Modern Family Recap: Jay Pritchett, Novelist

Photo: ABC/Peter "Hopper" Stone
Modern Family
Episode Title
Career Day
Editor’s Rating

Before we get going here, may I politely, insistently request someone fire up a petition to have Rob Riggle’s Gil Thorpe recur no fewer than five times per season from here on out? Would that be too much? Can we only handle him in small doses? I don’t know, and I need to find out. Thorpe, Thorpe, Thorpe indeed.

Now. Modern Family, like any sitcom eyeing a long run, doles out puzzle pieces from its characters’ backgrounds every so often. The fact that nearly all of Cameron’s backstory seems to come in the form of Tales From the Farm is delightful. It's been a long while since we've heard such a yarn, and any story ending in "tell that to the cow-shaped hole in my bedroom wall" is bound to be a success, especially when it’s the story of a lost tooth. Presuming we’re still taking a visit back home to Cam’s family in Missouri at some point in the near future, this is some thoughtful setup for a story line where all Cam’s outlandish stories can be proven true. Perpetual doubter Mitchell will then eat humble pie. Maybe literally. Also: Has a theory ever been raised about Eric Stonestreet's dual Emmy wins coming largely in thanks to his hand motions in the talking head asides? It’s a ballet of gesticulation. Utterly inimitable.

Lily is at once skeptical of the Tooth Fairy's existence and disillusioned with the Tooth Fairy’s tardiness, but she’s enough of a believer to have a fairy-catching net stashed under her pillow. It’s a missed opportunity when she doesn’t try the net on Haley later, but still a good touch. Lily will have forgotten all about her failed capture by the time she wakes up to a crisp $100 bill under her pillow. Cam and Mitch are suddenly living in the very believable nightmare of being the Parents Who Gave Their Daughter a Benji for a Tooth. Imagine the glares at school functions.

When the Tooth Fairy’s entreaty from Tooth Dakota fails to move Lily, Haley steps in as a viciously pink stand-in. She’s got Lily under her spell for maybe twenty seconds, till she says "tooths." Honestly, it’s surprising Haley made it that far — we’re dealing with Lily here, the girl with the strongest B.S. detector on the show. Haley inadvertently draws on some Santa Claus mythology and ends up convincing Lily to give the $100 back. Nice save, Haley. Have a blast wherever you’re going with that Tooth Fairy getup. Stay safe.

Have we never discussed how exactly Jay became filthy rich from owning a closet business? Is that where the money is these days? Have I made a huge mistake? At the Pritchett-Delgado Home, also known as the Fortress That Closets Built, Jay endearingly tries to insist that his line of work is interesting. Gloria, who many have complained has been reduced to a non-role and/or an obnoxious Latin stereotype this season, has some top-notch interjections. ("I always wanted to write thrillers," Jay muses. "Like that hat story??" Gloria zings. “Hey, I bought a typewriter,” Jay defends. “When is your book signing? 1975?” Gloria scorches. Exit stage left.) Gloria then drives a dagger deep by calling out Jay's hibernation-style napping habits. (Or maybe that's only me getting stabbed — naps are so important and beautiful!) Gloria is en fuego tonight.

Jay decides to put his alleged dream to the test and starts writing his long-gestating Chuck Stone spy novel, a nice tie-in with the fact he went to see Skyfall a few episodes ago. The inspiration is slow to materialize, though. Jay lets Stella the pooch clatter out a few lines. He lets his BLT dribble into the keys. He does us the favor of reading all this work aloud. ModFam poet laureate Manny swoops in to take over. We forgive the idea of a kid knowing his way around a typewriter in 2013 only because it means we’ll get to hear Manny’s version of thriller prose.

Unfortunately Gloria finds her son’s fiction as junky as Manny found Jay’s efforts. No one in this house can write a decent spy thriller, no matter how much they picture Tom Berenger in the lead. Manny and Jay are left to bask in the conviction that Gloria was wrong and that they’re destined for airport bookstands alongside guys with names like Vince Flynn and Brad Thor.

Over in Dunphville, Phil is prepping for Luke’s Career Day. Haley and Alex's insta-excuses for why they never invited their old man to any kind of career day remind me of Ryan on The Office's arsenal of of excuses he uses to avoid ever spending time with the equally embarrassing Michael Scott. Claire tries out a perfectly Dunphian pun and gets shut down by Phil, the very man who just trotted out a real estate sign reading, "Everything I touch turns to SOLD.” C’mon, Phil. Don’t hog the so-bad-it’s-good limelight with the wordplay, huh? There’s already a serious threat of the Dunphys singlehandedly draining puns of all potential — even Phil's genius "Gil-ty of being a Thorpe in my side" gets a flat “trying too hard” stamp from Luke.

Gil Thorpe is back for the second consecutive episode. Phil considers this storied rivalry to be on the level of Athens vs. Sparta and Kerrigan vs. Harding. Phil airs a homemade presentation that is quite likely titled Phil and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Gil interrupts, and what already would’ve been a nightmare presentation turns into an apocalypse. Phil maniacally flings a beach ball across the class. Question: Where is the behind-the-scenes footage of Phil filming this sorry video all by his lonesome? Whose skateboard did he borrow? Who lent him the trucker hat? Where did he learn the phrase “cray-cray”? I have so many questions, and such strong hopes for a thorough DVD extra.

Gil Thorpe doesn’t make intricate video presentations. Gil Thorpe brings Gil Pickles — they’re like cake pops, only with more dill. Gil sold Kobe Bryant a house, and Gil dismisses classes he has no authority over. Later we’ll learn he has the power to make Phil weep with nothing more than a text message. He is a powerful, physically imposing man.

One turn of events later and we’re getting a nice opportunity to see how Claire sees herself. It seems like a seed is being planted for next season — Claire’s big move back out into the workforce. Her kids are as self-sufficient as they’re ever going to be, and a crux of the house-flipping plot was her desire to do something new and invigorating. And suddenly that tall devil Gil Thorpe is hitting Claire up in the parking lot, job opportunity in hand. Claire's getting out of the house! Growth! Change! This is awesome!

Phil doesn’t like the idea, because the idea involves Gil winning, as well as Gil probably sexually harrassing Claire on the regular. But Phil realizes Claire is dying for a sense of purpose outside the home, and also that he doesn’t have the once-in-a-relationship veto power he thought he had. Unfortunately Claire’s gig doesn’t last longer than the closing credits. Hopefully the show keeps this story going next season. Claire should just do real estate and compete with Phil. That could be interesting.

This was a refreshingly cohesive half-hour, held together — in Manny's immortal words — by the web of lies we all weave for ourselves. We lie about the Tooth Fairy. (I’m capitalizing her name still — am I lying to myself?) We say that sacrificing a career for a family was exactly what we planned to do. We kid ourselves about the dreams we’re supposedly still planning to pursue. We start believing Shower Snacks™ are something the world needs. The good news is we’ve got great ratings and a bunch more seasons to keep trying to tell the truth.