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'Modern Family' recap: Planes, big-box chains, and family ordeals

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modern-family_dlWhile last night’s Modern Family didn’t quite make me double over with laughter the way its first two episodes did, it nonetheless pulled off the trick of effortlessly straddling the territory between absurdist humor (Ed O’Neill’s Jay smashing a remote-control plane into son-in-law Phil’s face) and genuinely moving (Julie Bowen’s Claire giving dad Jay a conciliatory kiss on the head to thank him for an act of kindness toward her injured husband). Plus, it’s not as if there weren’t plenty of laughs in this episode, which focused on unexpected pairings — Jay and Phil; Claire and her grade-school stepbrother Manny; Claire’s daughter Alex and Jay’s hot young wife Gloria; and, of course, Mitchell and Costco.

If I had to hand out a trophy for episode MVP, it’d go to Sofia Vergara as Gloria who, behind the ridiculous beauty and thick accent, is a rather complicated character — maternal enough to push for regular family outings (whether or not her husband and his children want ’em); savvy enough to cut through Alex’s wall of insecurities in one short lunch; and vain enough to ban the word “step” in describing her new family relations, except when she’s slapped with the “grandmother” label. I also love her confessionals with Jay, where her blithely fawning comments about her deadbeat ex (“Once, on a dare, he even boxed with an alligator”) are equal parts innocent reminiscence and pointed reminder to her new (and older) spouse that he’d better appreciate he’s with a woman who at least from a superficial standpoint, could definitely be doing better. Vergara (who was terrific even on the short-lived Hot Properties) proved just as funny in her scenes opposite Ariel Winter (as Alex), a pint-sized actress who doesn’t exhibit any of the cloying tendencies so common among child actors. In fact, Winter’s eyebrow raise (embedded below) after Gloria answered her question about how many men she’d slept with — “Eight. Next.” — scored one of the biggest laughs of the night. Ditto for Alex’s reason for not wanting to borrow a hand-me-down dress from her older sister: “No. That sends an ugly message. That I’m Haley.”

Interestingly enough, earthy Gloria’s 10-year-old son Manny seems to have already inherited his mother’s therapeutic gifts, as his playdate with trampoline-obsessed “nephew” Luke turned into a sweet heart-to-heart with Claire. It’s nice to see the latter character finally have an “adult” to play off of, in light of the fact that her husband is little more than an overgrown child. (Exhibit A: The “next level” conversation, embedded below.) Hopefully, Claire’s white lie about Manny having had a great time with Luke will lead to future big-sis/little-bro interactions.

As for the remainder of the episode, while I’m not sure I buy Jay purposely doing bodily harm to his son-in-law — maybe he should’ve just grazed Phil’s head or hit him in the leg? — I did enjoy Phil’s confessional comparing their relationship to silverback apes in the jungle, and in particular the image of the female apes (Claire) “presenting their nice scarlet behinds.” The Cameron-Mitchell trip to Costco, meanwhile, turned out to be the least successful segment of the night, perhaps because the “eww I hate big-box stores till I actually go into one” shtick seems like it passed its expiration date back in 1999.

What did you think of Modern Family last night? How about that insane story of Gloria’s, about dressing Manny as a girl and her lie about his “twin” sister, that closed the episode? Give your own review in the comments section below!