Modern Family Recap: ‘After the Fire’

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The whole family’s hangin’ at the Dunphy’s (and if this were 1986, Hangin’ At The Dunphy’s would be the title of the show) to prepare donations to a neighboring family whose house has burned down. Like Modern Family’s vacation episodes, this one is great because it throws the whole family together without placing too much importance on why. Plot isn’t why we watch this show, after all; we watch it to see these characters interact. Though this episode wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, we saw some great stories that illuminated its central relationships.

When Jay’s back gets thrown out from lifting boxes, the entire family urges him to let Phil take a look at it. Oh, yeah, Phil’s a licensed masseur. “Before I heard the siren song of residential real estate, I was bitten by the rub bug,” he says, using what has to be the world’s most adorable way to describe a passion for massage. Phil transports Jay to Relaxistan, where Jay unfortunately doesn’t know the native tongue. He accidentally lets out an “I love you” and spends most of the rest of the episode freaking out that Phil’s going to make a big deal over the admission.

In an awesomely refreshing twist, though, Phil doesn’t even care about those three little validating words from his father-in-law. He’s more concerned with a risky new job offer, and he goes to Jay for advice. Once Jay gets up to speed, he gives Phil some solid advice that reveals his respect for Phil as a businessman. Overall, the message is clear without being too heavily stated: under all of Jay’s disdain and Phil’s desperation for traditional shows of affection, there really is a loving relationship there - Jay just shows it in his own way.

In another surprisingly believable storyline, Claire gets jealous when she realizes that the trend of “Claire and Mitch making fun of Gloria” has somehow morphed into “Mitch and Gloria being friends without Claire.” She accuses Mitchell of treating Gloria like their mother, but figures out quickly enough that she’s the one with the mother issues: Mitchell’s new friendship brings back Claire’s memory of their divided family, and she misses being on a “team” with Mitchell. Again, not the funniest plotline, but I was seriously impressed with the writers for letting Claire have that much self-awareness and complexity.

We get a fun new character grouping when Cam takes a drive with his two nieces in a truck that no one believes he can drive. He thinks they’re all underestimating him because he’s gay, but in reality, it’s because he’s Cam. As a terrible driver, I particularly related to Cam’s frustration and defensiveness with the girls’ dramatic reactions to his maneuvering out of a parking spot. “Gasping? Really?” Ugh, backseat drivers are the worst, riiiight? It’s like, what’s the worst that can happen, we die? Quit being such a drama queen about it.

And lastly but perhaps most maturely, Luke convinces Manny to steal a toy meant to be a donation. What’s funny here is both Manny’s and Luke’s total awareness of their relationship. “You’re a terrible influence,” Manny says. “You need me,” Luke responds. When the toy helicopter gets stolen by a roving pack of nerd bullies, only Nerd Queen Alex Dunphy can save the day, proving to Haley that at least some people are impressed by her style choices.

Finally, I can’t in good conscience finish this recap without noting the hilarious bookending sight gag wherein Cam, instead of sleep-walking or sleep-eating, sleep-clowns. Which means the somnambular reappearance of Fizbo, or should I say, Fizzzzzbo? (’Cause he’s sleeping? So it’s like, “zzzzz”? Fine. Whatever. No one understands me.)