Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Modern Family Recap: Kill Kenny

MODERN FAMILY - "Party Crasher" - With the baby coming soon, Jay and Gloria go to great lengths to throw Manny an extra special surprise party for his 14th birthday -- and there are plenty of surprises to go around! Meanwhile, Phil and Claire deal with a new much older guy that Haley has started hanging out with, and Cam becomes jealous of the special bond Lily seems to have with Mitch, on "Modern Family," WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 16 (9:00-9:31 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network.

May I begin by motioning to add “first of all, Kenny — sick ponytail” to that venerated tome known as Phil’s-osophy? Even if the relationship didn’t turn out to be a keeper? Okay, perfect, thanks, everyone. With that business behind us, let’s hash out “Party Crasher.”

“Party Crasher” is great! It’s directed by Fred Savage, back to follow up season two’s “Good Cop Bad Dog.” Gloria has the baby and it’s not an episode-dominator or draw-too-many-times-from-the-cliché-well-er. This one brims most beautifully with sentiment that feels true, slapstick that works (entirely at Lily’s expense), and writing that glimmers like chrome. Barely a line feels wasted.

Manny’s got big plans for a 49th 14th birthday luncheon. Jay and Gloria are planning an excellent surprise party, not because comedies need surprise parties like Dane Cook needs assholeishness, but because they’re attentive parents who’d like to give Manny a little shine before that shinesucking baby rolls up to steal even the boy’s date of birth. (And sure, Jay loves that the concept of a surprise party also involves fucking with someone — “I can’t wait to see the little dope’s face.”)

A crucial piece of Modern Family mythology is unveiled (I think, although do char-broil me if I missed this Family factoid somewhere along the line) when we come to understand that Lily calls Cameron daddy and Mitchell dad. (Although, caveat, Mitch gets daddy-ed sometimes, too.) A less important development, set up to give Lily a long stretch of karmic hell to pay this week: She’s chosen Mitchell to marry her. Repeat, Mitch, not Cam. Cam chucks rice in Lily’s face “accidentally,” which ranks neutral on the comedy meter, forcing her to wear an eyepatch for medical purposes, which ranks high as a sight gag. Cam trills a hollow, “You finally got married!” to Mitch before the wedding gets botched; it’s nice to see Modern Family tip at least a miniature nod to the struggle for marriage equality.

Haley is in pre-pop-pop territory with the 38ish-year-old, numerously divorced, ponytailed (see above) jean designer, high fiveist, and other-people’s-fridge-raider Kenny. Phil has spent too many years slobbering over Hermione Granger and confiding to his young son about it to understand there’s maybe something a little off about this age gap.

Jay and Gloria indulge their wild side by stealing a cake off a young mother on the street.

Lily’s second marriage, to her second father, is grander and eyepatchier than her first. It ends in a Power Wheels wreck and one of the episode’s only questionable lines, Cam saying, “We always knew there was a strong possibility she’d be a terrible driver.” Huh? Is that a joke on Asians? On women? On Asian women? Or is it just a random nothing line and now I’m a racist and misogynist for my brain even going there and oh God, what have I done?? (Seriously, though. It was shady, right? There’s no way that was a callback to anything involving Lily and hand-eye coordination, much less Lily and the ability to maneuver an automobile. Unless it was? WEIGH IN. YOU DECIDE. ETC.)

Oh, and Jay calls Gloria his housekeeper. That won’t do, either. He also does it two seconds after suggesting Gloria play sexy with a parking attendant so they can make good time leaving a garage. But Gloria washes the ick away by gleefully shrieking, “Let’s drive through something else!” after they’ve smashed through one of those flimsy parking barricade bars you’re always worried will karate chop your car before you make it under.

Kenny, who is “amazing at telling the age of a soul” but was never much in the respect department, dares plant his goddamned ponytail-flanked beard-mouth on Haley directly in front of her father. This results in the best, most menacing face Phil Dunphy has ever presented, and some perfect dialogue to match: “I’m gonna fight him.” “Phil — ” “No, Claire — I’m gonna fight him up real nice.”

Confession: I don’t know how to make GIFs. Or just don’t want to learn. (Okay, I don’t know how.) But someone must make a GIF of Phil going Super Punch-Out! on some party balloons immediately. Pre-immediately. PLEASE. I will move to a bigger apartment simply to have a living room wall big enough to accommodate a triptych of framed, life-size stills from that sequence.

(Hey, you guys ever Googled “Julie Bowen” + “clavicle”? I bet there are a lot more than a few results.)

Manny arrives home with a lady — he’s dangerously close to exploring those sexual bases he’s no doubt pined for and puzzled over for at least a few years. It’s a good spin on the “SURPRIIIISE!” part of the surprise party institution, a moment that’s been probed from just about every angle a thousand times by now. (Although last season of Mad Men did have a good, I-think-new one.)

I also confess to LOL-ing with awkward intensity when Lily gets dumped into the pool, and again when Cam, already worried he’s botching his relationship with his daughter, plunges in after her. “Daddy’scomingwhat’swrongwithme!!” And then Cam and Lily in the you’re-silly-no-YOU’RE-silly-no-thwump aside? Another bingo.

The whole half-hour feels juiced, like the writers' room would’ve gladly kept going if only someone had asked. (“You were wrong about the iPod being a failure, you were wrong about tomato being a vegetable”; “Unless you're here to cut a food-slot on my door, you can leave now.") The emotional resolutions are earned. “I can’t ever remember having more fun with you,” Jay tells Gloria of the day of their first (only? can we just say only?) child being born. No reveal on the gender (unless you count a blue blanket and a maybe vaguely boyish looking onesie), but the episode doesn’t need it. It’s already great.

Update: The baby is 100 percent a boy. I've spent so long waiting for it to be a girl simply to set up many seasons of befuddlement for Jay, and watched and rewatched so closely looking and listening for someone to say the word boy or girl, I spaced on the boy-definite dialogue at the very end: "He's your half-brother-in-law." "He's our uncle." "Half uncle or full uncle?" "What's a full uncle." Props for being subtle enough not to scream "IT'S A BOY," ModFam. (Update 2: You've weighed in, you've decided, you've et cetera-ed: I'm not alone in thinking the Lily comment was very shady indeed.)

Photo: Peter "Hopper" Stone/ABC