Typically, the Dunphy-Pritchett-Delgado-Tuckers are pretty much like The Simpsons — after twenty-something minutes of various hilarious antics and whatnot, things pretty much always reset, the slate wiping itself clean for next week. In last night's penultimate episode, however, we were happy to detect a few threads carrying over from previous episodes.
Jay's had a few scrapes with mortality this season — the emergency appendectomy, his brother's cancer diagnosis. So it makes sense that, when he comes home from the doctor with the left side of his face drooping like a basset hound, Gloria and Manny spaz out a little bit. He says it's because of some numbing cream his dermatologist smeared on him, but really it's Botox that just didn't take. In the words of Mitch, “No my God you didn't.” “In my head, I feel 40, but when I look in the mirror, I'm like, 'Who's that old man in the bathroom?'” Jay tells a disapproving Gloria. “But I love that old man in the bathroom!” she replies. Manny does his part to help him out, digging a Phantom of the Opera half-mask out of his personal collection before realizing it covers the wrong side (“Lemme go see if I have a leftie.”) We could've gone for a little more digging into why jabbing face-stiffening bacteria into his person for psycho aesthetic reasons was something that appealed to Jay in the first place. “But you're a veteran!” Cam screeches when the truth comes out to the whole family, and, yeah, it really doesn't fit with Jay's Big Stoic Manly Guy persona. But again, neither does adopting the most adorable dog ever on TV ever in the world EVER, and he did that last week. The puppy from last week, we're happy to see, seems like it'll be hanging around! (If it doesn't, though, it's definitely not because we found it and stole it and carted it back from L.A. and named it Ernestine and bought it little pink sweaters despite our long-held anti-dog-clothes beliefs. No, definitely not.)
It seems like a little bit of Bad Cop Phil and Good Cop Claire might've held over this week, and by that we mean this week Phil was a little bit hateful and Claire was way sweeter than usual! A nice change. It's the day of Alex's middle-school graduation and she's the valedictorian. Alex is planning a scolding speech, and Haley spends the whole episode trying to stop her from committing social suicide. The interplay between the two sisters has been up and down this season, but it's been a more regular focus of late. The sisterly tension and blowup last night was pretty excellent — and revealing: Haley confesses to Alex both that she thinks Alex is pretty and that she's worried about getting into college, whoa. Meanwhile, Claire is trying to be excessively motherly — offering Alex manicures and help with her hairdo — because, as Phil explains, she's on the verge of freaking out about her baby moving up to high school. Phil, meanwhile, is on the verge of an all-bros trip to Las Vegas ("'Guys, I can't go to Vegas 'cause my wife's freaking out!' Trust me, that is not a phone call you want to make to a bunch of ex-college cheerleaders,” he says — another tiny recurring thing we love. “They will mock you with a hurtful, rhythmic taunt") and expends much energy trying to induce Claire's inevitable emotional breakdown. (“Remember when you used to hold Alex like this?” he coos, hugging her as she hugs THE PUPPY. “Remember the ending of Titanic?”) When the gate to Jay and Gloria's driveway jams just as they're all heading out for the graduation, Phil's elated — instant breakdown! And not only that, but Gloria produces the perfect escape plan: a tandem bicycle (“Jay got us this but we never use it because my knees always hit my boobs,” which may have resulted in our first near-spit-take of the whole season) to be tossed over the gate and rode to the school by Phil and Claire, also tossed over the gate. (There's that male-cheerleader business again.) What follows might be some of the best Phil and Claire chaos the show's given us yet: from their awkward, desperate maneuvering of the bike, which gets a broken chain, to Claire's eventual full-on meltdown (middle-school graduation is when she felt like she lost Haley, she's losing Alex too, etc.), to Phil's heroic but still totally cringe-inducing Spanish speaking; to him and Claire furiously scrambling toward the ceremony with their shoes in hand. Then their sublimely ridiculous tumble down the hill (just as Alex begins her speech). It was kind of beautiful. It was definitely very funny.
We're not super keen on another plotline involving Mitchell and Cameron bickering, but at least this one was just an excuse for pratfalls. It involved numerous opportunities for Eric Stonestreet to prove he's one of the best physical comedians on the small screen right now. Stumbling into a giant inflatable baby pool while preaching about all the animal births he'd witnessed while growing up? Check. Popping said giant baby pool? Check. Walking straight into a plate-glass sliding door? Yep. Regaining composure, straightening hat, opening door, and walking straight into screen on other side of door? Getting into Stooges territory here. Cam, of course, becomes furious if anyone so dares snicker at his misfortune, but Mitch, and then the rest of the Pritchetts, can do nothing but laugh. Later, when Phil and Claire tumble down the hill, Cam laughs too — he's human, after all.