S03E04: Let me start out by saying how much I love everything that happens with the Dunphy family in this week's episode of Modern Family. Even though Haley and Alex are not featured so prominently, their moments onscreen are good ones. Phil and Luke are an unstoppable comedy duo. And Claire does her Claire thing—she obsesses, and over the Clairest of things: a stop sign.
The plotline is reminiscent of last season’s “Slow Down Your Neighbors,” wherein Claire went on a vigilant mission to put a stop to neighborhood reckless driving. But instead of feeling repetitive, this episode just feels real. Ordinarily, a show visits a plotline of this nature once, and then puts the issue to rest at the end of the episode. In real life though, safety hazards occur more than once. And in real life, someone like Claire would be involved every single time. What’s impressive about the show is that they manage to use two similar issues to tell two different stories. Modern Family at its finest.
"Blind Side was the black kid who played tight end." - Phil
"Offensive line." - Alex
"Sorry. African American kid." - Phil
While gossiping in the car to Haley and Alex about their classmates’ mother, Claire accidentally drives into Phil, who is power walking across the street and “caught up in his jam.” This inspires Claire to go on a crusade to get a stop sign placed at said intersection. In order to do so, she needs to collect fifty signatures from the neighborhood—of course, none of the other Dunphys are willing to help her. Alex is spending the time Skyping with the Newsies boy from the season premiere, Haley is doing something of presumably minimal scholastic value, and Phil and Luke (in all their glory) are trying to recreate the ricochet of a basketball off Phil’s head into the hoop to catch on video and earn millions of hits—says Phil, “This could be our double-rainbow.”
When Claire comes back from a largely unsuccessful outing of signature collecting to realize that her family not only didn’t help her, but has also given her phony excuses to why they might not be able to help, she becomes livid and heads off to the traffic committee with her flimsy thirty-four signatures. Here’s a fun treat: David Cross plays the head of the traffic committee (and word has it he’ll be back in the same roll, developing an enmity with Claire over the course of the season—awesome). Although David Cross’ screen time is brief, his performance as a rude, unrelenting bureaucrat with a pretty mean craving for ice cream cake is sublime.
At the last moment, Haley and Alex burst in with additional signatures, as do Phil and Luke with a video they comprised (Luke’s passion for video editing is a character trait that I really, really, really like, for whatever reason) explaining the severe need for a stop sign in the area. The video is possibly one of the best things to come out of Modern Family in a long, long time. Phil acting: priceless. A script clearly written by Luke: pricelesser.
Although the scene doesn’t really give any closure to the stop sign plot itself, it does solidify this family’s dedication to one another. Despite the bickering and the insults, they all clearly very much love each other, and this was both a very funny and very moving illustration of that.
"Hello, ma'am. Do you love Christmas?" - Manny
"Actually, I'm Jewish." - Neighbor
"...Well, then you must appreciate a good value!" - Manny
It’s always nice to see a Jay-Manny storyline, especially when they’re on the same side as opposed to at odds. When Manny comes home with wrapping paper to sell to fund a school trip, Jay tries to teach Manny how to be a good salesman instead of just buying all the paper himself. Jay takes Manny door to door, giving him advice and urging him to be persistent. However, Manny proves to be a subpar salesman.
Manny pouts at this as the two walk through the neighborhood, lamenting how he can never live up to the wildly successful Jay. Feeling badly about Manny’s low self-esteem, Jay offers to buy the paper so that Manny can go on his school trip. A talking head reveals that Manny was pulling one over on Jay so that he would buy the paper. It’s a predictable joke once Manny gets started on the “woe is me” speech, and not a funny enough one to warrant devaluing an actual meaningful storyline the two could have had. Kind of a letdown.
“When I get back, I’m going to scrub this place like a crime scene…which it is, since you murdered joy.” - Cam
But what bothers me more than that is the continuing misuse of Mitchell and Cam. Mitchell is possibly the best character on the show. He has more depth and inner turmoil than any of the other family members, yet his plotlines are far too often superficial fights with Cam. This week: Mitchell likes this clean, but Cam is messy. Now, this is not inherently without value. They could have explored Mitchell’s obsessive cleanliness. But instead, they just made it a competition. Seriously, it seems like these two are never not having a fight anymore. There are other ways to make a two-man-team funny than pitting them against one another. That’s not to say their storyline was not without its laughs. Cam, in an effort to further procrastinate cleaning up, goes out with Gloria to help her look for Stella, whom she accidentally set free. Cam’s joy over inadvertent transformation into Stanley Kowalski (wearing a t-shirt and jeans, he begins his shouting “Stella!”, only to be overcome with glee once he realizes what is going on) was laugh out funny. The storyline culminated when an adoption agent walked in on Mitch and Cam in the middle of an excessively dirty household.
I feel bad for always taking issue with Mitchell and Cam. But they are two wonderful characters who deserve better, fuller stories than they have been getting.
But I can’t be too displeased an episode that features Phil becoming (willingly) gradually concussed.