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Worldly Distractions: Modern Family 4.23 - Games People Play





The penultimate episode of the season begins, and Claire begins her career. Maybe this modern family won’t be so outdated anymore! Let’s join the Pritchett clan in their usual madcap antics.

Phil calls a “Family Fun Meetingâ€, which piques absolutely no one’s curiosity until he unveils their brand new RV. He got a deal on it as a favour for selling a house to an RV guy, and has already named the vehicle Jolene. They set off on their first adventure in what my dad calls “wuss campingâ€. Phil is already planning an odyssey to Yellowstone Park a few months down the line. Claire is...less than enthusiastic. We cut to her in an interview explaining that she still has to do all the work and will be trapped with the kids all the time to boot. “Winnebag-no!†She hates being the bad guy, she says, but she always has to bring Phil’s great ideas crashing to earth. This includes his pet llama (Jolene). However, this time she feels that the first trip, a short drive up the coast, will be enough to convince him that the Dunphys and an RV don’t mix. Just then Claire feels the need to assure us that she totally loves her kids. Cue the opening credits. (Do you think next season they’ll finally add Baby Joe?)

Lily is getting ready for her first gymnastics competition, and Cameron is a total stage dad (naturally). All must be perfect for his little gymnast, and she’s going along with it – for now. We cut to an interview where Cam explains that they have a brilliant gymnast, and Mitchell clarifies that Lily goes to gymnastics class. Is Mitchell crushing Lily’s spirit, or is Cameron dreaming too big? Time will tell. Back at the meet, a mom notices Lily’s perfect hair and asks in Cameron could possibly do the same for her daughter. He agrees. Never, never, never help your competition, Cameron. Especially not on sitcoms. Gawd! Lily executes a good routine, and the mom hisses to her daughter that she needs to bring her A game. Ah, so she’s Violet Beauregard’s mom from the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, eh? Lily ends up scoring well and might make pre-team! Mitchell thinks that’s great, except he doesn’t know what pre-team is. Still happy though.

Gloria and Jay have arrived at the Dunphy residence to find them away. They’re pissed off. Why yes, it is annoying when your relatives have lives of their own. They’re confused because the cars are there, the Dunphys are not, and they do not yet know about Jolene. (RV, not llama.) Manny is extra concerned because he left his backpack there, which has a poem he needs for a reading. Luckily, Gloria breaks in. And demands that they ask no questions. While Jay goes through the Dunphys’ mail, and Gloria searches the medicine cabinet, Manny actually stays on task. I swear that kid holds the house together. Jay brings out some brownies Cam baked (in a better sitcom, these would be full of weed, as would be the ones in my fridge in Toronto), and from there Manny makes the connection that he actually left his backpack in Jay’s car. D’oh. Gloria assures Manny that she will be there for his poetry reading – which is exactly what Manny feared, because several of his poems have titles like “The Umbilical Nooseâ€.

As they drive along the coast, Phil extols the many features of Jolene. Luke complains about the temperature. “Six minutes in, and it begins,†Claire declares with a smile. Unfortunately, the kids appear to be cooperating, even liking Phil’s classical music. Claire starts to get a bit worried. She decides to up the ante before they get into a real trip and are stuck with “malevolent hellspawn†(whom she loves, by the way). She tries to get in between the sisters, but they just turn it around so Claire is the butt of the joke. Phil happily suggests a coast-to-coast trip. Unfortunately, he isn’t watching the road – and they crash into something.

Mitch and Cam are also out, and Manny is getting desperate. Fortunately, Gloria has outsmarted their burglar alarm. Jay refuses to look in the bedroom, Gloria is suspiciously interested in Cam’s bag, and Manny is once again the Only Sane Man at the tender age of what, fourteen? In the course of their search, Jay and Gloria discover that the guys had a Game Night and invited everyone but them. OUTRAGE.

Cam has fixed another little girl’s hair, and he wishes her well, though he notes that she’s Lily’s best competition. Lily’s on the balance beam. As they watch, Mitchell narrates about what a proud parent he is to see her doing so well. She does an excellent job. Narration-Mitchell starts babbling about scores, and we can see just a teensy bit of the Pritchett competitiveness emerge. Unfortunately, it goeth before a fall – in this case, another little girl’s. Mitchell, a poor winner at best, was actively rooting for her failure. Stay classy, buddy. Cam tries to calm the situation down as the outraged parents converge. His efforts are hampered by one of the moms coming in to say that her daughter’s bun fell apart and clearly Cam rigged it so Lily would win. Lily promptly arrives to announce that she’s in first place. We can forgive Cam and Mitchell for taking the news a little tepidly.

Jay and Gloria discuss how Mitchell and Cam could possibly have excluded them. Manny calls them out on it, which prompts them to remark that he’s “too good†for a teenager and that’s weird. Just then, Jay finds a drawing that could be construed as insulting to them. He decides  to leave them a picture consisting of lips and a donkey, which Gloria takes as “horse mouthâ€. They immediately get into an argument over whether it looks like a donkey or a horse, which leads to Pictionary skills, which goes straight back to their exclusion. Honestly, these two get more insufferable every episode. Just then a delivery man walks in hoping for a signature. To prove some kind of point, Jay draws a cat instead, which just confuses everyone – but the delivery man can identify it, as Jay points out.

The idyllic Dunphy journey continues. Claire can’t figure out why things are going so well when it occurs to her – maybe it’s not the enclosed space. Maybe it’s her influence. (Which makes no sense, because she’s in the RV too...moving on.) Anyway, she feels terrible about her parenting...until a fight suddenly breaks out. Bingo. Phil’s nerves are grating away, the RV is infested with bees, the kids are in hysterics – and Claire, once again, is right. Point to Mom on this one.

