Photo: Peter “Hopper” Stone/ABC
If you serve up a cold open at least 50 percent centered around Phil Dunphy slapstick, there’s an 80 percent chance I’m going to 100 percent love it. Great start.
Claire knows whom to ask for at the Poison Control Center (I thought her name was just Google, not Carol?). Luke mistakes what that first word in the Revolutionary War was all about and turns the Battle of Bunker Hill into Volcano.
“We’re not clichés,” Mitch tells Manny — of course Mitch and Cam don’t wear feather boas to Oscar parties! They just decorate the apartment with newly snapped photos of Lily posing as starlets through the ages. “We … we’re clichés,” Mitch concedes. A little too much winking at an audience that often complains about that exact notion, but all right. And hey, how many parties can Cam and Mitchell throw? More or less than The Office in its Party Planning Committee heyday?
“I will use the baby carrier as a cane,” is already a good line from Gloria, but the real takeaway is that Fulgencio Joe is clearly as game for laughs as the rest of the cast — he dozes off peacefully as Gloria thumps him across the room.
Cam and Mitch are staging a photo shoot with Lily in order to fulfill their cliché-dom. The girl’s eating too many animal crackers and getting fussy and probably finding this situation at least vaguely creepy, so she quits. Cam’s plotting a trip home to Missouri, and slipping into an accent and dropping utterly not-real heartlandisms like “dagburn.”
Phil’s latest and greatest, as the phone rings: “Ooh, quick — nature’s surefire sunburn remedy [picks up phone]: Aloe?” For some reason I get the sense our friend Phil’s seen Ace Ventura: Pet Detective a ton of times. “My allergies are starting to cry,” is a wounded Phil’s suave excuse to hang up with Jay, who’s back to his feeling-stomping tricks. If ModFam ends its run with the Dunphys in tatters and Phil heading up his own spinoff, I’m onboard. Just add my name to any petition that keeps this guy on TV as long as possible, I guess.
Remember when Lily and Luke schemed against Fulgencio Joe? (Does F.J. have a ring to it? At all?) Well, now Lily’s glued a wig to the newborn’s head. Foreshadowing complete, or foreshadowing just begun.
“My life is a musicless gray hellscape,” Manny, facing his weekly spurning (another solo in another musical), tells Jay. The guy’s got a way with words.
Jay, staunchly oblivious to the death of Manny’s Broadway dream, gives Manny $50 to take the bus home. Jay realizes his insensitivity, drives up next to the bus, and initiates a phenomenal scene. Is this bit cribbed from a movie I’ve never seen? It feels original but also like a classic — truly love it. A dumb smile hits my face before I can properly worry that something bad is about to happen to Jay in the car accident department very soon, making everything crappier and more difficult than it needs to be. And they don’t even go there! Wonderful. (Speaking of botched prophecies, though: Did anyone not assume Manny would be the surprise bowling savior, the one who made sure Jay’s stressful championship day was a triumph? And was anyone not thrilled when that not only failed to materialize, but we weren’t even forced to watch a bowling alley scene at all? Doubly wonderful.)
Bridesmaids co-writer and This Is 40 cameo-er Annie Mumolo, who just landed her own ABC comedy pilot, does a mini guest spot as Claire’s reunion buddy. “Her skin looks like crumpled tinfoil you try to smooth out and use again.” Zing.
Another guest-star moment to write home about, in theory if not so much in execution: Bud Bundy, David Faustino! He dons a dapper ensemble, he’s called Tater, and if you can believe anything you read on the Internet, he’s really five-foot-three. Tater becomes the accidental target of Phil’s menace, but he’s not around long enough (and he’s not in the right plotline) to get any airtime with his old Married … With Children father. For shame.
Phil and Claire work their way into the kind of legitimately interesting, relatable married-life quandary this season has shied from: Is it okay to muse, within earshot of our partners, about the other paths our lives could’ve taken? (Incidentally, Modern Family is currently openly fantasizing about a life where Alex and Haley don’t exist except for a few seconds of credit roll.)
Workaholics’ Maribeth Monroe, whose Twitter bio reads “I play a lot of bitches on tv,” stops by to play … well, not a bitch so much as the disenchanted partner to the professor Claire imagines as such an alluring mate.
“I’m not sure how that guy got to be a professor; he had to be pretty stupid to dump you,” Phil un-self-consciously blurts. The performances this week are especially solid. Julie Bowen has me noticing her natural, warm acting rather than her character’s writing for the first time in a long while.
Luke and Manny get yet another glorious tête-à-tête. Everyone blackmails each other over the baby’s unfortunate haircut. We learn that telling the truth never makes anyone mad at you. The baby looks really terrified when the whole family shrieks at the follicle fuck-up, though. I don’t like that.
Gloria’s spa “reveal” at the end feels a smidge insulting. Manny might not have ended up the Fish Out of Water Bowling Alley Hero, but Gloria was so obviously at that spa the whole time. And yet, nice episode. Looking forward to visiting Cam’s family soon.