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Modern Family Recap: How Awesome Are People?

Stoic facial expressions. The ability to say so much without saying a word. A languid kind of charisma paired with sheer adorability. Old Baby Lily fans bemoaned the loss of these assets when New, Bigger, Louder Baby Lily was introduced on last week’s Modern Family, but last night an old pint-size favorite returned to carry on the legacy of Old Lily’s nonverbal charm. Her name is Stella and she is a French Bulldog — surely her appeal isn't the least bit controversial. Granted, there’s pretty much nothing lazier than a show that relies on a cute dog for easy aws, but so what? We’re too busy passing out from cuteness to care.

Stella is causing all sorts of problems in the Pritchett manse: Gloria’s shoes (and only Gloria’s shoes!) are getting chewed; Manny is mistaking Stella’s ubiquitous cupcake-shaped dog treats for people food; and Jay is too smitten with the little charmer to be a proper disciplinarian. To even the score, a ticked-off Gloria gets down on all fours and attempts to lure Stella into chewing Jay’s shoe, making way for a slew of Gloria-as-canine jokes (“Gloria, sit ... Good girl”). Given the show’s perennial portrayal of Jay as an alpha dog hardass, it’s sorta surprising that Jay’s decidedly pushover approach to doggy-parenting isn’t what’s got Gloria so fired up. There’s no impassioned speech about how Jay needs to be as tough and strict with Stella as he is with his own children. Nope, Gloria is just jealous — there was a time when she was top dog, but now Jay prefers to shower with the Stella rather than her (can you blame him?). How refreshing to see Jay’s softer side.

The same can’t be said for Claire, who’s rarely one to shy away from prescribing megadoses of tough love. Turns out that freshman Alex and senior Haley have been put in the same math class, a development that causes much inter-sister bickering. In a move that was once called reverse psychology and is now chalked up to Inception, Claire slyly encourages the girls to rise above an awkward situation and become a team of two Super Dunphys, combining Alex’s brains with Haley’s social skills to make the most of being stuck in the same class. So they obey! But when Alex barters quiz answers for a spot at Haley’s cool lunch table, the girls get busted for cheating. How could Super Mom Claire have let this happen? Well, she was busy beefing with the school’s parking officer over a ticket (“I’ve got news for you, Law & Order Special Parking Unit, it’s not my fault”), and it’s hard to inspire greatness in your daughters when you’re wearing plastic handcuffs. A low point for the Dunphy ladies, all around.

It’s also a low point — blood-sugar-wise, anyway — in the Pritchett-Tucker household when Cam decides to embark on a juice fast and Mitchell, weary of Cam’s antics when dieting (“A well-fed Cam is not a model of stability. Now, deprive him of food and it’s a stage-by-stage descent into madness”), decides to join him. This way when Cam’s diet “crashes and burns into a giant pile of Nutella,” Cam won’t be able to blame his failure on his supportive partner — they’ll be in it together. And so, Mitchell documents the stages of Cam’s juice-fast-induced mania (“Cam has gone all Girl, Interrupted”), all while trying to keep a woozy grasp on his own sanity as he prepares to bring Cam to a cocktail party at the beachfront mansion of his boss (the always fantastic Justin Kirk, reprising his role as the head of Mitchell’s law firm). So it’s a nice twist when Mitchell, not Cam, is the one to go off the deep end at the party. Hearing the sad story of Snorkels the Sea Lion leaves a calorie-deprived Mitchell so distraught that he goes bounding into the ocean, where eventually Cam and Mitchell both admit that they are starving, and that they both started the stupid diet in the first place to try to please the other. And so there in the ocean where they’re getting pummeled by waves, as the whole party watches them from the balcony above, Cam and Mitchell hug each other and quote Billy Joel verbatim: “I love you just the way you are.” A Lite FM sentiment, but executed with just enough flair to only seem a little bit trite.

This week the Pritchett family’s powers were sapped — diets, dogs, and parking attendants were their kryptonite — but Phil, at least, is in full-on superhero mode. Inspired by footage of Philippe Petit performing his legendary high-wire routine over the Twin Towers (“How awesome are people?” Phil sighs. “So awesome,” says Luke), Phil decides to attempt his own tightrope walk. With eerily wise Luke as his trusty coach (“Maybe you keep falling because part of you knows that you can fall. Maybe if the wire was much, much higher you wouldn’t fall”), Phil progresses from clumsily balancing a few inches off the ground to walking a wire far above his family’s heads, the epitome of concentration and dedication and determination and all those values parents try to instill in their children. Claire is so inspired by Phil’s decisiveness that it's her voice we hear delivering Modern Family’s Lesson of the Week: “Instead of talking the talk, Phil walked the walk. And isn’t that what we’re supposed to do for the people we love?” Phil’s the true superhero of the episode — Phil-On-Wire vanquishes hypocrisy and bad parenting — but wouldn’t Stella have looked awfully cute in little tights and her own little tightrope shoes? Just saying.

Oh, and Luke? You must’ve misheard: Right now it’s just the Jewish New Year. The Jew Fast takes place next week.

Photo: Richard Foreman/ABC