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Worldly Distractions: Modern Family 5.12 - Under Pressure





We're back with the Pritchett-Tucker-Dunphy-Delgados, and it's going to be a hilarious week! Or mildly amusing from time to time. Take your pick.

It's Alex's Sweet 16, but she's too consumed with her SAT studying to care. In fact, she stops her family from singing "Happy Birthday" and then screams at Gloria when she points out that one of the candles is still burning. Then she goes on a full-fledged rant, tears up the cake, and I kind of want to drop-kick her out the window. Basically, she's mad that she's not Doogie Howser. Opening credits.

The Dunphys discuss Alex's crazy the next day, and go out of their way to be nice to her the next day. Before they can say much, though, Alex tells them she knows she's falling over the edge and wants to start therapy. She even found an insurance-covered doctor and has booked an appointment, proving the rest of her family are raging incompetents.

Cam's first Open House is today, and since he already feels poorly respected as a gym teacher, he wants to stand out with the parents. As he leaves, Mitch is confronted by their neighbor Asher (JESSE EISENBERG GUYS), who is a diehard envrionmentalist. He's mad because he totally invented The Facebook, dammit Cam and Mitch run the air conditioner all the time and it's destroying the planet. He pretentiously offers Mitch "some literature" and rattles on about his environmental accomplishments. Mitch tries to compete. It's a contest he just can't win. 

Gloria and Jay are about to head to the open house, but as usual Gloria is overdressed - to impress Manny's history teacher, since apparently Manny's in the running for a Junior Congress trip to Washington DC which depends on having a hot mom. Also, he has a date this evening - with "either Zoe or Piper". Unfortunately, Luke also has a crush on her, and called dibs. Since she has an equally gorgeous twin sister, they're able to compromise.

Cam has decided that the usual Open House is way too boring, so he's going to liven things up by making parents play dodgeball. The principal, somehow, thinks this is a really bad idea. Cam is crushed. Gloria hits on Manny's history teacher, pointing out that her son could totally be the first Latino President if, you know, he got a certain trip to Washington. She also brings him empanadas. Unfortunately, Dr. Donna Duncan, mother of the douchey-sounding Wesley, has also figured out that she needs to suck up to the teacher and brings cupcakes. She and Gloria greet each other frostily. And best of all - she is played by JANE KRAKOWSKI. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is two capital-letter cameos in one episode. Truly this is a great moment in guest stars.

Jay has brought a flask to the open house, because of course he would. He persuades goody-two-shoes Phil to indulge in some old scotch. Just then, the history teacher catches them, but when Phil tries to pin the blame on Jay, his father-in-law demands all involvement. Phil is shamed for his evil vices in front of the entire class.

Alex sees her new therapist, Dr Gregory House Clark, played by John Benjamin Hinckley - interestingly, a longterm partner of one of the show's writers. When she tries to hurry up the session (and diagnose herself), he gently tells her that it's going to be a process. She then openly doubts his psychiatry skills. Luckily, he's not taking any of her shit. First, they stop and take a breath. Then he asks what's on her mind. Alex rambles on, leaving him a bit nonplussed.

Claire runs into Sanjay's mom (she and Sanjay's dad appeared in the episode where Phil and Claire were forced to go to a pretentious movie - Sanjay and Alex constantly compete to be the best in the class). Sanjay's mom mentions that her son is stressed about a big scholarship application, which Claire's never heard. She has also barely registered that the AP exams are coming up. As the parents type down dozens of practice test numbers on their laptops, Claire fumbles for a pen. Her cut-scene sadly reflects that she's been a "cruise control" parent with the independent Alex, and maybe now it's time to step in.

Zoe and Piper and Luke and Manny are on their double date. While Piper thinks Luke's antics are brilliant, Zoe falls for Manny's deep soul. The problem? Zoe's with Luke and Piper's with Manny. Luke drags Manny to the restroom and suggests that they switch. "They're twins! They'll never notice!" he gleefully exclaims.

Haley comes over to give her old dollhouse to Lily, but leaves her car idling. Mitch immediately warns her to shut it off and avoid the wrath of Columbus Asher. "Shut up! You're totally green," Haley scoffs upon hearing of the contretemps that morning. Mitch agrees, pointing out that he even "recycled a child" (ouch, that's...pretty disgusting). She suggests that he taunt Asher with his environmental law award. Okay, I've never actually met or even known of an environmental lawyer, but there are at least two on television (Mitch and Marshall from How I Met Your Mother) that I can think of off the top of my head. What's with this sudden green legal explosion? Is it to make them less sleazy? On another note, Haley has some absolutely killer "ditzy" lines this scene. Kudos to Sarah Hyland for totally pulling them off.

So Mitchell gets his best righteous indignation on, and is all about to confront his neighbour for the crime of extreme bitchiness, when he removes the dollhouse from the box - and about a million styrofoam chips come with it. He and Haley both fall into chaos mode.

Jay and Phil head off to the next class, but Jay decides he's going to cut. Instead, he'll break into the teacher's lounge and try to catch the football game. Phil really thinks it's a bad idea, but Jay's bad influence prevails.

