Talk about a nontroversy. When a group called the No Cussing Club called for Modern Family to stop the airing of last night’s episode, which featured 2-year-old Lily joyfully dropping the F-bomb, we couldn’t help but think: What the f*ck? Not just because show creator Steven Levitan has stated that pint-size actress Aubrey Anderson-Emmons was instructed to say “fudge” instead of the actual F-word, or because said word was then bleeped each and every time Lily spoke it, but also because Modern Family is one of the least profane sitcoms on network TV. If the No Cussing Club would like to get all Claire Dunphy (scolding, finger pointing, not being able to appreciate the humor in a silly situation) on a TV show — then we suggest they direct their ire toward NBC in the hour before Modern Family airs. If you’re looking for a filthy mouth, Baby Lily has nothing on Whitney or Chelsea. If nothing else, we’re glad that Modern Family drummed up some extra publicity for last night’s episode — one of the strongest of an uneven third season, with plotlines fitting together seamlessly — just the right blend of cute and sharp.
The Lily cursing incident comes about when Mitchell and Cameron help her practice to be a flower girl in an upcoming wedding. We never learn who the bride and groom are, why they have picked such odd wedding outfits, or why the entire extended family is invited to the wedding, but who cares? It is Lily’s time to shine — literally. Soon she’ll be decked out in a gaudy big blue dress that actually lights up (Luke later says it reminds him of a Lite Brite, then worries it’ll give him a seizure). Lily does a lovely practice run throwing rose petals just as Cam instructs her. So sweet. That is, until she drops her little flower basket and channels her inner George Carlin, unleashing the first of several bleeped out “f*cks.” Mitchell is appalled, but Cam can’t help laughing. “You know I have two weaknesses,” he giggles, “children cursing and old people rapping.”
First they agree to ignore it, as confronting Lily will only give the word more power (much as the No Cussing Group did when they made a big stink about the show). How lovely to see Cam and Mitchell behaving so reasonably! But when Lily says that big bad word again, like a zillion more times — especially because she knows it makes Cam laugh — they threaten her with punishments and even debate skipping out on the wedding (when Cam suggests they bow out by saying that they won’t go until all gays can marry, Mitchell replies, “Oh, now we’re political? We leave town on gay pride weekend because we don’t like traffic.”). So they put Lily on verbal lockdown and hope for the best. And when, at the wedding, their own Little Bo Peep marches down that aisle and sees Cam crying (did you think Cam wasn’t gonna cry at a wedding?), she offers her daddy some comic relief: more bleeps. And guess what? The entire church laughs at her antics. Because, sorry anti-cussing crusaders, seeing babies curse is, indeed, very funny.
Claire Dunphy, in particular, could use some laughs — she’s had a rough day. It all starts as she’s preparing to debate Councilman Duane Bailey (we’ve missed you, David Cross!). Hurray for the reintroduction of this plotline, and in such a wonderfully meta way: This episode is all about Claire redeeming herself to her detractors, and we like to think they include TV critics and bloggers and Internet commenters as much as potential voters. When the local newspaper reports that voters find Claire “angry and unlikeable,” the Dunphy clan holds a mock debate where they can helpfully point out the things Claire does that turns people off. After all, Phil reassures her, “you’re not unlikeable, you just seem unlikeable.” And so the family gathers, with Phil playing Duane and the kids serving as a focus group armed with an Operation game buzzer and a horn, ready to call out any behavior that might vilify Claire. This includes eye rolling, lips pursing, face touching, scolding, using sarcasm, and showing her bad side (which is the right or left, depending on who you ask). Luke even throws in a “you suck!” (did you catch that, No Cussing Club?) because Claire needs to be ready for hecklers. For anyone who’s ever said Claire is too shrill or too mean or too screechy, this is payback time.
And yet Claire somehow pulls it together for the debate. She’s as strong, confident, and powerful (and nerdy!) as Alex encourages her to be, and it’s a nice change to see Claire triumph. That is, until her smarmy opponent mentions that her husband was questioned for lewd and lascivious behavior at a hotel last year. Clive Bixby Valentine’s Day callback! “Are you sex freaks?” an audience member asks, and Claire starts to lose it. “It’s like watching the Hindenberg,” Jay whispers to Gloria, as Claire pulls out every tic, every stutter, every nervous and angry mannerism she’s been working so hard to suppress. You know how Phil’s real estate seminar meltdown from last week didn’t totally pay off? Well, this one does. It’s so embarrassing, so frenetic, so Claire. And it only makes Phil’s rambling attempt to diffuse the situation worse (and funnier). “I am Phil Dunphy, and I am not a pervert,” he begins, and it only goes downhill from there. The good news? The video from Claire’s little local debate is so crazy it goes viral. “Some sick bastard Autotuned me,” says Phil, and we hope to see that amazing YouTube video (complete with gasps from a mortified Claire turned sexual) all over our Tumblr dashboard, even if we’re kinda mad at Phil for not allowing Claire to fight her own battle. We also hope this is just a stumbling block for Claire’s campaign — second to Leslie Knope, she’s our favorite candidate of 2012.
Another YouTube video we’d like to see is one of Stella the Frenchie jumping into Jay’s pool. Apparently she’s been doing that a lot lately, and Jay keeps jumping in after her to save his precious pup because she can’t swim (But she appears to be able to swim just fine, no? Doesn’t look like we need to call PETA). Jay can’t let her out of his sight for a moment, so they bring her to Claire’s debate — which is where Duane Bailey, puggle whisperer extraordinaire, convinces them that dogs can, in fact, be suicidal. It’s not as sexy as feline AIDS, but it’s a real thing. So Jay is convinced that Stella is in suicidal despair because Gloria doesn’t like her, and yeah, that’s kinda silly. But then Gloria redeems herself when, just as she’s all done up for the wedding, Stella tries to off herself in the pool again and Gloria goes in after her, dress and hair and all. “Don’t do it, Stella,” she cries, “I don’t hate you!” She really does love Stella, who only launched herself into the pool in the first place to chase after a squeaky toy that got stuck in the pool filter. We only wish that when the Modern Family gang accepted its Best Comedy award at the Golden Globes last Sunday night, they had done as the cast of The Artist did, and allowed that talented dog to come up on stage and share the spotlight. That would’ve been adorable, wouldn’t it? Fucking adorable.