Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Modern Family Recap: Puppet Show by Demand

A yard sale at the Pritchett-Delgado headquarters — what a wonderful way to get the entire dysfunctional Modern Family clan together for some recently lacking comedy team action. The whole dysfunctional clan minus Lily (where is she? Babysitter? Yard sales are fine for kids! Jay needs the exposure to pint-size females before he becomes the father to a new one!) and Haley (remembering if this girl’s name is spelled Haley or Hayley has become my Everest, so her near total absence, while strange, is welcome in that sense), anyway.

While we’re spared a montage of the surely kooky things the families are pawning off, we learn one jokeworthy example: Haley’s “signed” John Mayer pinup. Claire's awesome bomb that "even John Mayer doesn't have a John Mayer poster anymore" isn't as heavy to Skype-Haley as the fact that her unintentionally gross dad was the one insisting her body was a wonderland for all those years. Sharpie is forever.

Alex gets some of her first enjoyable screen time in a while, telling Phil his Street Strider monstrosity is nerdy, and that’s coming from someone "fluent in Elvish." Luke gets in on the zinging, too: "Back me up, Luke." "I hope you mean into the garage, because I have friends on this street." Tough night for Street Strider, Actual Product. Or maybe not, as their website leads with giddiness about making it into prime time, butt of the joke or not. All press is good press, even if Sofia Vergara thinks the thing looks physician-mandated.

Cameron is still peacocking about his weight loss, although it’s lessened to 25 pounds versus last week's 32.4 pounds? Look, this isn’t Lost, but if you’re going to make a point of a number two episodes in a row, keep it consistent. There are people paying too much attention (guilty) and their feelings are being hurt (anyone have some pie?). And don’t even suggest there was a diet-backslide, because Cam would be crushed if he gained seven-point-four pounds back — you know this, Modern Family! But Cam and Mitch's fat-pants plot nonetheless ends up being a nicely nuanced take about couples misstepping while trying to save each other from disappointment.

Jay's secret hatred of yard sale people is as delightful as everyone else's anticipation at the prospect of a puppet show. (And Jay knows the word "asshat" now! Go Jay! Keeping up with the youngs!) As an 18-year-old, Gloria's alternative to the Colombian beauty-pageant staple of knife-juggling was ventriloquism. This sequence set off my Arrested Development radar — the panning archival photo of Gloria in the pageant; Alex’s boyfriend coincidentally playing a "dramatic reveal" riff on the yard sale's electric organ at the exact right moment (not directly culled from Arrested, but there was a familiar vibe); Gloria's "You're wrong, whoever you are!" to said boyfriend. She might as well have called him Egg.

But maybe my mind was already on that track since Phil's penchant for inappropriate lines ("I've had bigger hogs than this between my legs!") reminded me of Tobias Fünke for the first time ever, probably due to the analog between Jay’s "He really oughta run things through his head first" and Michael Bluth's amazing "there’s so many poorly chosen words in that sentence." (Come to think of it, the idea of Phil inscribing sexy John Mayer lyrics on his daughter’s poster is spiritually similar to the idea of a certain uncle and his niece singing “Afternoon Delight” together, no?)

Claire is "90 percent sure” Alex’s boyfriend, Michael, is “100 percent gay," even though they’ve made out and Alex felt up his sexy smooth chest after prom. After a weak “of course he’s gay, ‘cause … his voice!” bit and another sorry "playing for the pink team" line, the Michael debate results in one episode’s many winning, rapid fire exchanges. Alex: "I know what you think about Michael, mom — you didn’t have to bring in your big gay guns to back you up. No offense.” Mitch: “None taken.” Cam, zero pause: “I kinda like it.”

Phil's pant leg gets trapped under a motorcycle, allowing him to act out his own 127 Hours (complete with a corny "27 minutes" line, but also with the great glimpse into how Phil’s incredibly out-there mind works: “Claire, kids: If you're seeing this and they found my body, or I finally got a signal and I sent it to you in an e-mail … "). Ultimately, Phil’s folly is a way to shuffle one of the show’s favorite characters to the side while the others get more time to play; most of the Franconian subplot winds up as credit roll.

Luke’s nefarious, pseudo-wiseguy air is threaded with great kid lines like "the business-edge of a wedgie" and “I know how to push buttons to get what I want … and what I want is to see a puppet show.” So, because Phil has already faced his fear of motorcycles, Jay’s endured his fear of yard sales (culminating in one dimwit wondering if Stella the dog is a potbellied pig and if she’s for sale), and Alex has conquered her fear of her boyfriend being gay … Gloria wields the secret dummy from Colombia for the show’s heart-fuzzing moment, this week delivered in puppet-show format. The kiss it’s sealed with: Gloria’s puppet is impossible to distinguish from her cranky, balding husband, down to the exact outfit.

Photo: Peter "Hopper" Stone/ABC