Something was missing from last night’s episode of Modern Family. Okay, a few things — but the most important one wasn’t Internet access or a neighbor’s dog, although all those things were indeed temporarily out of the picture: For the second week in a row, there was no end-of-episode voice-over. And thank God and/or the show-runner who made that call. The show might not really have much of a Big Point, but it’s always better when it seems comfortable with that, instead of trying to drive one home anyway. This week’s episode was goofy, horrifically cringe-inducing, and kind of even a little scary at times — its lack of sweetness a sweet relief in itself.
Suddenly overwhelmed by her family’s gadget addiction, Claire calls a week-long moratorium on computers, cell phones, games, etc. Though clearly pained, Phil sides with her (“I am completely onboard with your mother’s horse-and-buggy trip to yesteryear”); the kids are less than thrilled. How will Alex write her science paper? “That’s what the public library is for,” Claire says. “I thought it was just a bathroom for homeless people,” Haley muses. To hype everyone up, Phil announces that the last Dunphy left unwired will win a prize of their choice. Alex, who wants a new computer, drops the contest first after getting a B on a science paper that she researched using the family’s outdated encyclopedias (reminding us of the time we were unable to do our fourth-grade report on velociraptors because our mom’s 1969 World Books were published years before the species was discovered).
Luke is lured away from the promise of chicken potpie by a para-sailing donkey video on YouTube. Claire is driven over the edge by voice-recognition-software-induced psychosis while trying to order the family tickets to visit Phil’s family in Orlando (Fred Willard alert?!) (also, why does Claire’s Mac Mail have a circa-1998 AOL greeting?), and Phil is about to break his streak to check his fantasy-football rankings when they hear Haley — who’s demanded a car as her prize — yakking on her cell phone upstairs. Bursting into her room, Phil declares himself the winner, immediately logs on to ax Tom Brady and realizes, “Holy crap, we’ve been Shawshanked”: Haley’s phone is actually a bar of soap carved and colored with a black marker. She’d been talking to herself on it all week hoping to trick them, which must have been excruciatingly boring at first but probably got better after the Sharpie-high set in. Oh, but she still doesn’t get the car. Which is totally unfair.
Even though she’s barely emitted more than a fussy cry onscreen, Mitch and Cam are suddenly obsessed with Lily’s education. After getting faked out by all their playground friends who said they weren’t putting their kids in preschool for another year but then enrolled them secretly to nab prime spots, the guys realize Lily will be left behind in school and life in general if they don’t get her in someplace right away. “Leave it to the gays to raise the only underachieving Asian in America!” Mitch says. Claire calls in a favor for her brother to Wagon Wheel, where all the Dunphy kids went. (Mini-drinking-game idea: Take a shot every time Cam says “duckies” in this episode, and another every time Mitch winces when Cam says “duckies.”)
They’re way nervous (“You should mention how she always perks up when we watch Charlie Rose.” “That was one time, and he was interviewing Elmo”) until they encounter a friendly receptionist who notes that they — a gay couple with a minority daughter — could get into any preschool in town, diversity-crazed as they all are. For Mitch, if not for Cam, this nearly negates every single terrible thing that ever happened to him as a young gay man (“This is the first time being gay is a competitive advantage. They’re choosing teams for gym class and we’re finally getting picked first.” “I always got picked first — I could throw a dodgeball through a piece of plywood, but I see your point”), and he immediately scores an interview at Billingsley, the kind of school where many of the students seem likely to also be named Billingsley and where it was shocking that the headmaster was not played by Rowan Atkinson. But oh, their hopes are dashed when they’re joined in the waiting room by an even more diverse couple: “Disabled interracial lesbians with an African kicker?” “Didn’t see that coming,” laments Cam, who then pretends to be Native-American — basically a talking cigar-store Indian — as Mitch cringes and Lily silently cutes.
Having tussled over dead grandmas, God, and awkward parties, this week Jay and Gloria take on the neighbor’s incessantly barking dog. “I don’t get how one barking dog keeps you awake when you slept through cockfights and revolutions,” Jay fusses. “You know what’s ironic? You come over here complaining about the dumb dog and I have never once complained about that parrot of yours that’s always squawking,” the neighbor says when she confronts him about it. (Cut to montage of Gloria hollering, “Jyay!” “Jyay!” “Jyay!”) When the dog disappears, Jay fears the worst. Remembering how he once saw his wife brutally slaughter a rat by their garbage cans — just two swift whacks of a shovel (“a shoobbel”) — and noting Colombian-bred “comfort level about killing,” he’s sure that she’s killed the poor thing.
After the subplot takes a funny turn toward the hinterlands of some kind of generic thriller parody, with Manny and Jay inspecting tools in the garage for signs of their use in dog-butchering and Gloria appearing out of nowhere behind them, what she really did to the dog is revealed: She stole it and dropped it off out in the country with her hairdresser’s kids, who gave her a jar of canned vegetables in gratitude. “Now the dog is happy, Manny can sleep, and we have peekuls.” Jay, finally feeling guilty about giving his wife so much shit about her native culture, surprises her at the end of the episode with tickets for them to visit her home village together. With Claire having presumably successfully ordered the Dunphy’s Orlando tickets online, too, might we have an “Airport 2011” episode looming on the horizon?