Last year, Modern Family’s Valentine’s Day special was one high point in a season full of high points, mostly because it pushed the show that much further into the realm of weird, dirty humor it spends so much time skirting. Remember Claire and Phil role-playing as a couple of strangers hooking up in a hotel bar? Kinda freaky for a show with “family” right smack there in the title. We knew this week would be tied to the holiday, but weren’t holding out much hope for it to repeat the glory of last year. But it nearly did! Not only was it a solid episode, start to finish, it even pushed itself into heretofore unseen levels of awkward sexytimes. It’s like we got the oversize box of chocolates and the gargantuan plush teddy bear.
At first, it really seemed like Claire and Phil might still be reeling from their kids walking in on them a few weeks back. They settle in for a quiet dinner at Ibiza (“It’s actually pronounced Ibitha,” Alex corrects. “Man, this weekend I can’t wait to go see the baby pandas at the thoo,” Phil cracks back), a dimly lit joint filled exclusively with them and old people; they’re mutually pleased with their more demure celebration, at least until Phil takes an untoward spin on a neighboring diner’s Hoveround. It’s time for Claire to take some action: “I know Phil and I are going to grow old together some day, but that day is not today.” A few quick calls on the bar phone and a fantastically discombobulated exchange back at the table (Ty Burrell’s bumbling comedic mastery is even more extreme when coupled with the clumsiness of negotiating between reality and sexual fantasy), and Clive Bixby and Juliana are back on the scene. Kind of. Of course there has to be a catch, and despite Phil’s commitment to the plan (he dashes home to change into a mock turtleneck and dig up his conference name tag), a hotel-card handoff in a bar goes all wrong. He winds up in the wrong room, naked, supine, and cradling a bottle of Champagne on a rose-petal-sprinkled bed, waiting for his lady to emerge from the restroom. He pops his cork the moment the door opens and a random old lady from the bar stumbles in. We see nothing but her blank, shocked face and then a shot of Claire and Phil meeting back in the driveway at home, Phil having apparently been nearly arrested. Poor guy. But! Emboldened by their failure, the two sneak back into the house and attempt do it in their own room as themselves. Then they fall off the bed.
Meanwhile, outside, music is blaring because Manny has made the adorably backwards decision to try to woo Haley by prompting her to break up with her new, smart boyfriend David (who has ditched her on Valentine’s Day to study) in hopes that she will take a liking to Manny himself: “She’s had the romantic, she’s had the intellectual — how ‘bout all that in one fine little brown package?” Instead he just winds up pushing her back to Dylan (“I’m not saying I miss Dylan, but at least he was romantic — David never sent me a jar of his own tears”), whom we’ve certainly been missing since he mostly left the picture earlier this season. But now, quite conveniently, he’s back with his band in tow, serenading Haley from the back of a flat-bed trailer, totally interrupting her parents doing it upstairs, and totally getting what he came for, which is Haley back in his arms. Also we think this song included the line, “Imagine me naked” — are we wrong? Regardless, we love them. And we really hope Manny gets to have a crush on someone other than his stepcousin, because we also love him.
Speaking of third wheels, Cameron and Mitchell are locked in a battle over Mitch’s assistant, Broderick, and whether Broderick does or does not have a raging crush on him. Cam thinks he does and Mitch thinks he does, although Mitch won’t admit to Cam that he does — something about protecting his feelings, which, man, happens so much with these guys. Professional tiptoers, these two. But when Cam drops by Mitch’s office to pick him up for their Valentine’s date at Ibiza (“Oh, Ibitha,” Broderick notes), it becomes clear that Broderick might actually have a crush on Cam — a hunch confirmed by an uncomfortable elevator ride and one very sad little hug. We love the glaze of smugness that crossed Cam’s face as he walked out of that elevator, which he carried all through dinner until it became clear that Mitch was sporting his own smug glaze — and then it was off to Broderick’s place to force him to admit which one of the guys he’s in love with, just to sate their strange egos. Until Broderick resigned via text. “Treasure each other,” Mitch reads from the message, and then he and Cam look into each others’ eyes and smile. “Well, if an assistant’s crush means that much to us, maybe we should start appeciating each other a little more,” Cam says, and Mitch agrees, and then they kiss, and for a second it’s like, oh wow, are these guys finally going to do something more than smooch? Maybe? For the love of St. Valentine, even? But nope, of course not.
We’ll give credit where it’s due: This was the first week in a while we can remember Jay not making some offhand comment about his wife’s junk. Is he married to her? Yeah. Is she smokin’? Well, duh. Does his making random verbal assessments of her smokin’-ness constitute some kind of awful perversion? Of course not. But it’s kind of weird, we think, how that became the default punch line of the relationship. Anyway, good job this week, writers. Instead of making catcalls at his own wife, Jay this week is plotting against her, attempting to prove wrong her assertions that he’s unromantic by organizing an elaborate Valentine’s dinner, which includes a pretend-botched reservation (also at Ibiza, narrowly missing Jay’s role-playing daughter), a trip back home, and a string quartet performance upon their arrival. All the while, we kinda felt for the guy — Gloria is not exactly a lady we’d want getting testy with us, especially over perceived lack of wooing ability. So when they walk into an empty house with no dinner and no string quartet, it was a tense little moment. Oh, but of course Gloria knows what’s up: “I know you think I think you’re not romantic, but I know you think I’m not smarter than you. So now we know — you’re romantic and I’m smarter than you. And I bought you a motorcycle. I win!” Okay, so, she turned her husband’s plan against him behind his back, convincingly feigned cluelessness all night, and threw in a new ride on top of it all? Not bad for a walking pair of boobs.