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Modern Family Recap: Stagehand Luke

MODERN FAMILY - "A Slight at the Opera" - Cameron is putting on the school production of "Phantom of the Opera," but when their star falls ill, Manny pulls all the stops to land the lead -- even if that means going against Luke. Meanwhile, Jay teaches Phil to golf and they wind up in a golf-off with Pepper and Mitch; Gloria takes Alex along on errands which include a visit to a psychic; and Claire's adventures in babysitting Joe and Lily become a comedy of errors, on "Modern Family," WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 6 (9:00-9:31 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network.

I came in determined to enjoy this week's episode no matter what. While I didn’t aim to hate-watch last time, hate-watching was all I found myself capable of — while simultaneously recognizing the perversity of a well-oiled episode where all the oil is wasted on greasing paths for offensive and/or lazy and/or broken jokes. This week: harmless and not hilarious. Good enough. (REMINDER, which is necessary because some readers seem to assume, incorrectly, that criticizing an episode — or a string of episodes — means that one doesn’t like a show and therefore shouldn’t be writing about it. I do like Modern Family! I bet there will be another genuinely excellent episode soon!)

Almost right from the start, a hate-watcher favorite rears its head in the form of a dastardly subplot (Phil doesn’t organize the freezer well??). Then a turkey almost falls on Claire’s foot, she’s miffed at Phil’s refusal to repent, and we get the great line "Honey, I'm sorry for dozens of things every day that actually happen. If I start apologizing for things that don't happen, how productive of a person would I be?"

Of course Luke says “the Sixteenth Chapel.”

Phil's such a Cool Modern Dad™ that he's more comfortable trampolining than he is golfing. Jay takes pity on Phil because he's "how my grandkids get food," so the guys go out for a day on the olllll’ golf course. Memo to TV: No more anything about golfing anymore PLEASE. There’s either a channel about golfing or a cavalcade of sporty channels that frequently showcase golfing. That “people who want to watch people spend time on a golf course” demo is just so small. I don’t have proof, but … come on, it’s small. No more golf. Laser golf? Maybe. I’m probably making enemies here, but I’m definitely improving the future of sitcoms with this mandate.

"This is boring, is he dead?" Lily asks of the baby, who gets called “the baby.” I was frustrated and worried the show would cop out of calling him either Fulgencio or Joe till Gloria dropped down a “Fulgencio Joe” toward the end. That’ll do.

Back to Lily, though. The best child. She’s young but not too young to understand that Dylan's a dolt. New facts learned about Dylan tonight: He has designed a best-selling T-shirt with a lion saying, "Moo. I'm a horse"; he's a proficient baby-calmer (the patented sitcom switcherino!); he's a peekaboo expert, but not as skilled as the one guy he knows in Chicago. (What is your life, Dylan?) So Haley and Dylan play family all day, clearly leading somewhere. Unfortunately the punch line is a hugely unconvincing married-fight.

Nathan Lane (The Lion King, The Lion King 1 ½, The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride, Timon and Pumbaa's Wild Adventure: Live and Learn, ten glorious episodes of the TV series Timon & Pumbaa) is back for his third turn as Pepper. He deals in Pepper Talks (slaps). He delivers the line "I like big putts, and I cannot lie" through gritted teeth. (He glares at the camera after, without a doubt.) He relishes and aces the line "I have it on my iPod Phone," as he should.

Mitch has been practicing golf to whoop his dad. Doesn't go as planned. Lol. But he and Jay end up weeping together in a golf cart to the tune of Harry Chapin’s "Cat’s in the Cradle." (By the way, people have populated comment sections with discussions of this song’s meaning, discussions as long as this recap.) Phil, ever-GIF-able, gets burned on the happiest high-five ever.

Manny's got the role of his life as the Phantom of the Opera. Except his eternal sparring partner, Luke, can sing! But Luke won't sing! And Cam's thinking of singing! But Manny will sing! (But Luke will end up singing.)

Hey, wouldn’t Cam be worried about getting accused of nepotism in his newish teaching gig? Readers: Anyone have a relative as a drama teacher growing up? Did they cast you? Was it a problem? Thank you.

Claire's subplot about Phil leaving golf balls and shit lying around is absolutely brutal. Look up inane in the dictionary and there’s going to be a GIF of Claire being upset about Phil’s very, very mild slovenliness.

I count more than 30 framed photos on the Dunphy staircase. Back to you again, readers: Anyone have a family that TV-perfect? Thirty-PLUS PICTURES? On ONE staircase?! I max out at a dozen. Possibly twenty. Never 30. Not ever.

Alex, science-loving doubter of "all unquantifiable phenomena," appears to be in the thrall of Gloria's psychic as soon as the red-hot boyfriend talk gets going. Except Alex is screwing with them, which is cool. Has it taken fourteen episodes for something amusing to happen with Alex, or is something slipping my mind? Alex has been really underused this season.

Nice seeing Fred Willard back in action a minute — IN A THEATER! BINGO! — even if he gets next to no plot or lines or jokes. He did drive from Florida to see his grandson's sets in a play, which is perfectly Dunphian. Hopefully he’ll stick around for next week’s episode.

Phil and Claire's joy and surprise at their typically unimpressive son taking the lead in the play is one of the most heart-befuzzing moments in a while, though it veers into silly as Phil melts down. Overall a plus though. (PS: I would also cry. Ninety percent chance.)

Photo: Peter "Hopper" Stone/ABC