Oh, Jay Pritchett. Every time we think you’ve grown (usually after some Very Important Moment at about minute 24 of a Modern Family episode), you let us down again. Last night’s show finds Jay scheming to get Manny away from his mother and out socializing with peers (“This kid needs football” is a constant refrain in this episode, and it’s been implied in many others), as if he’s learned nothing from raising vehemently non-athletic Mitchell, who seems to have turned out just fine even though he was never a jock. Jay is also revolted when Mitchell floats the idea that Claire might donate an egg so that she and Cam (and some surrogate lady thing) can make a baby together, equal parts Pritchett and Tucker. We’re with Alex and Haley, who think it’s a beautiful idea (Luke is too preoccupied by his long-brewing hatred of Lily to really weigh in). It would’ve made for a great plot development — a big event to alter the relentlessly episodic nature of the show and also a nice play on how the whole family is awfully close. If Claire and Mitchell ultimately decide they’re uncomfortable with the arrangement, then fine. But we weren’t prepared for the utter disgust with which Jay greets the idea — and even Gloria’s grossed-out reaction shot comes as a shock — as if surrogacy would somehow be equivalent to inbreeding. Utter nonsense! We’d like to think that nontraditional arrangements made out of generosity and love are exactly what modern families are all about.
Claire and Phil (re)discover the magic of seeing pieces of themselves in their children when things go awry at the house. Luke has invited his lice-ridden friend Leon over to do something terrible to a squirrel, Alex and Haley are cleaning (at the behest of Claire, who has an uncanny ability to overhear anytime a family member says “I’m bored”), a vase filled with marbles has broken all over the kitchen floor, and Phil was supposed to take some chair outside ages ago. But Phil has no time to do chores — he runs off to show a house to Steven and Stefan (pals of Cameron and Mitchell) — for the fifth time. In real estate broker speak, it’s a Commission Impossible, but this time around Phil closes the deal. Claire, who’s dropped some unknown friend off at the airport, is in ultra-high-strung mode when she learns that Phil has left the kids alone, but it all turns out fine — nobody’s dead (“Or we’re all dead,“ says M. Night Luke). Haley glued the vase back together again, Luke skateboarded the chair out of the house, and there was no way Alex (a.k.a. Claire Jr.) was gonna let Luke and his creepy friend do anything to that squirrel. The kids used the best parts of Phil and Claire to keep things under control.
Cam, meanwhile, is depressed because it’s been a year (or, at least since the first episode of season three) since he and Mitchell decided that they wanted to adopt a baby boy, and nothing much has happened since then. In that time, Steven and Stefan (if only Stefan had been a Bill Hader cameo) found a surrogate to have their own baby, and they’ve been blissfully happy ever since — and yes, Cam does hate them a little. They didn’t even have to decide who would “ice the cupcake” because they opted for a “swirl”: both men contributed semen so that the paternity of the baby would be unknown. Which is fine, until baby Rocco shows up, looking like a mini Stefan. So much for the swirl.
So when Claire and Phil take Cam and Mitchell out to dinner to celebrate the sale of the house to Steven and Stefan, sad Cam invents a drinking game — he’ll take a drink every time he’s depressed (Mitchell reminds him that there’s a name for this game: alcoholism). Ah, booze. From family gatherings to office parties, it makes every situation just a little more bearable, more exciting. And it’s one of the easiest, most reliable ways to ramp up the laughs on a sitcom. Drunk Claire is one of Modern Family’s great delights — it’s always fun to see the relentlessly uptight worrywart kiss her inhibitions good-bye. But add in Drunk Phil and Drunk Mitchell and Drunk Cam, and you’ve got a laugh riot! And also tears. Actually, there is a lot of crying. By the end of four or five glasses of wine (and lots of amazing conversations that seamlessly flow into each other), the two couples have decided that they will make a baby together. There’s a group hug and everything. But then, cut to Hung-over Phil the morning after, shaking his head at the camera. He encounters Hung-over Claire (looking rather Lohanesque), who’s also having second thoughts. It would be weird to have a baby that wasn’t really her baby. How do they get out of this? Cut to Hung-over Mitchell, who’s having his own regrets. Cam, meanwhile, is fresh as a daisy and busy using a computer program to make composite photos of what his baby with Claire would look like (not as cute as his baby with Justin Timberlake). While Cam may think it’d be adorable to have their child address Claire as “Aunt Mommy”, Mitchell finds it … Appalachian (It’s not, guys! We promise). But they’re uncomfortable, and they need to get out of this.
There’s much to be settled at brunch at Jay and Gloria’s. Manny has been relegated to a motorized chair after incurring a football injury (he played a game after Jay canceled Gloria and Manny’s theater tickets). It’s never entirely clear if Jay is more offended by the way Gloria smothers Manny, or if he ultimately just wishes Manny were a little more butch. He even looks down on the way that Manny collects heads-up pennies with Gloria, a sweet little game they started years ago when they had nothing and wanted to fantasize about using 100 of these pennies to buy a winning lottery ticket. For the millionth time — and rightly so — Gloria is mad at Jay for being way too judgy about the way she’s raising her son. Jay then has a further chance to be stodgy when faced with the prospect of Claire and Cam making a baby together. Everyone in the family has an opinion, so it’s a sweet moment when Claire and Mitchell meet each other under the table where the rest of the family is arguing (they haven’t met like this since Jay and Gloria’s wedding!). Their father’s disapproval notwithstanding, they both agree that having Claire be the egg donor would just be too weird (we humbly disagree). And then they hold each other — not as incestuous siblings, but as remarkably well-adjusted adults (who happen to hide under tables).
Which brings us to End of Episode Realizations. If Jay was a jerk to his children, at least he has a chance to make things right with Manny. When Manny announces that he’s finally found a 100th penny and it’s time to cash them all in for a lotto ticket, Jay “re-checks” Manny’s math and finds that he’s only got 96 cents. Manny and Gloria will have to spend more time together, looking for those four last pennies. Proving that maybe he has learned something (this week), Jay keeps the dream alive. Also, he probably owes them theater tickets, no? Realization No. 2 happens when Cam and Mitchell walk in on Lily organizing things while dressed as a Toddler Carmen Miranda. They may not be biologically related, but she really is the best of both of them! And she’ll remain that way. That is, unless Cousin Luke comes over to babysit …