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Modern Family Recap: Handball, Skyfall, and Waterfalls

MODERN FAMILY - "The Wow Factor" - Claire and Cam are entrenched in the house flip, but when they hit an impasse on a big landscaping decision, a "neutral" third party is brought in - Pam (guest star Wendi McLendon-Covey), the lesbian mom from Lily's school. Meanwhile, Phil decides to teach the kids basic fix-it skills around the house; Gloria spends some quality one-on-one time with Manny, leaving Jay alone with baby Joe; and Mitch helps Lily deal with a schoolyard bully, on "Modern Family," WEDNESDAY, MARCH 27 (9:00-9:31 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/PETER "HOPPER" STONE)
JESSE TYLER FERGUSON, NOLAN GOULD

Last time, I wondered if Modern Family was heading in any real direction this season, specifically if the house-flipping plot would ever show back up. And here we are, a month later, working to flip the mystery house. Cam delivers some of the loudest joy-shrieking we’ve witnessed to date. He's employing what he dubs a Trojan horse tactic on Claire so he secretly doesn't have to compromise on the renovations. Claire's using a number dump technique, overwhelming Cam with terms like forty-twelve percent and eleventy-five, never flinching. A clash is, presumably, forthcoming.

The Dunphy brood is having a rough week. Alex thinks sugar should get swept off the floor and back into the dish. She uses a broom like an overpantomiming Oliver Twist extra. Luke knows it's smart to offer to eat weird/gross things for money, but he can't seem to remember to charge top dollar. Haley doesn’t know about changing lightbulbs. I’m drawing a sad, sad blank on a how many somethings does it take to screw in a lightbulb joke. Phil, opting to focus solely on his daughters and not his potentially brain-damaged Luke, has a mission: Turn his daughters into "modern, self-sufficient women." He dodges the boring Women + Cleaning landmine by seemingly just having good parental intentions. Have we talked before about how Phil is lovely? We’ve covered it? Completely?

Gloria's speaking Spanish to wee Fulgencio Joe, so Jay gets his weekly Real America™ quip in. And then his Cantankerous Sarcasm Guy™ quip. "I love you, but I can't laugh at that again," Gloria groans. Zing. Jay gets a nice moment with the baby.

Lily grew like a foot in the four weeks the show's been off. Mitch tries standing up to a bully for her, despite Lily's astute concern that "it's a sport!" Mitch gets whooped, forcing Lily into her life’s first "I don't know this guy" routine. The shame wellspring burbles.

This baby is bringing out the best in Ed O’Neill. And this week’s writing is bringing out the best in Jay's ability to bust out a clever "Bond — James Bond" line.

Haley and Alex have a great scene with Phil in a never-before-seen room of the Dunphy home. Haley thinks there’s a correlation between the water boiler and photosynthesis. Or she knows she can say this, pull some sympathy for her me-not-good-with-the-smarts-ness, and possibly get out of the home-improvement lesson. No dice.

Wendi McLendon-Covey of Bridesmaids is back to help Cam negotiate with Claire on the house project. Pam seems impartial because she never really liked Cam in the first place, but she is into Claire. Forget the backyard fountains — Cam's flattery is no match for Claire's all-out flirting.

Skyfall is so not a movie you want to have to leave the theater during, so Jay pawns off baby F.J. on some former friend of Claire’s he hasn't seen in a couple of decades. Not a Gloria-pleasing move, turns out. You live and learn, Jay. And how Home Alone was the ending to that Bond flick, man?! How sweet was Bardem?!?

Mitch turns to Luke for handball tutelage. Luke thinks (a) Neil Armstrong was a trumpet virtuoso and (b) Lily is a sociopath. Quick fast-forward to one of the best end credits sequences the show has ever dished up: Drill sargeant Luke's version of a training montage, with Mitch getting slammed in the face with a dodgeball (“NEVER CLOSE YOUR EYES ON THE COURT!! DON’T LET ME GET IN YOUR HEAD!”), popping bubbles with chopsticks, unwittingly spelling ass in sign language, then getting terrified by Luke once more for good measure (“YOU’RE NEVER OFF THE COURT!!”). Amazing.

Fred Willard makes a Skype appearance, as does the CLASSIC thumb-severing illusion, pleasing children as well as grown-man Dunphys since time immemorial. (Do they actually film Skype cameos over Skype, or do they bring actors on set just to show up on a laptop screen? Guessing the latter, wishing the former.)

Jay and Gloria have a pretty ugly fight. No amount of "I don't understand English very good … ly" humor can make it less uncomfortable.

Mitch, having undergone his Karate Kid handball metamorphosis at the hands of his nephew, is now a dancing and singing bully, stomping Milo. Lily, resigned to her dad’s shenanigans, informs us the Pritchett-Tuckers have received what we can only imagine was a very strongly worded letter that Mitch never go anywhere near his daughter’s school, or children he is not related to, ever again.

Cam's big wow-factor fountain presentation looks like something out of The Bachelor. Claire and Pam are enchanted. Unfortunately no one is ever enchanted by an unannounced storm of slimy goldfish. Horrifying.

For a second, Jay appears to be delivering a most verbose episode-ending monologue. Nope — just reading Moby Dick to Manny and F.J., puppet-show-style. Scotch-drinking puppet-show-style.

This episode’s a winner especially for its choice to split up two of the couples entirely and Jay and Gloria at least a bit. It’s like that good vibe you get when spending time with a couple who are comfortable enough to travel more than twelve inches from each other — the ones who sometimes don’t sit next to each other at the big dinner. It’s just more interesting. This plotting gave us some fresh moments between Cam and Claire, Phil and his daughters, and Jay and Fulgencio Joe. We know everyone loves each other by now. More of this stuff for a while, please.

Photo: Peter "Hopper" Stone/© 2013 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.