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Modern Family Recap: A Very Claire-y Halloween

MODERN FAMILY - "Open House of Horrors" - Claire has overdone it in Halloweens past and the neighbors definitely don't share her enthusiasm, so this year she's being forced to tone it down and keep it "kid-friendly," and Phil has an idea to hold an open house on Halloween night. Meanwhile, Mitch and Cam host a costume party while contending with Lily wondering who her real mom is, and Gloria's pregnancy hormones are on overdrive, making her even more hotheaded than usual, on "Modern Family,"

Modern Family's second season boasted a terrific Halloween episode. The show bypassed the tradition in 2011 and was kind enough last night to highlight what we missed: Claire, in an annual, questionably motivated ambition to have the scariest house on the block, greeted a trio of trick-or-treaters with a hand jutting out of her stomach, a human heart pulsing in its grasp. Blood gushed, and the chaperoning father may have had a heart attack. Or a mild loss-of-saliva-and-urine attack, as Phil tells it. Papa Dunphy, committed to the obliviousness that makes him often funny and occasionally unbearable, tells Claire she's not the best scarer. (He also gives us a candidate for a new page in Phil's-osophy: "The world needs more dreamers, Luke — never stop licking things.")

Lily is becoming one of the most pleasant and charming characters we’ve got. Seeing her and Mitch conversing sleepily at bedtime is sweet. She’s been picking up on her dads's tics in a great, understated way. It's a shame she has to get hauled through the depressing story line of being curious about her biological mother and that having a cupcake smushed into her face is her reward.

Jay, kinda weirdly, has failed to charm his way out of a traffic ticket. ("I, ah, I'm no stranger to the police academy myself. Seen all seven of 'em." "Sir, no one's seen all seven.") The dull emphasis on Gloria's cuh-raaaazy Colombianness is dying its thousandth death, although it did give us the line "We get excited — my country is covered in coffee!" The emphasis on Gloria’s shouting, however, continues to evade any need for death. "YOU PUT EGG ON MY HOUSE, I KILL WHAT YOU LOVE!!" is a jonrón.

As much as I'm trying to watch this show with my offensiveness-radar dialed extra low, it’s tough getting through an episode without wishing Modern Family’s brains could give its characters closer to zero unnecessarily mean and dubious lines. Jay's "you've been deported twice — you're not allowed to be that defensive" isn't a thing we really need. And I can’t be the only one who found the line about Gloria's pregnancy not being her "fault" icky and disastrously timed.

Anyway, there’s a subplot-themed costume party at Cam, Mitch, and Lily’s. Someone rubbed their spray tan onto Larry the Cat — mandatory moment of silence for Larry the Cat, please. Cam's been “reducing” — he's shed 32.4 pounds already, in fact, and he'll flash you if you doubt it for a millisecond. He’s dressed as a bull to Mitch’s matador, but that’s bad for the bod business so he reappears as Fantasy Island's Mr. Roarke, resplendent with Lily as his sidekick Tattoo.

Now, does Claire like Halloween or turn into a fucking maniac on Halloween? She haunts Phil in the antique house he's trying to sell for whatever Phil-ish reason that doesn’t at all jibe with his earlier established love for the holiday. She lingers in bathrooms and behind doors, possessed by her attempt to be utterly Claire-ifying. Phil is justifiably actually creeped out. (I hate getting jumped, too, my man — used to tell friends visiting my house never to jump me or I’d have an asthma attack and possibly die and they didn’t want that on their conscience.) Alex and Luke get in on the fun and everyone terrifies dad. Happy Halloween, you wild and crazy Dunphys! Everyone keep an eye peeled for the family therapy Groupon! And keep making sure ol’ Nietzsche-reader Alex is incapable of getting into anything funny or interesting as long as her big sis is out of the picture!

Was this a completely hilarious episode, in the spirit of the second season’s Halloween romp? No. Was it a frustrating one, like last week’s resounding dud? Fortunately, also a no. There were some nice subtle touches tucked alongside the big laughs: Phil saw some Hall & Oates impersonators in concert and found it rad enough to recount it to a friend over the phone; Manny defers to a teenaged bully by calling him Mr. Dirkus; Phil's idea of seasonal dirty talk is calling Claire a "bad little ghoul"; we learn Cam told Lily that lying kills birds. These little pieces of comic mortar showed an encouraging level of detail that felt very absent seven days ago.

I’ll leave you with this, in honor of Halloween-time: How many fans make it through an episode of Modern Family without remembering Phil as the jerky guy in the Dawn of the Dead remake?

Photo: Peter "Hopper" Stone/ABC