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Modern Family Recap: The Gift of the Vagi

“I mean, I know you’re gay. It’s obvious. The way you talk and walk and dress, and your theatrical hand gestures.” Everyone, prime your gaydars. If the previous episode of Modern Family found Claire cozying up to a man who she only assumed was gay, last night was all about how Cam — television’s closest thing to a walking jazz hand — is not exactly equipped to pass as a straight guy. Cam attempts to get in touch with his hetero side while sipping a fruity cocktail at a bar. When a waitress flirts with him and/or trolls for tips (that would be Mitchell’s take on the interaction), Cam insists that if he was straight he would totally be a womanizer. Or, “you could be someone who just stepped out of a machine called the womanizer,” Mitchell responds. Cam is so sure he can pass (if he were straight and she was single, he and Julia Roberts would be the perfect couple), that he bets Mitchell that he can get a woman at the bar to give him her phone number — a month of laundry duty is at stake.

And who better to gracefully play Katie, a woman who’s the target of a stupid bar bet, than Leslie Mann? A veteran of her husband’s man-baby glorifying movies, this sort of scenario is clearly in Mrs. Apatow’s wheelhouse. It turns out that Katie and Cam make an instant connection, and a triumphant Cam returns to his table with her number in hand. It’s an ironic phenomenon Cam calls “The Gift of the Vagi” — had she been a guy, he would never have been able to be so smooth. The next day, however, Cam feels guilty, imagining Katie sitting by the phone waiting for his call. So, in a blatantly un-hetero move, he calls her! When Katie says she’d like to come over, Mitchell vacates the house (sans Lily, who we’ll just have to assume is hiding out somewhere with her cousin Alex and Stella the dog) as Cam frantically tries to “un-gay” the place. But, of course, there’s no need — Katie never saw Cam as boyfriend material (duh). Katie comes over because, “I want a gay friend — someone I can dish with, give me guy advice, and I can shop with.” “Those are totally offensive stereotypes,” huffs Cam, but all is forgiven when Katie mentions Julia Roberts. Katie turns out to be the best kind of fag hag: one who helps her gay save face with his boyfriend by manufacturing a jaw-droppingly “hot” kiss — their chemistry is equal to that of Michael and Lisa Marie — and then letting him deliver a classic “it’s not you, it’s me” breakup line: “You’re the whole package — I just prefer somebody who has a package.” Cam, per usual, is Gay Personified, a characterization that’s equal parts lazy and manipulative and also unquestionably hilarious.

As a counterpoint, consider Jay Pritchett. He’s a man’s man who hates rainbows and picnics. He likes steaks and staying in to watch the fight and being stoic. If Tim Allen is the most aggressively straight guy on ABC today, then Ed O’Neill plays a close second. The difference? His nuanced castmates. The former Al Bundy now has a gay son, a sensitive stepson, and a wildly flamboyant wife who constantly draw him out of his comfort zone. He also has a friend named Shorty. The last time we saw Shorty on Modern Family, Mitchell had declared (in order to rile Jay up), “My gaydar is never wrong, and it is pinging like we’re at a bath house.” This time around, Chazz Palminteri reprises his role as the tough guy who just happens to enjoy the finer things in life. And he’s brought a new girlfriend with him. Darlene, as played by the deliciously over-the-top Jennifer Tilly, who makes Gloria look positively demure. The former Bullets Over Broadway castmates still look and act like they belong in a musical comedy about gangsters, and our only regret is that they didn’t actually sing. Shorty and Darlene are the fun couple who do all of the things Gloria wishes Jay would do with her — they go to Cirque du Soleil (“It’s like the circus but classy — so if you like elephants, don’t hold your breath,” Darlene says snottily, cleavage nearly busting out of her dress) and they also go dancing. Jay adamantly refuses when they try to make a date to go salsa dancing. He’s still not convinced after a lesson with the always-smooth Manny (“Hey, stop marching — you’re dancing, not invading Poland”), but in the end, Jay comes through. Aided by an Ecstasy-ish club pill Mitchell has given him that’s meant to loosen him up (but is actually orange-flavored Baby Aspirin), Jay whisks Gloria onto the dance floor and explores his uninhibited side.

In less flashy plotlines, the Dunphys face more mundane problems that come from living in the idylls of suburbia. When Haley grapples with a college admissions essay question (“What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve ever had to overcome?”), she, like many a frustrated memoirist, realizes that her life has been too boring and sheltered. (Her friend Gabby’s mom is a hoarder, and her essay nearly writes itself!) She’s disappointed when Claire informs her that she did not, in fact, have ADD in grade school — she just couldn’t A-D-D, or S-P-E-L-L, for that matter. (That’s not obstacle enough?) Claire comes up with the perfect solution to cure her coddled daughter: She lures Haley into a car ride to a deserted tree to tell her the deep dark secret of why she and Phil were so easy on her (wait, since when does Haley think Claire was easy on her?), then speeds away the moment Haley steps out of the car. Haley’s big obstacle? Having to find her way home. Or “growing up with a crazy mom.” Depends on whom you ask. Phil, meanwhile, is intent on building a treehouse for a not-so-enthusiastic Luke. As we know from that pesky, perpetually broken stair, Phil isn’t the most handy dad on the block, and Luke is worried about collateral damage (“Dad, I’ve seen you with a glue gun. I think a nail is gonna be harder to get out of my hair”). But it’s not about Luke at all! Turns out Phil’s the one who wants to use the treehouse to make some new friends. Lucky for him, Andre the orthopedic surgeon from next door (comedian Kevin Hart), is way into it — or so it appears from the last 90 seconds of the show. Look at that. Phil has a black friend! A, uh, brother from a different mother. We just hope this blossoming interracial bromance will continue to flourish.

Photo: Peter "Hopper" Stone/ABC