The music moves to “In the Hall of the Mountain Kingâ€, like it always does in scenes like this, and Phil desperately tries to salvage his dream trip. He asks Claire to help break it up, and she just points out that there are totally flights to Yellowstone. Pretty soon the words “I told you so†emerge. Phil is grossly offended and accuses her of trying to make a point. He goes on a rant saying he thought his family was better than this, and he was naive to believe they could handle a simple trip. He storms out of the RV – and is stung by a bee on the way out. Way to go, Claire.

Cam and Mitchell are embarrassed and apologetic, paying enormous compliments to the other children at Lily’s expense. The kids all believe they will never beat Lily. Their apology quickly becomes overkill. Mitchell reflects that he’s turning into exactly what he hated in his dad. Cam worries that maybe he didn’t pay enough attention to the other girl’s hair. Just then, the girl Mitch complimented falls off the beam – and Lily runs over and gives her a hug. She then proceeds to undo the other girl’s hair. When the girl’s mother comes up to happily tell them about it, the guys assume that she’s angry, and single out Lily as being unsportsmanlike. They of course give the exact “misunderstanding speech†that they think is wonderful but makes them look like assholes in the right context. They drag Lily away for a time-out, leaving a group of horrified families in their wake. Cut to Lily proudly announcing that she made pre-team...and her dads will get to watch her from outside. Restraining order? Who cares!

Tony the delivery guy has been sucked into Jay and Gloria’s weird Pictionary-exclusion competition, which involves Jay drawing idioms and Gloria being humiliated as she tries to figure it out. Okay, this is just mean-spirited, guys. Manny tells them that they’re both behaving horribly and it’s no wonder that Cam and Mitch left them out. He also manages to point out that the insulting drawing isn’t about them at all. Oops. They set to cleaning, and Narration-Manny reveals that he actually forgot to give them the invitation, but felt like shaming them instead. “Good kidâ€, Gloria? Riiiight. Jay and Gloria talk about their various foibles, apologize, and forgive each other. Gloria’s insecure, Jay’s too competitive. Just like every episode ever. Awww. Manny takes the opportunity to remind them that it’s Trivial Pursuit night at Gloria’s church, and even if it, uh, means they have to miss the poetry reading it’s totally cool if they go. They are convinced. Clever Manny has managed to maneuver his way out of all his troubles. Except the backpack, of course.

As they leave, Jay remarks that he’s glad he didn’t pass his competitive streak to Mitchell. At that moment, Gloria finds their invitation and figures out Manny’s scheme. She’s mortally offended that she wasn’t invited to the poetry, but on the other hand is pretty happy that he’s done something bad for once. Let’s call this one a draw.

Claire and the kids feel awful about Phil. This time, they definitely went too far. Claire admits what she did, and comments on how competitive she is. Where on earth did that come from? Outside, Phil meets up with a bunch of other stressed-out RV dads who are having a hell of a time with their kids. It becomes clear that taking a family RV trip through the US is some kind of existential hell worthy of a Bergman film.

From the RV, Alex comments that Phil seems to be side-hugging some guys. They start talking about Yellowstone, or “Jellystone†in Haley’s words. Luke says he can’t go because he has...stuff. A girlfriend! That means a girlfriend, right? Claire picks up on this right away. However, the truth is kind of sad – Luke has to go to summer school. He feels awful, especially because teachers expect him to be like Alex. She tries to comfort him, saying she would have tutored him, but he says he feels isolated from his sisters, especially since Alex is growing up. Turns out she’s juggling two guys, Aaron and...Alex. Heh. Oh, wait, Aaron is Erin and is a girl. But Alex is a boy. Okay, once that’s straightened out, Alex says she wound up getting dumped and didn’t want to tell her mom because she was busy with the house flip. Haley admits that she auditioned to be a Laker Girl, but failed. So there has been a general lack of communication in the Dunphy household, and they’ve all suffered for it. Alex asks to see Haley’s routine.

With the RV dads, Phil has found a community. He thanks them for their understanding and goes back to tell Claire she was right. He leaves the men to their despair (side note: I think one of them’s either Canadian or Minnesotan). Just then, Claire jumps out to tell him that they’ve actually talked for the first time in ages, and it’s all because they were forced into the RV together. Maybe some time together is exactly what they need. He walks in on Haley teaching her siblings the routine and is delighted. The Dunphys are a family again, and the trip is back on – all thanks to Jolene.

The tag scene shows Luke fighting his way through pre-algebra so he can pass the class and go on the trip. At first it appears that Phil is tutoring him, but he’s actually helping Haley with her routine. Alex is the tutor. All is well in the Land of Dunphy. Phil tells her to be quiet, they’re doing something important. Alex gets that look on her face – we all know it.

All in all? Two storylines were pretty good. Having come from the world of competitive (music) parents, I can attest to a lot of reality in Cam and Mitch’s storyline – and it was funny as hell. Far from comedically crippling them, Lily gives them some of their best adventures. Thumbs down to Jay and Gloria’s storyline, which was mean-spirited, confusing and just plain – dumb. They deserve better. Work on it, writers. As for the Dunphys, they took MVP for me this week, combining pathos, humor, and character development in a way relatable to any family who’s been on vacation together. The RV dads alone made my sitcom week. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to Claire’s new job, but then again, we have the season finale. See you next week for one more dose of America’s silliest family before their well-deserved summer break.


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