Modern Family has always shared some DNA with Arrested Development: the sprawling, “wacky” family dynamics; the oft-incompetent parents; the too-wise kids; the silent, bugged-eyeball reactions — even Manny’s recent, subtle attempts to woo Haley are in the grand George Michael and Maebe tradition. But Modern Family doesn’t think quite far ahead of itself enough to regularly achieve Arrested Development levels of comedy. Last night, though — thanks to physical jokes, intense goofiness, and non sequiturs — it got closer than ever before.
Each of the couples worked through their own respective domestic squabbles this week. Cameron and Mitchell’s battle du jour was about how well they listen to one another, a little heavy considering the rest of the clan got to fight about karaoke machines and salads (then again, last week they threw down over a clown outfit). Cam is an excellent listener (love the bit with Mitch rattling off a grocery list through his toothbrushing; also love their shower curtain), and Mitch is a terrible one. This comes to a head when Cam attempts to throw a big, fancy shindig, a benefit for the Friends of the Third Street Overpass Music Society. It’s not just a fund-raiser, but also a chance for Cam to show up his arch-enemy Andrew, who hosted the same party last year. (“I never thought I would enjoy having a nemesis, Mitch, but I do. I do.”) Cam’s conscripted Luke as junior event coordinator, and the sight of the two of them in their matching earpieces and “upscale casual” fussing over caterers and Chiavari chairs was wonderful — that’s a relationship the show hasn’t explored much. But of course there’s a catch: Mitch forgot to send out the invites. No one even knows about the party except for Andrew, the guy Cam’s trying to upstage. While Cam’s at home, freaking out and compulsively gobbling hors d’oeuveres and delaying the start of the program, Mitch hits the streets, rounds up a mighty sparse group of unwitting students, and returns home to redemption: “This is double what Andrew had last year for Cello Submarine!”
If you saw any previews for this episode, you know ABC was framing this episode as Phil and Claire on the brink of divorce, double homicide, or something equally sweeps-worthy. Not quite. Instead, they have a knock-down drag-out over something absolutely inconsequential. When the episode begins, we find the Dunphys bleary-eyed, confronting each other after a night spent sleeping apart. They had a fight: Claire understands why and claims to have already gotten over it. Phil doesn’t have a clue what they were arguing about. Eventually, they explain their own versions of what happened, Claire to her dad at the mall; Phil to Gloria over a very boob-thrusty haircut. Is Claire mad because Phil didn’t sufficiently pass along a message about Claire’s friend canceling their lunch date? Was it his offhand comment about her recent fender bender? (“You insult a woman’s driving, and you use the air bunnies? I kill you,” Gloria tells him.) Was it any number of the other seemingly inconsequential but annoying things he said? Gloria decides, no, it was all of them. Meanwhile, after a particularly uncomfortably vocal free chair massage (“You sounded like a Tijuana hooker,” Jay tells her), Claire tells her dad she’s pissed at Phil because he mentioned trying a wedge salad at the behest of his friend Skip Woosnum. She’s been trying to get him to try a wedge salad for years! And there are all these books and movies she suggests that he ignores until his friends turn him onto them. It all makes her feel like he doesn’t care about her opinion. Duh, Phil. Duh! The actual mechanics of the fight, which we see in flashbacks — thrown broccoli, torn bathrobes, mutually discharged fire extinguishers — are far more satisfying than the reason for the argument itself. And, besides, having talked to her dad about it, Claire’s totally over it. Right? Right! Totally!
That night the whole family, minus Party Down-er in training Luke, head out to dinner at the barbecue restaurant where Haley is working part-time, saving up for her car, except — oh, whoops — she doesn’t actually work there and is just scamming her parents. (Alex, of course, is the one who figures this out.) We didn’t like how so many mostly inconsequential plots were clumsily stitched together last week, but this one worked — the premise was bonkers, and we hadn’t seen much of the Alex-and-Haley dynamic lately anyway, so it was welcome. At the restaurant, Alex attempts to stage a massive bust, quizzing her sister about specials and ordering the most complicated smoothie possible, but her plans are foiled by a relapse of Phil and Claire’s quarrel from the night before. After apologizing for every single infraction he thought he might’ve committed, Phil unfortunately suggests Claire try the wedge salad. Claire blows up. Honestly, we’d be more pissed that he was considering a salad at a barbecue joint, but whatever. (Also, sometimes we do wonder how these people are still happily and mostly functionally married when one of them is a total dolt and the other stores emotional blows like she’s auditioning for Hoarders: Existential Edition.) After being called on as seat fillers at Cam’s sad cello party, Phil digs up an old photo album from the living room and points out all the ways Claire has changed him for the better (apparently this involves the axing of a ponytail and a feathered-earring habit). They kiss and make up. Like, literally, they kiss and make up. Not exactly breaking the bounds of comedy there, but the preceding mess was satisfying enough to forgive it.
Jay buys Gloria a karaoke machine for her birthday. She loves it, but sounds horrible. Jay hates it. Manny hates it. But we have never loved Sofia Vergara more. (If the eventual DVD version of this season does not include at least one half-hour of extra footage of her singing — loudly, off-key, and like she’s never loved herself more than she does right at that moment — well, that’ll be a travesty.) It’s Manny who eventually intervenes with his mom and tells her she has to stop aurally torturing the family. Then, at the end of the episode, we find Jay sneaking back to the machine for a stunningly dulcet rendition of “Danny Boy” before Manny yanks the cord: “You keep this up, and this won’t be the only plug I pull.”