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Worldly Distractions: Modern Family 5.20 - Australia


crazyforkate

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Well, it's another Modern Family travel episode. So far we've done Hawaii, Disneyland (barely travel), Vegas, Florida, and a dude ranch, and probably some more I've forgotten. This year, the entire gang is off to Australia. Let the stereotypes begin!

We get the classic "down under" picture, taken by Manny in view of the Opera House and starring Luke - which warrants Jay to quickly admit that he dropped his grandson on his head many years ago. Naturally, Phil has to join in. During an interview, in between Men at Work quotes, he explains why they've gone south. Apparently, during his parents' honeymoon, he was conceived on a picnic blanket in Sydney, and his mom left him money to take his family there, because that's not the creepiest thing you've heard today. (Apparently, Phil does have family there and stuff, so it's not completely terrible. Yet.) The rest of the family has tagged along, due to a significant increase in ABC's budget desire to see the world. Also, Phil still has the blanket. On his marital bed. Um.

Alex is a pain-in-the-ass narrator (she thinks her fancy vacation will help her get into college), while Phil happily scarfs down Vegemite. Thanking his family for joining him on the trip, he unveils a list of things that they're supposed to do in Oz, all of which appear to be hundreds of miles apart from each other (American geography at work again). They all immediately ditch him. Cam and Mitch are off to lunch with an annoying Australian friend from long ago, while Claire is finally getting some work-related praise from her father. Naturally, the two teenaged boys are off to topless Bondi Beach, though the Opera House is also on Manny's list. Unfortunately, the adults decide to accompany them. Phil shows up with swollen lips. Yep - he's allergic to Vegemite. Opening credits, and already this episode is barely holding together. That's got to be a record.

Everyone heads to the beach, where Gloria calls her mom in LA (she's babysitting Joe) and I salivate at the thought of being able to waste so much money. Manny and Luke make a flimsy excuse to sneak off to the clothing-optional section. To be honest, this entire plot seems really out of character for Manny, who is the last teenaged boy on earth to get into the "BOOBS BOOBS BOOBS" mindset, but eh, I'll let it go. Alex continues her dumb narration. Surely she could choose something better than "going on vacation to a country with a very similar culture on Grandma's money". Haley is hit on by a hot surfer, but explains to Alex that in this surfer-populated country she's smart to be picky. Meanwhile, Lily tries to buy a stuffed kangaroo, but is warned by her cousins not to spend her paltry souvenir money on the first thing she sees. Oh, boy, this plot is going to be suspenseful.

Claire and Jay get an emergency phone call from work. They've been outbid on a prospective deal, and need to quickly run back to the hotel and craft a new bid. Angry at being abandoned, Gloria takes Phil on a long walk down the beach, to Phil's delight. Cam and Mitch go to lunch with their weird friend Fergus (Rhys Darby). He's still strange as ever, and they keep trying to get out of it. However, they soon find out that he's a locally famous talk show host. Naturally, they decide to stick around, thus putting them in the running for Worst Friends Ever.

On their walk, Gloria and Phil discuss their reasons for the trip, and Gloria confesses how much she empathizes with Phil's longing to connect with his lost mother. To be honest, though I could do without the Phil-has-a-crush jokes (which seem to be getting lighter, thankfully), the two characters have managed to form a pretty interesting friendship. Their scenes can be surprisingly deep, and funny, too. Oddly enough, I feel like Phil is one of the few characters who treats Gloria as a person rather than a walking accent, which the writers are all too keen to encourage. The scene is abruptly interrupted when Phil gets bitten by something - most likely a jellyfish, from what I can tell, though considering the kind of jellyfish Australia tends to have, it's surprising that he lives long enough to run along the beach, especially since it gets both his hand and foot. This is not Phil's week, is it?

Manny and Luke finally manage to locate a pair of boobs, but when Luke runs into the surf to follow them, a big wave comes along and rips off his bathing suit, which I have literally never heard of before. What, did it reach out with its wave hands and pants him? While he's screaming in terror, Beautiful Topless Woman chooses this moment to ask if he's okay. Manny helpfully explains the problem. She sweetly offers to look for it, throwing on her goggles and commenting on how clear the water is. And here we have every teenage boy's nightmare.

Cam and Mitch continue to exploit their famous friend, riding around town in his limo and getting special privileges at zoos and nightclubs. They've abandoned their daughter to the care of their teenage nieces, who continue to counsel her on souvenirs while she counsels them on boys. Claire and Jay are getting along better than ever, united by their shared workaholism. Phil, miraculously still alive, tries to drag the entire family to the bush. Luke is AWOL, presumably having drowned himself from embarrassment. Cam and Mitch decide to ditch the expedition to hang out with Fergus (and Hugh Jackman).

In the woods, the entire family (including Luke, though minus Cam and Mitch) march along the paths and complain about nature. Alex in particular is annoying, reading out her magical experiences on her digital recorder. It's AUSTRALIA, for a VACATION. If she tried working in Russia I'm sure she'd flee in a week. Phil annoys the shit out of their guide. Claire and Jay continue to sneak work in between gawking at trees. They decide to ditch their family to finish the deal, so Jay takes a page from Frank Underwood's book. Pushing Claire off the path, he claims she's hurt, so they have to leave. Actually, she is hurt. Naturally, their spouses see right through it. Ditching a vacation for work. Am I a horrible person for kind of hoping they step on a live taipan on their way home?

