Modern Family Recap: ‘Two Monkeys and a Panda’

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Was last night’s episode of Modern Family, “Two Monkeys and a Panda,” supposed to be funny? I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it — it was my favorite episode in weeks — but holy shit, it was pretty light on the jokes and heavy on the sadness, right?

The biggest question I have from the episode is: do the writers hate Claire? Or, at the very least, do they just not like her right now? I’m really beginning to think so. Phil finds two spa gift certificates in a drawer, and reminds Claire that they need to be used that day. She’s not able to go, though, (after all, the county might come and take your children away, sending them to a foster home) because she has to do a bunch of suburban mom stuff. So while Phil enjoys a relaxing afternoon getting his nails done (which Claire NEVER notices) and receiving helpful advice from the ladies at the spa, mostly about how he should just agree with his wife when she’s complaining about something, Claire’s stressing out finding a replacement sweater for Hayley.

In a well-meaning yet kind of odd side plot, Alex borrows her sister’s favorite red sweater but ends up accidentally ripping it. So instead of telling Alex to just come clean, Claire insists that she’ll drive all over town finding a look-alike sweater, which she eventually finds at the fifth store she looks in — except the employees forget to take the security tag off (of course). Hayley arrives back home just as Claire’s literally ripping the tag off the sweater, squirting ink everywhere.

While she could have calmed Hayley down, or at least slightly diminished her anger by showing her clearly ink-covered hands, Claire instead says nothing and lets her oldest scream at Alex and charge into her room. But that’s a small quibble compared to her interaction with Phil, who takes the ladies advice and listens and agrees with Claire instead of offering suggestions (which are often correct). Maybe I’m misreading the plot’s conclusion, and it’s all supposed to be a twist on the typical male-female dynamic (which it does fairly well at the spa), but the sight of Phil wanting just a little consolation and acknowledgement for his new look was pretty damn sad. Claire had a busy day, yes, and is rightfully stressed out, but she could have made her life easier by just having Alex admit to Hayley what she did or, um, get the sweater sewed up by a tailor (wouldn’t that have been the obvious conclusion?). The moral of this story as I understand: never actually listen to your spouse, just mindlessly agree with them, and don’t expect any appreciation in return. I still like Claire, and the Dunphys are consistently my favorite story (as they are for the writers, too, considering they usually have the most screen time), but I’m not so sure Claire’s coming across in the best light right now.

Elsewhere, Jay is worried about dying and begins his planning for his funeral, including spending the afterlife in a crypt. The interactions between Jay and Gloria were much better than they have been in past weeks; there weren’t any jokes about the way she talks and it was legitimately emotional. I also appreciate that the show didn’t take the easy route and dissolve into an easy, and overdone, story about Jay worrying he’s going to die at any moment. That’s not his in prideful personality, clearly, and the story is written with that in mind. He wants to be with Gloria for eternity, as does she with him, so Jay tells her that when he passes away, he’d like his ashes to be put into a coffee can and placed on her mantle. It was pretty touching, and I loved Jay’s line when he admits that he thought of the coffee can idea because he wanted potential suitors to be creeped out when they saw the can o’ ashes.

“Two Monkeys and a Panda,” the episode’s title, refers to a book written by Cameron about how he and Mitchell are monkeys taking care of their little panda, Lily. Why monkeys? “I can draw monkeys.” I don’t think I really need to explain the panda thing. Cam’s hoping to desensitize the word “adopt” (clap clap) for his daughter, and while doing some research, he notices on Lily’s birth certificate that her official name is Lily Tucker Pritchett, not Tucker-Pritchett. Mitchell was in charge of this, and we find out that he was afraid Cameron was going to leave him once Lily came home from Vietnam, and he didn’t want her last name to be shared by a stranger. To put it lightly, that’s some pretty heavy shit right there, and for the first time at least this year, if not this season, Cameron and Mitchell were treated with respect, not given some throwaway story about a literal redheaded child. It was still the same story that they go through every week (one character doesn’t tell something to the other, they fight, they make up), but it at least felt real. I also liked the end-credits segment, where they think they’ve found a goldmine in Two Monkeys and a Panda, but it turns out that there are sub-genres of sub-genres when it comes to gay adoptive literature.

I also have to say: how CUTE was Lilly clapping at the end?

I feel like I’m about to resort to an obnoxious end-of-the-episode monologue voice, but: the reason most people like, possibly even love, Modern Family is because not only is it funny, we also care about these characters. That’s one of the things that’s largely been missing from this very odd, very subpar second season, and it was refreshing to see the show finally admit, “Oh yeah, people actually want to know who these people are.” We even got a bit of back story, too, from Manny telling Jay (and us) about why Gloria chose him and flashbacks of a pre-Lily Cameron scared out of his mind that he was going to be a bad parent. The show’s never going to be as laugh out loud funny as, say, Louie, and “Two Monkeys and a Panda” finally realizes this.

Josh Kurp wonders where Luke was last night.