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Worldly Distractions: Modern Family 4.18 – “The Wow Factor�





Ah, Modern Family, we meet again. Darling of the Emmys, prince of ratings, fan favourite of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney alike. And yet, somehow your lustre has dimmed. Is it simply backlash? An acclimatization to your brand of humour? Or simply a dip in quality from four years on the air? Let’s take a look at tonight’s episode and see.

We cold open with Claire and Cam trying to flip their house, complete with Cam’s girliest screech. Is it just me, or have the guys been getting more fabulous with each episode? Flanderization imminent. If not already established. Anyway, it looks like they’re in over their heads. Budget arguments ensue. Oddly enough, the cold open doesn’t end with a sting. (And when are they adding Fulgencio Joe to the opening credits?)

Phil: What did I say about eating things for money?

Luke: Charge the most and people will think you’re worth it!

Phil and the kids are enjoying an ordinary day, cleaning the kitchen – or at least trying. Alex can’t sweep and Haley doesn’t understand the concept of stepstools (Flanderization! Take another drink!) Phil decides his kids need to be self-sufficient, so he’s going to teach them all the basics of housecleaning. More physical comedy from Phil? YES! They could change Modern Family to The Phil Show, and I wouldn’t mind one bit. Ty Burrell is one of the most gifted comic actors working. Somebody give that magnificent bastard another dozen Emmys.

Cut to Gloria cooing at the baby in Spanish, and a racist remark from Jay. Why do these two stay married again? Manny has been eating al fresco, and Gloria worries he’s too isolated because of the new baby. Jay decides to take father-son time with Joe so that Gloria can spend some time with Manny. Jay+baby = another promising storyline. Meanwhile, Gloria and Manny are off to a stage reading of Moby Dick, allowing ample time for Manny’s nerdy pursuits. I’m getting into this episode, I must admit.

Mitch drops Lily off at kindergarten, where she points out a “mean kid†who always beats her at handball. Do we get to see Mitch vs a five-year-old? Okay, this episode is going to be awesome! The mean kid, Milo, is a big stickler to rules, which annoys Mitchell. They get into a rivalry, which ends up with Milo challenging Mitchell to a game. Yes. Yes, I can see it now...

...and of course Mitch is soundly defeated. Lily pretends not to be related to him. That kid is such a perfect snarker, she’d fit right in on this forum.

Claire and Cam are still fighting about the house – Cam falling decidedly on the side of ostentatious, while Claire is actually thinking of a budget. They end up fighting about each others’ manipulative ways, and Claire throws an insult with the word “flaming†in it. Ooh.

Predictably, baby Joe is freaking out (and is adorable! OMG). Jay can’t handle it. He ends up taking the baby to “baby class†– some yuppie thing, I guess? – where he runs into Rachel, one of Claire’s high school friends. Ouch. After a brief discussion about Jay’s adorable baby vs Rachel’s two hellion sons, Jay ends up taking the baby to the new James Bond movie.

BRIEF PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Anyone who brings a baby to an action movie deserves to get their ass kicked. Now, back to our regular programming.

Phil is continuing to teach the girls how to houseclean (where’s Luke?), and they are not having any of it. I swear, Haley gets dumber every episode. We get it, writers! In an attempt to try to teach the girls how to work the water heater (is he going to blow up the house?), Phil ends up destroying it. Cue snark from Alex and stupid from Haley. Come on, Phil, at least give us a pratfall or something!

Unable to solve his argument with Claire, Cam brings in Pam – his nemesis, one of the lesbian moms from Lily’s school earlier this season, and a contractor – who is played by the delightful Wendi McLendon-Covey of Bridesmaids fame. He really should have thought this through, because Pam is instantly hot for Claire (then again, who isn’t in love with Julie Bowen?) and forgets all about Cam’s side of the argument.

Back at James Bond, Joe is in tears and the theatregoers are all pissed at Jay. Well, no duh, I wish I was there just to throw him out. Claire’s friend Rachel offers to take him outside (“Once Daniel Craig put his shirt back on, I lost interestâ€), which he gratefully accepts.

In his drive for self-reliance, Phil insists that they have to fix the water heater themselves, or so he claims. Sending the girls out of the house to get a screwdriver, he immediately calls for help – or rather, his dad (Fred Willard). Silly Phil, always has to save face!

Mitch shows up at Luke’s school and begs for help with handball, in order to win a rematch with Milo. Luke accepts. One of my favourite gags in this series is Luke’s irrational hatred of Lily - “As if there’s any emotion in those eyes.†(I must admit, she seems a bit of a sociopath at times.)

Meanwhile, Cam and Claire are still at war, with Cam insisting on ever-more ostentatious decorations, and Claire finding excuses to slip out of her clothes in front of Pam. This makes room for more taunts from her brother-in-law, who is as determined as possible to keep Pam from finding her attractive. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work.) Claire is playing into this as much as possible – I don’t think I’ve seen her this flirtatious with Phil. Pam is totally aware of Claire’s gambit, but is enjoying it and hates Cam to boot, so she’s all too happy to be on Claire’s side. The verdict is in: the fountain is too expensive, Claire wins. Cue a hiss of “Lesbians!†from under Cam’s breath.

Back at the mall, Gloria and Manny walk by the theatre (Moby Dick was sold out) and happen to catch Rachel with baby Joe. Jay is immediately dragged from the theatre by his irate wife. Drama time!

Phil’s dad has helped repair the water heater via Skype. When Phil protests that he feels silly, his dad replies that no, it’s great, it makes him feel needed. They share a few Dunphy jokes. The girls come back with a wrench rather than a screwdriver, thoroughly pissed off, and immediately demand that he fix the car. Phil concludes that it isn’t so bad to need help after all. Awww.

Manny interrupts Gloria and Jay’s inevitable argument by announcing that Moby Dick wasn’t sold out, after all. His mother is a liar! Gasp!  None of them know how to raise a child properly. What a mystery.

We’re back for Round 2 of Milo vs Mitchell. Mitch gets a point, and instantly begins taunting his five-year-old opponent all through to his win. Stay classy, Mitch. Cut to Mitch and Lily solemnly announcing that Cam will be doing the pickups for a while.

Cam unveils to Pam and Claire that – he went ahead with the fountain anyway! The women are horrified that he “went rogueâ€, but as soon as he turns the fountain on, they’re done. It’s beautiful. At least until the goldfish get sucked into the drainage system and start exploding. Three screaming people run around covered in fountain water and fish guts. Beautiful.

Now we get the Jay Voice-Over Moral of the Story. Life is weird. Phil has fixed the water heater, Mitchell continues to taunt kindergartners, and Jay is reading from Moby Dick...to both boys. Awwww.

The stinger involves Luke and Mitch practicing handball. Luke is the cruelest coach around, and Mitchell is cowering like a scared little boy. Holy uncle abuse, batman!

This episode was fair. None of the storylines really paid off comically speaking, but they were very sweet, and we had some great character moments. So has the show lost it? I don’t think so – they can be off and on, but there’s quality behind it. Modern Family still has all the ingredients, no question. How they come together is what determines their success.

For FJ’s Modern Family discussion thread, click here.




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