Cam and Mitch arrive at the boat to find that Fergus has been exiled from Hugh's inner circle. He insulted Russell Crowe in Les Mis, though come on, that's fair game if I ever saw it. Observe:

And to be fair, Cam and Mitch are on my side. Unfortunately, the Jackman boat has already sailed. We get a joke about the New Zealand pronunciation of "deck" (Fergus is a Kiwi). They decide to strike out on their own, much to Cam and Mitch's reluctance, and hire a rickety little raft-thing with a motor. Truly, it is hell.

On the walk, Phil is in terrible pain and about to give up when Gloria points out a kangaroo (or is it one of Australia's zillion knock-off species?). To her, it's a sign that his mother's spirit is still with them. Having learned absolutely nothing this trip, Phil approaches the animal, and I wonder if this season might not take a dark twist after all. He approaches the creature, who of course claws him, though fortunately it's with the front paws instead of the hind.

Haley, Alex and Lily manage to stumble across a souvenir stand, where Lily goes insane over a giant pile of stuffed animals. As she digs through the boxes, Haley comments that watching her is excellent birth control. Lily finally settles on a purple koala. However, when it's time to buy, she hesitates. Haley tells her not to worry, she'll never find anything better, just as Haley never found a hotter lifeguard. The moment she pays for Lily's souvenir, though, a cuter boy immediately turns up at the stand. Lily returns the koala.

Manny and Luke are still dealing with the trauma of their first boob glimpse. Their guide, who is Aboriginal, invites them on a Walkabout, saying it's men-only. When they protest that they're not really men, he insists that it's all the more reason. I have no idea if this is acceptable by local standards, though a quick Google search tells me that there are Walkabouts offered to tourists, so I'm going to give the writers the benefit of the doubt and hope they did their research. As the guide helps them prepare with traditional face paint, Luke dismisses it as "makeup". Charming.

Cam and Mitch have now abandoned their friend, and are on their way to rejoin the family. Or they would be if the cab hadn't broken down. Just as they're wondering if they'll be at the side of the road forever, a whole bunch of bikers pull up. At first, things look tense, with Mitchell even referring to Cam as his "friend" - though Cam puts a stop to that nonsense pretty quickly. Fortunately, the bikers turn out to be as gay as Dumbledore, and offer to reunite them with Lily as quickly as possible (as long as Cam tells them where he got his shoes). What, can't straight bikers be gay-friendly too? Reactionary Family rides again.

Gloria heads back to the campsite, where she finds Jay and Claire hunched over a laptop. She flips out at Claire for abandoning her husband while he's on such a spiritually important journey. Phil is a total mess, since getting punched by a kangaroo is not exactly healthy, so Claire rushes to his side once Gloria shames her enough. A dingo runs off with Claire's laptop (no, I'm not making this up), to which Claire shrieks that a "wild dog" took it. Alex comments that it seems like a missed opportunity. I'm just relieved they didn't go for the obvious dingo-baby joke, since it's tasteless enough as is. She runs after it. Phil refuses to join her, telling her that she's on her own "like I've been this whole trip". Ouch.

Meanwhile, Gloria yells at Jay for travelling halfway across the world, even leaving the baby, and not spending a moment away from work. She even mentions First Wife. Again, ouch. To cool off, Phil walks over to the sea, where he gets attacked by a biting insect and meets a Mysterious Figure. He confides in the man that he feels rejected by Australia. The man's response is to show off all his Australia-related scars. He tells Phil that his scars mean he's part of Australia, not just a tourist. Phil, of course, does not miss an opportunity to declare himself "Crocodile Dunphy". This doesn't endear him to his new friend. Phil thinks he hears a kookaburra, but when he turns to ask the man, he finds empty space.

Jay follows Claire, who is hysterical about the laptop, and advises her to let things go. They decide to spend more time with their families, and share a Hug of Finally Finding Priorities. The bikers show up with Cam and Mitch. This is good news for the koala-toting Lily, who has probably forgotten she has parents at this point. Haley's hooked up with the cute Aussie dude, the boys feel like men now (strutting Bondi Beach with confidence), and everything is great. They do all the stuff on Phil's bucket list, while Alex narrates and everyone tells her to STFU.

Tag scene - they fly Qantas "from Australia to Los Angeles", because apparently only Americans deserve cities. Jay and Gloria take first class seats, much to the family's resentment. Cam and Mitch wonder if perhaps they've seen Hugh Jackman up there. In fact, Cam goes to investigate, but Jay has him kicked out. Lily just sighs.

Okay, so they flew them around the world for that? The whole show felt shallow as hell - no funny moments, no time to develop any of the story, no real characterization. Instead, it was a bunch of lukewarm Aussie jokes we've all heard a hundred times. Perhaps too many storylines were crammed into the episode, and a two-parter (like they did with Hawaii) might have worked out better. As it was, the episode provided nothing of real substance. I give this one a definite thumbs down. Will next week be better?

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