In its first season, Modern Family declined to do a Halloween episode. Last season’s last-week-of-October episode was about the kids going back to school (remember Manny’s poncho?). And last night the show did do a Halloween episode, on which, now that we think about it, the kids were also going to school. Which means it didn’t happen on a Sunday (the day on which Halloween falls this year) or the Los Angeles school calendar is beyond wacky. Anyway, last night’s show, much like the haunted house the Dunphys constructed in their living room, was ambitious, but kind of awkward in the end. At least we got to see everyone in costume.
Jay and Gloria are at it again this week despite last week’s cultural olive branch of airfare to Colombia. The problem now is Gloria’s spotty English: “Last night you said, ‘We live in a doggy dog world.’ … It’s ‘dog-eat-dog world,’” Jay tells her. “That doesn’t make any sense,” she replies. “Who wants to live in a world where dogs eat each other? ‘Doggy dog world’ is a beautiful world filled with little poppies!” She gets two great moments — “gargles” and “baby cheeses” — but then spends most of the rest of the episode sulking as other characters explain to her the very funny and very wrong things she’s said, all bungled idioms and malapropisms that plenty of native English speakers probably get wrong all the time: “blessings in the sky,” “carpool tunnel syndrome,” “volumptuous.” It looks like she’s just going to remain the spandex-swathed butt of all the episode’s jokes — but only until she and Jay emerge from their squabble at Claire and Phil’s Halloween Spectacular, by which time she’s insisting on talking in her own version of precise American diction, which is amazing and disturbing in the same way Claire’s eyeless laugh was two weeks ago. It’s maybe the scariest thing in the whole episode. We wanted nothing more than for it to just stop. And then it did! Too bad it was because the bit was parlayed into the episode’s too-tidy conclusion, as the show again insisted on wrapping itself up with a chucklesome all-family scene and a big black-and-orange-striped bow of a voice-over in which Jay compares living with Gloria to handling explosives in the military.
You know about Chekov’s gun, right? Well, here’s a new one — Chekov’s Spider-Man suit. The rule goes something like this: If a character’s boyfriend helps him into a Spider-Man suit in the first act (under the pretense that it’s Halloween and his new office is so fun and everyone else at work will be dressing up too), then by the third act the character will be scaling a downspout from a second-story men’s room after realizing he’s one of only three employees to arrive in costume. So that’s Mitch’s Halloween adventure. Cam, meanwhile, has sworn off the holiday entirely: “Unfortunately, Halloween was marred for me personally by an event long ago. Now it’s just a day I have to get through.” When Mitch complains about his physically and emotionally chafing day at work, Cam scoffs: “You had squeaky thighs — I lost a childhood!” Cam’s fears all come to a head at Claire and Phil’s party — kind of literally, because Cam has been cast as the severed talking head on the candy buffet — where it’s revealed (slowly, tearfully, and with much dry ice to help the drama) that one Halloween long ago some frenemy accused him of stealing a bunch of candy, all the other kids made fun of him, and he peed his pants.
It felt like a really low-dysfunction episode, perhaps because Claire and Phil were so giddy about Halloween, their shared favorite holiday. Finally, something that bonds them besides their inability to not freak out about things that don’t matter! They’re preparing for their huge annual haunted-house extravaganza and all goes fine, until Phil learns that their neighbor Jerry’s wife recently left him for no apparent reason. Claire’s bummed because it means Jerry is too bereft to play their spooky scarecrow, but Phil’s freaked out because it means that his wife could also leave him for no apparent reason: “Tell me it was booze, cheating, physical abuse. No problem: I’m a monogamous social drinker and Claire only sleep-hits me. Just don’t tell me it came from out of the blue.” He stages a clumsy, multi-staged attack to make sure Claire still finds him fun and sexy and delightful, but she’s too busy hanging spiderwebs and trying to coax Haley out of a string of Sexy [Insert Thing Here] costumes (“Are you trying to get candy or Japanese businessmen?”). In the end, the house is sufficiently haunted, Mitch is conned into being the scarecrow, Gloria returns to her mother-tongue, Haley is dolled up as “Mother Theresa, back when she was hot,” Cam’s candy/self-urination demons are sufficiently exorcised, Manny and Luke are once again woefully underused, and Phil and Claire share a lovey-dovey moment in the front yard that would be fully sweet if not for the fact that they were dressed up like a corpse bride and groom and there were screaming kids dressed as aliens and butterflies running screaming from their house. Gotta assume this won’t last, though — they’ve gotta have something to work out for the inevitable second swipe at a Valentine’s episode.