How many great episodes does it take to make up for a wobbly beginning to a second season? Three, apparently. We’re ready to declare Modern Family back in top form. Luke and Manny went to their first middle-school dance this week, and if you’re like us and love both of those little guys, you probably got excited about maybe seeing them awkwardly interact with members of the opposite sex, and maybe even slow dance. And then, if you’re like us, you were a little disappointed when you realized that they would yet again be mere pawns in their parents’ story lines. But the episode was thoughtful, funny, and well-executed enough to make up for that egregious transgression.
In the beginning, it looked like Mitchell and Cameron were on their way to yet another gay-dads-versus-the-world episode, but it quickly changed course: Lily, it seems, is a biter! That’s right — perfect, silent, adorable Lily apparently gets her kicks by sinking her wee tiny teeth into the flesh of other human beings. First, there’s a playground incident, where another kid’s mom approaches Cam and Mitch about Lily munching on her son’s arm. The guys brush it off (“You know who had straight parents?” “Adolf Hitler.” “Charles Manson.” “Shall we go on?” “Naomi Campbell!”), but when Cam buckles Lily into her car seat soon after, she chomps on his face: “It’s like Twilight back here!” At home, there’s a brief tussle that got us nervous about their subplot devolving into yet another extended, boring quibble (they each vaguely suggest the other might have fostered Lily’s chomping habit, Cam with his affectionate foot-gobbling and Mitch with his tendency to open packages with his incisors), but, thankfully, they forgo that in favor of scouring the Internet for help.
But then Cam has an idea: Producing a ukulele from somewhere, he launches into a song that he somehow had time to write between the park and the frenzied Googling session: “People aren’t food, people aren’t food / Your friends will run away if they’re afraid of being chewed / And as a side note, private parts are private.” Remember when Eric Stonestreet won the damn Emmy? This is why. In the end, he and Mitch decide they’re relieved that Lily is clearly no longer a perfect child — which, on one hand, really? It took a year and a half for her to do anything awful? But also, what are they talking about? She’s still perfect!
Here’s a bit of a switcheroo: In this episode, for the first time in a while, most of the adults are paired off into non-marriage-related duos. There’s been some parent-kid, parent-kid’s-ex-boyfriend action happening lately, but not much in-depth exploration of the grown-ups intergenerational relationships, so this story line was great. This week, Claire is pumped to head up the decorating and organizing of Luke’s first school dance, which also happens to be Manny’s first school dance, so Gloria is also involved. Apparently this is not just Claire’s thing, but Claire’s one thing — Phil’s real-estate business has been going badly but not badly enough, it seems, that she’s had to give up her long career of general PTA support. And she’s like the Don Corleone of this stuff. She bosses around the other moms and Gus the custodian (played by machete-wielder Danny Trejo). And, when she finally shows up — smile flashing, neckline low — she tries to boss around Gloria, who at some point had been named co-chair of the dance committee, and then had presumably been semi-exiled by Claire. But Gloria’s power is such that, by the time the dance rolls around, she’s pretty much replaced her stepdaughter as queen bee of the volunteer moms, which leads to a near-teary confrontation with Claire in the bathroom.
All the reluctant admissions of guilt, sad apologies (“I didn’t come here to steal your thunder. Your thunder is your thunder and my thunder is my thunder.” “Right, but God gave you so much thunder”), and confessions of bra-stuffing are as close to middle-school drama as this episode comes, but it’s enough. We hadn’t seen much of Claire and Gloria’s weird rivalry since the end of the first season, but it’s been bubbling under the surface for most of this one and it was good to see it forced into the open. Here’s hoping they can stay cordial, because they’re both in need of friends who aren’t their husbands.
The Pritchett/The Dunphy
Speaking of which, Jay and Phil finally got to work out a bit of their long-standing conflicts (the whole you’re-married-to-my-daughter/I’m-married-to-your-daughter thing) this week, too — and Manny and Luke’s first dance was the catalyst for this one as well (those kids, always giving their parents excuses to become better people). The guys were sent to the mall with their dads to get clothes for the big night, Luke because his old suit was too small and Manny because he needed a teal pocket square, of course. (This is despite Gloria’s best efforts: “Hey, look, this might work.” “Well, except that it’s turquoise. Oh, and a bra.”) But once they’re all out together, the cousins take a backseat to Jay and Phil’s ongoing battle of manliness, with Jay harping on his son-in-law about everything from letting a dude steal their spot in the parking lot to allowing an aggressive, high-maintenance, forever-taking guy break in line in front of them at the department store.
Phil escapes the extended public ribbing on the pretense of finding some last-minute socks for Luke, then unleashes his pent-up anger on the poor guy spritzing out cologne samples at the bottom of the escalator. Upstairs, as Manny comes to grips with the fact that the clumsily fashionable Luke (“Here’s something I didn’t know about mannequins — they don’t have a wiener!”) will basically be wearing his same carefully curated outfit (teal tie and all!), Phil is chasing the fragrance guy around the bottom of the store, shouting, “Men! Men! Men!” (And we were thrilled to learn, during the episode’s coda, that the cologning-victim is actually a friend of Cam and Mitch: “I think we all knew that day was coming.”) Later, when Jay goes to bail Phil out of mall jail, he’s impressed enough by his son-in-law’s rabble-rousing to initiate a real heart-to-heart: “My father-in-law was the same way with me. It was horrible.” “Grandpa Lucas? He was a sweetheart.” “Yeah, after the stroke mellowed him out good. Before? An animal.” Maybe he’s just going senile, because apparently he’s forgotten about that emergency appendectomy he had two weeks ago. Then again, so has everyone else. But oh well — the show’s back!