a couple of jokes about finding a spa.
“Dylan? Where are you?!” – Haley
“Wyoming!” – Dylan
Claire’s issue in the episode is the presence of Dylan. At first, she is displeased that he is with the family, but then after some encouragement from Phil, she attempts to warm up to him (in a predictable but funny scene where Dylan believes she is hitting on him—he is a gentleman about it). Her charity goes out the window when Dylan proposes to Haley at the campfire; Claire jumps on this and sends Dylan away, making Haley furious. The rest of the episode involves a search party for the lost Dylan, and a moment between mother and daughter where Haley reveals she wasn’t actually going to marry Dylan, but that she wishes her mother would respect her more. We see no new territory, no new conclusions, but it's pretty real stuff. The absurdity comes in when Dylan decides to stay in Wyoming as a farmhand -- and the family seems fine with that. No one’s going to check with his parents?
Finally, my favorite part of the episode—Alex and the goofy, straight-out-of-Welcome Back Kotter Italian kid who's not too big on the brains, but steals her heart. Alex is resistant to his lazy, uninspired wiseass attitude at first, but pretty quickly gets used to it when he gives Alex her quote “first kiss”— her actual first kiss was prominently featured in an episode titled "The Kiss" last season. Just roll with it. Oh, and Lily speaks full sentences now.
So, that’s it for Modern Family this wee—oh, wait! There were two episodes!
S03E02: This episode was a step up from “Dude Ranch.” It relied less on shtick like a screaming Gloria or a clumsy Jay, and more on more sincere character quirks.
The episode opens with Claire and Phil shopping in the supermarket (the tag offers a great Phil freestyle), when Phil, while bantering with a fellow shopper, accidentally knocks the shopping cart into Claire, avalanching a pile of canned fruit onto her. This sets off the Dunphys’ storyline of the episode. Claire insists it was Phil’s fault, Phil disagrees; Phil and the children team up and conclude, “Claire always thinks she’s right.”
“I’m distant. I work too much. My French-braiding is sloppy.” – Mitchell
Again, the real meat of the episode is in Mitchell's hands (with more Cam this time). The pair are apprehensive about a new baby due to Lily’s aversion to the idea. She pushes a baby that Cameron is holding and makes remarks about “hating the new baby” and “wanting the baby to be dead.” It’s a pretty funny line to cross, actually, and a nice callback to earlier hints that Lily might be a violent child. Initially, the blame falls on Cam, who is guilty of coddling Lily incessantly. However, a remark from Lily’s nursery school teacher makes them think it might have more to do with Mitchell, whose poor sharing habits may have rubbed off on Lily.
Meanwhile, Manny's principal accuses him of stealing a classmate’s locket. Gloria is outraged and casually threatens the principal with a “Venezuelan necktie” (not sure if that’s a thing, but it sounds horrifying). As it turns out, Manny did in fact steal the locket; the girl dropped it and he picked it up and kept it to remember her by. Jay figures this out with one look at the guilt-stricken Manny, and reveals it to Gloria. She initially decides to take Manny to the principal to come clean, but out of her obsessive maternity, vies to protect her son and breaks into the girl’s locker at school to put the locket back inside without anyone knowing—she makes Manny promise never to tell Jay about this, though. Of course, once again, he knows it the minute he sees them.
“There’s a line of ants that have been eating a bag from Halloween in my closet. I don’t want to be there when the candy runs out.” – Luke
A small story involves Haley and Alex fighting over their shared room and convincing Luke (who was already into the idea anyway) to move into the attic so that one of them could take his room. There’s not much to this story, but it’s full of amazing Luke-isms.
The episode concludes at Mitchell and Cam’s apartment at the would-be revealing of their plans to adopt a son (which are nixed when Cam is too upset over the Lily incident). Claire reveals a security tape from the supermarket that proves she was right the whole time—her obsessive lengths to win only drives her family further away from her sympathies, however. Jay forces a confession out of Manny, which he celebrates because he, too, was right. His joy over this reveals to everyone where Claire got it from. Finally, in a fit of angst, Mitchell accidentally spills the beans about adopting, which almost instantly brings everyone back into good spirits, including he and Cam.