ABC billed last night’s Modern Family as a Valentine’s Day–themed episode, but there was nary a sighting of Phil’s dashing alter ego Clive Bixby — perhaps because Clive’s previous V-Day antics got Claire into hot water at her recent town council debate (even though no charges were filed!). So, rather than going in for a whirlwind of couples-oriented dinner dates and flowers and greeting cards, this year Modern Family observed this torturous holiday in a less romantic but equally fitting way: by exploring jealousy in a variety of forms.
If there’s any man who should be able to arouse Phil’s jealousy, it’s Greg Kinnear in the role of Tad, a wealthy and charming potential client whose whole life opened up when he got divorced — “living the dream,” is how Phil describes it, before he backtracks to placate a rightfully huffy Claire. Phil has nothing but man-love for Tad, whom he invites over for salmon/steak/chicken/shrimp (it’s a bit of a risk to just serve salmon to a first-time diner at the Dunphys), and Claire too seems enchanted throughout dinner, as more and more fancy Malbec is consumed (Isn’t Drunk Claire the best?). All goes well until it’s time for good-byes, when Tad lays a smacker right on Claire’s lips (Phil misses the whole thing — smitten Phil goes in for a hug but is rebuffed in favor of a handshake). Claire’s face registers an array of emotions — utter shock, moderate discomfort, a touch of excitement — but Phil is entirely unruffled, chalking it up to all the time Tad’s spent in Costa Rica. “That’s probably how they do it there … Most of them travel by zip line,” Phil reassures Claire, who’s quite sure this isn’t some cultural divide. Tad lingered.
Phil doesn’t even bat an eye when Tad returns the next day (he’s brought more wine and he’s stripped down to his undershirt in order to fix the Dunphys’ kitchen table) to tell Phil he’d like for him to be his real estate broker. Phil gleefully accepts when Tad invites them to his home for a celebratory dinner that evening (if Claire were a cartoon character, steam would be shooting out of her ears), and on his way out Tad gives Claire a full-on smooch on the lips again, and oblivious Phil misses it again. Phil then makes everything worse by condescending to Claire, who he thinks is making the whole thing up because she needs an ego boost: “Come here, pretty girl … You are, you know … The other night? When you put on makeup? I was like, ‘there she is.’” Ugh! When our beloved Phil makes comments more suited to an ogreish CBS sitcom husband, we want to slap him like Claire does. It’s only later, at Tad’s house, that we (we being the viewers and Claire, as of course, Phil is too distracted to notice) see that Tad kisses everyone on the lips, from the 80-year-old babysitter to his son to the dog — he’s like a lost member of SNL’s kissing family. So it seems Claire can relax, and truly enjoy Tad’s stories about his monkey problems. It’s then we learn that it’s not the kissing that incites Phil’s jealousy — it’s the laughing. “You can kiss my wife, you can take her to bed, but you cannot make her laugh,” is the first iteration of sentiments that Phil confesses to the camera. Then he literally pulls Claire out of Tad’s house (another ugh!), but that’s okay because Claire likes it — she’s finally gotten a passionate reaction from Captain Oblivious. Jealousy, apparently, can be romantic after all.
Meanwhile, Cam and Mitchell are staying at Jay and Gloria’s place while their house is fumigated, and Jay is laying it on thick with the lawyer jokes, to Mitchell’s annoyance. But suddenly Jay takes an interest in Mitchell’s legal career when he learns that Mitchell is meeting with Booker Bell, a former drive time radio D.J. (with pranking skills to rival Ashton Kutcher) whom Jay adores. It’s cute to see Jay behave like a pre-pubescent Belieber at the prospect of meeting his idol, but kinda jarring to think that the seminal businessman would ever think it appropriate to crash his son’s important work lunch. But crash he does, introducing himself all tongue-tied (“I’m Boz Scaggs,” he mistakenly says, his brain grasping onto the name of his other hero). Mitchell is appalled (has that phrase been used in every Modern Family recap this season? Sorry!), but Booker loves the attention, regaling his fawning fan with insider dirt — it’s Booker himself who does the voice of the old radio character Grandma Groovy! Later, Jay admits that he was out of line for crashing the lunch and tells Mitchell how proud he is of him, and Mitchell apologizes for being overly sensitive about the lawyer jokes (Our favorite: “What do lawyers use as birth control? Their personalities”). As payback, Mitchell arranges for Jay to get punked by his hero, a fitting end to a segment that finds the jokester becoming the punch line.
Even Cam and Gloria, usually such kindred spirits, can’t escape the green-eyed monster. The show starts with the two of them giggling and screeching and booby-shaking on the couch as you’d expect, but soon they get downright territorial. Cam sees how Lily loves spending time with her step-grandma, and he’s especially jealous when they come back from girls’ day wearing matching coats — “It’s like she’s the baby leopard, and I’m the mama,” coos Gloria. Meanwhile Gloria, who’s never been much of a homemaker, is ticked off that Cameron is trying to run her household: “brightening things up,” reorganizing the kitchen, dusting. With every confession for the camera, Cam and Gloria grow increasingly bitter. Manny tries to intervene by working some conflict resolution magic (he’s becoming a little more like his stepdad every day). He tells each of them a (made-up) personal story that applies to their situations to elicit understanding, but it turns out neither one cares that much about “Manny’s crazy friend Danielle.” Their conflict is finally resolved in a kitchen face-off that starts with angry salsa dancing, but ends after Lily gives Cam a leopard apron that matches her and Gloria’s coats, and both Cam and Gloria have admitted to the camera that they’re both insecure in their own ways. In harmony once again, Cam and Gloria cook dinner in an orchestrated dance that rivals The Big Chill for kitchen choreography. Like Fred and Ginger, indeed.
Luke takes a different strategy to solve a conflict in his own home. It seems that when Haley was filling out her college essays she incorrectly capitalized a few words, which is why some admissions offices might believe that she’s a Big Sister. Oops! Her parents force her to actually volunteer, and it turns out she really enjoys it. Her Little Sister Annie is a sweet, cute underprivileged girl who — poor thing! — becomes a mere prop in the Dunphy daughters’ drama. Is it merely coincidence that Cam references The Help earlier in the episode, and then when the Dunphy girls actually have an African-American girl in their room, Alex acts like such a Hilly Holbrook–style snot? Alex — lowercase little sister — is jealous of the attention Haley gives to her uppercase Little Sister, and we’d almost pity her if she’d made any attempt to be welcoming or inclusive with Annie. But Alex is too busy snarking at Haley to be bothered. So after Annie’s left, Luke calls both Alex and Haley out for being bad big sisters to him — neither of them ever pay him any attention. So true! But the girls recall a happier time when Luke was their little sister — they’d dress him up and put makeup on him and call him Betty Luke. In an ultimate act of taking one for the team, Luke allows them to resurrect Betty Luke once more, in the name of sisterly harmony. If that’s not love, what is?