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Modern Family Recap: Reverse Psychiatry

If a sitcom goes a half-season without visiting the hospital, does that sitcom technically exist? We'll never know, as Modern Family goes Modern Health Care yet again, this time in an exciting episode dressed up as a cookie-cutter one.

Phil is the type of man who, in the event of his wife's death, would restyle the living room as a "hall of magic." For the first time in a while, possibly for the first time in a couple of seasons, this reminds me that Luke isn't just a bizarre kid who gets a lot of funny lines written for him — he's totally Phil's son. These two Dunphy men are sometimes the exact same species of unpredictably enthusiastic mad geniuses and alternately wise/brain-dead dudes. Luke is currently channeling that mad geniusdom in the kitchen, Transformers-ing old appliances into new marvels of invention — the auto-buttering toaster, the coffee bot. Leave him unsupervised for too long and he'll have your ice-cube dispenser belching flames. (The popcake/flipjack inventing sequence during the credits is like a wonderful short film of a day in the life of Phil and Luke.)

Alex is a reverse rebel and her mom can't stand it. Claire loses sleep at night wondering what'll happen if Alex moves through high school in the responsible fashion she herself never glommed to. I set those curfews so you can break them, young lady! Sleep is for sissies! PSATs, schmee-SATs! Claire would see Spring Breakers and wish she'd pushed Alex to audition for one of the leads.

An aggrieved aside: A spouse telling his or her other half to "talk to your children" is the ugliest thing. Claire's "stop talking; step away from the children" line, on the other hand, feels like it got left on the cutting-room floor of a nineties comedy hit but somehow still works perfectly in the context of this relationship and this show.

Español is losing its meager foothold at Casa del Pritchett-Delgado. Jay loves being rich (and reminding Manny that he, Jay, is the family's "meal ticket") but hates rich people, particularly "candy-ass preppies with too many privileges." Who's that bulldozing over the horizon? By-the-Bootstraps Pritchett? Watch out, everyone.

Richard Riehle, the more impressively mustachioed version of Brian Doyle-Murray, is Claire's hospital neighbor. Butting into the latest Dunphy impasse, the stachemaster (a Jeff Bridges hippie, per Phil) dishes up some Riehle talk, opining that it's best to let children be themselves. And what exactly will those selves look like? Well, come on down, ghosts of Dunphy future! Though Haley would never grow out of confusing archivists with exorcists, her and Alex’s adult selves feel a little caricature-ish. Grown-up Luke, though … he is grown-up Luke. Uncanny. (Good to know Luke will age to grow a tremendous beard, as well.) Priceless scene overall.

"Might wanna wheel her by the burn unit — she just got scorched,” reads chapter 439 of The Slow and Steady Construction of Phil Dunphy's Legacy in Our Hearts.

"Just sit on 'em," Mitch tells Cam of his independently mobile hands. These guys continue to have some of the best, most form-breaking talking-head asides. Still, I'm pretty uneasy with the "two dads have to call in female reinforcement to help handle their daughter" plotline. The Lily-might-think-she’s-gay move sets off another alarm before shaking out to be a fake-out. Gay is a nationality in Lily's head. "You're not gay, you're Vietnamese," the papas reassure. It's obnoxious that they haven't learned anything about their daughter's birth country, but there's definitely something there, unfortunately. The gravity of America's center-of-everything-ever-ness is strong — it is easy to fake parental worldliness and studiousness when you kind of just want to hang out and watch Netflix.

All Jay's childhood library books had dicks drawn on them, while the rich kids presumably had books with gold plates instead of pages. Great way to exemplify how damned jealous Jay really is of the non-bootstraps set.

Mitchell, a committed, openly gay man and father, might be uneasy at the notion that his daughter could be gay. It's probably just a phase, he blurts. You're just confused, he vomits. Smells like a meaty bone being offered to conservative couches across the land — even the gays aren't sure they’re not making this shit up, lol!!!

Phil and Claire douse their kids with conflicting advice as discovered in the depths of their A Christmas Carol moment. Haley asks if this is "reverse psychiatry" and it's the best. Claire says, "no, honey; actually nothing is," and then it becomes the best.

Imagining these characters in their alone time is one of the true joys of this show. How does Luke's brain work? Not a shred of a clue. But it's totally believable that this kid somehow connects A to B in a way that shows his parents have been kidnapped.

Here's our chance to see Manny as a show-offy, tongue-tied tough guy. "I like books for reading them." And … MOONWALK.

Ah, the Vietnamese restaurant. The tightest, punchiest writing in recent memory, even if Mitch and Cam make the horrible move of forcing their hopefully Vietnamese waitress to educate their daughter. Lily stirs up a ruckus. "I hate Vietnam! I hate Viet-naaaam. I wanna go home. I'm gay. I'm GAY!" And is this the first time the phrase "white people" has ever been said on Modern Family? Praise be to Gloria, fighting against the scourge of Americanized boring old white people. This scene is one of the few times the show sticks the landing on the frequently trotted-out "equal opportunity offender" stuff.

The Dunphy kids have a moment of intelligent reasoning about their still-developing parents and the way Phil and Claire ignore their own issues by obsessing over their kids. Ding ding ding. The spawn tell off their self-congratulating parents — "be better at being adults!" — and ride out on a tidal wave of sibling bonding. And here, behind the curtain that recently presented the future Dunphys, is the next generation of Dunphys.

Parental improvements? Implemented across the board. Lessons? Learned. See you next time.

Photo: ABC