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Worldly Distractions: Modern Family 5.13 - Three Dinners





After last week's extraordinarily poignant episode featuring Alex, I'm really wondering what else Modern Family has up its sleeve. Will they keep up their good streak, or fizzle with one standout episode?

We begin with Haley, Phil and Claire out to dinner, where Phil meets a server who totally gets him, the parents make a bunch of stupid jokes, and Haley refuses alcohol for what is probably the first time in her life. Oh, god, she and Dylan are having a baby, aren't they? As if this family couldn't get any crazier.

Anyway, the dinner was instigated by Phil and Claire so that they could be "friends" with their daughter, which sounds really weird. Haley herself notes this. She may not be book smart, but she certainly has a bullshit detector. Phil and Claire have an interview where they explain that they feel Haley needs to think about her future, and rather than yelling at her about it, they will instead talk to her over a friendly dinner. You know, order some nice appies, have a drink or two, then switch the conversation to "move out, you fucking freeloader."

Gloria and Jay are also having dinner, with Jay's friend Shorty (the amazing Chazz Palminteri) and his girlfriend Darlene (played by Jennifer Tilly). Okay, HOW did I never notice that these two excellent and very distinctive actors are reunited on this show? Just get Dianne Wiest and we've got a full Bullets Over Broadway installment. Allow me to fangirl for a moment.


The wine and talk flow freely, and it comes up that Shorty is studying Spanish - because he and Darlene are going to move to Costa Rica. Gloria waxes eloquent about how she'll miss them, Jay disses every aspect of their new home. His wife reminds him to be nice, so he proposes a toast, but manages to sneak in one last dig in the process.

Cameron and Mitchell have snuck off for a romantic dinner together. They explain that they've become kind of tense and crabby lately, so they're going to take an evening to just reconnect and be themselves. Tense and crabby? Cam and Mitchell? Nooooooo. 

So they've set a few ground rules - no talk about the wedding, no talk about Lily - but realize after about four seconds that they have literally nothing to talk about. The silence begins to weigh on them...

Meanwhile, over at Jay and Gloria's, there's not enough silence. Shorty goes on about his great new life, Jay uses pointless details to pick a fight, and soon enough things have escalated. I feel for Jay - it's hard to lose a friend, especially suddenly like that. They throw insults at each other, and eventually Shorty and Darlene make a hilarious exit. Someone give them their own spinoff. As soon as they're gone, Gloria starts in on Jay -

- but we don't get to hear anything she says, because we cut back to Haley and her parents. Phil and Claire have managed to drink all the booze at the table (including Haley's). She explains that she's sober tonight, because drinking with her parents is so not cool - plus she wants to stay one step ahead of them, since they've obviously got some kind of terrible plan up their sleeves. Indeed, as soon as the server leaves, Phil and Claire start dropping hints about how a nice young man like that must be thinking of his future all the time, and how all young people should be like that. When the man returns, however, he reveals that he's kind of a burnout, and offers to sell them some weed. Point Haley.

After he's gone, Haley forces them to be honest with her. They admit that they were sneaky, but it was all because they're worried she has no path. In response, she shows them her fashion blog. It's sponsored, though not much of a moneymaker at this point. She's planning to take a business class soon, and will then open a sandwich shop in the Greendale cafeteria become a stylist. Phil and Claire are impressed, and Haley goes off on the most epic of rants, telling them how she has way more direction at this age than they did, and that at least Grandpa has trusted her enough to drink with her for years now. She then storms out like a perfect diva. Yeah, it's a bit rude, but like with Alex last week, it's been a long time coming, and seeing Haley take the spotlight is a welcome change. I'm surprised to see all this substance from the Dunphy crew lately. Is next week's episode going to be called "Luke's Soliloquy?"

The grooms-to-be have resorted to half-heartedly discussing current events, which Cameron has resorted to reading off his phone. Luckily for them, they strike up a conversation with the nice straight couple (Eddie McClintock and Leslie Grossman) next to them. And wouldn't you know it - the woman is a Missouri farm girl, the guy is kind of uptight, and they're total foodies! It's a match made in heaven. However, as soon as she goes off to the "powder room", the guy asks if they would give them some privacy. He's planning to propose. Everyone squeals for a bit. Cam suggests that he pretend to be texting, while really he's capturing the moment on video. The guy agrees, Mitch expresses some skepticism. The squealing continues regardless.

Manny and Gloria lecture Jay on how he's too macho to admit that he's scared of losing Shorty. "You're the Greatest Generation - but why can't you feel?" Manny laments. Jay reacts with snark, as usual. Gloria demands that he make amends with his best friend before it's too late.

The woman returns from the bathroom, Cam and Mitch try to keep calm, and the guy begins his proposal. While the camera switches back and forth between the two lovebirds, we get hilarious background shots of Cam and Mitch trying to stay impassive. It all goes beautifully - until the woman turns him down. See, she never wants to end up like those married couples who have nothing to say to each other. The man runs out in humiliation. The Tucker-Pritchetts decide to play it safe and talk about Syria instead.

Haley has been coaxed back to dinner, and her parents are drunkenly recalling their children's childhood mishaps. She tells them that they spend too much time worrying about her future when they should really be thinking about theirs. Once the kids are gone, what are they going to do? They insist they'll be fine. Phil stammers out a plan, Claire comes up with something completely opposite. Haley asks more piercing questions. Haley asks for the check, and when Claire realizes she's forgotten her purse, she sweetly picks up the tab. She even offers to drive her inebriated parents home. No question who wins the evening.

Cam and Mitchell tell the woman that they do have things to talk about, but their date suffered because they put too much pressure on the romance. She admits she might have overreacted and asks them if they're married. Mitchell says that really, they've been married for years. They share those special smiles. When her boyfriend comes back, she tells him that she wants what Cam and Mitchell have - and she can't see it with him. She walks out on the date, leaving the three men to sit there awkwardly. Worst of all, Cam's phone keeps replaying the video.

Jay recounts how Mitchell was born prematurely, and during the worst moments, Shorty was always at Jay's side, willing to help him get through it. Mitchell was subsequently given the middle name Vincent after this great friend (and the initials MVP to boot). He tells Gloria and Manny he's going for a drive - only to find Shorty on his doorstep. He left his jacket. While he's there, the two friends assert that they are "good" in the non-committal way that people do after a fight. However, Jay stops him before he can leave. He gives his friend a heartfelt speech about their years of friendship. Shorty is shocked, but gives an equally honest speech in return. They admit they love each other, and will miss each other. And then they actually begin to cry. Manny and Gloria watch contemptuously from the stairs. I kind of want to smack them.

Tag scene: Mitchell and Cameron comfort the dumped guy, but within five seconds, the woman returns. The guys decide they can't win and leave the couple to work it out for themselves.

Unexpectedly, I feel like Modern Family is entering some sort of renaissance. Tonight's episode was excellent, giving new dimensions to Haley, as well as opening more possibilities to Phil and Claire. Their storyline was definitely the standout. Jay's offered some good and honest moments of that special friendship we all hope to have, and gave an unexpectedly emotional ending, even if the "Jay is too macho" storyline has been done quite frequently. Mitchell and Cameron, meanwhile, didn't really have much to do, but provided some laughs. Overall, this show is developing very subtly, after several seasons of contented mediocrity. I'm anxious to see what they bring us next.

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