We haven't seen Cam in about ten minutes - I'm terrified as to what he's come up with.

Dr. Donna Duncan and Gloria continue to overdo it with the history teacher, scaring him off and creating a most glorious bitchfest. Claire walks by with a pile of books on college applications, which she drops on the floor. Donna says something mean, and Gloria rants to Claire about the woman's general awfulness.

Cam starts off by trying to explain why PE is important while the parents try not to fidget. When they start to leave, he tells them that he really wanted to play dodgeball instead. Everyone perks up. Donna Duncan says she would love to, which causes Gloria to jump in. Soon enough, Cam's cowboy hat is on and they're all playing a spirited game. Donna and Gloria are particularly vicious, and wind up as the final two. However, Donna cheats and throws before the whistle's blown, hitting Gloria and taking her out. Wait, wouldn't that be a forfeit? It doesn't matter, though, as Gloria goes insane and lunges at Donna anyway. Cam tries to intervene and winds up stuck between them, almost getting his eyes scratched out. The parents all make sure to get pictures.

Luke and Manny suggest to the girls that they switch, but the girls are vehemently against it. Neither is into the more "obvious" boy. The boys retaliate by calling them shallow and dumb. Classy. However, the date continues after the girls invite them back to their house. No parents are home. (Don't worry, apparently "making out" is the only thing on the agenda. Officially.)

Haley's having trouble with the styrofoam, as it keeps blowing into Asher's yard, and Mitchell has made things worse by knocking over a tank of biodiesel fuel. Wait, what is that doing in his yard? Of course, Asher shows up  at that moment, and Mitchell proudly shows off his award. It doesn't have much effect.

Phil gets the staffroom TV to work, and Jay happily sits down to his football game. Before he gets involved in it, though, he asks Phil how he can manage all these newfangled electronics. Phil proudly talks about his time in the AV club, though that must have been twenty-five years ago, but hey, it's not like gadgets have changed recently. For the first time (probably) since they've met, Jay is impressed with his son-in-law. To ingratiate himself further, Phil sets them up on the screen in the school auditorium. Drinking from the flask, Jay declares it the best open house ever - just as the screen goes into fuzz.

Alex tells her therapist about a childhood spelling bee and her desperation to win it. She even remembers the winning word - "reponsibility". They discuss how Alex feels incredible pressure from everyone around her, though much of it is in her own head. This is uncomfortably like my own psychiatry sessions, so I'm going to move on except to say that they really get to the root of things, especially concerning her differences from her family - and it feels incredibly real. Ariel Winter needs to submit this to the Emmys, and I actually think it could get her a nomination. "It's hard being me," she concludes. Hard to argue with that one.

Claire attends an AP Calc demonstration, where the teacher proudly announces that she "only" gives two hours of homework a night. This causes her to flip out and stand in front of the class adding up the hours of homework every child has. It's staggering. I applaud her for this rebellion against overwork. Is it just me, or do expectations get higher every year? Not just for teens in school (though the American college admissions process is batshit insane, and nowhere near the worst in the world), but for everyone. Sooner or later we'll all collapse and then be made fun of for being weak. Sigh. Anyway, major applause for Claire.

Gloria and Donna have been marched to the Principal's office, where Cam sits between them. He implores them to think of what's important - that they both want the best for their kids. Donna tells a sob story about how the trip will make her son feel better about the divorce, and we totally know she's playing them, but Cam and Gloria fall for it. Jay and Phil are ushered out after promising to pay for the projector, and Gloria and Donna go for their judgment. Somehow, Jay doesn't seem all that surprised to see his wife there. However, when the principal comes out, it is Cam and Cam only who is summoned for the final reckoning.

Claire picks Alex up from her appointment, where she tells her all about what happened at the open house and how much her eyes were opened. Now she understands what kind of pressure Alex is under. Alex bursts into tears and clings to her mother. It's a perfect moment.

Tag scene - Asher, Lily, Mitch and Haley clean the driveway and various items. Asher and Mitchell both apologize, and have a surprisingly deep conversation for a tag scene. Mitchell invites him over for dinner. Haley looks like she might be interested in the cute young eco-fan, be still my heart.

This was, for my money, the strongest episode of the season (so far). The plots involving the school were quite good, with the high school parallels particularly standing out. Luke and Manny's storyline was short and really could have been more developed, but it was cute. Haley and Mitchell were funny, and it was good to explore their dynamic - not to mention giving Jesse Tyler Ferguson a chance to dither. The guest stars were pretty good. Jane Krakowski was fine but didn't have much to do. Jesse Eisenberg had some funny moments, and really should appear again. The key to this episode, however, was Alex and the focus on her difficulties. They handled this serious story with aplomb, keeping it from turning into a Very Special Episode and giving Ariel Winter a hell of an acting platform. It felt real, it was heartbreaking, and it worked perfectly in the show's context. I've been saying all season that Modern Family needed to try something new. This week, they did, and god almighty it worked.

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