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'Modern Family' recap: A new holiday classic

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The wonderful thing about Modern Family is how well the writers handle the ensemble cast: You never feel like a story line gets the short-end of the stick. Sure, after watching last night’s Christmas episode, you’re probably thinking you could have watched an entire half hour on Cam’s battle vs. the New Greensleevers, his former caroling troupe. And we’re really going to need to see Fred Willard, who guested as Phil’s Dad via Skype from Florida, in the same room as Ty Burrell, because that is inspired casting. (Also, could Burrell please be wearing another blue Henley, pictured, when that happens? Phil looked hellahot last night. There, I said it.) But this is one of those holiday episodes we will look forward to seeing each year when the show goes into syndication.

Cam’s hatred for the vocal group that he founded and had been subsequently kicked out was the gift that kept on giving. “Somebody needs to get into the holiday— son of a bitch,” he said, first encountering them in the mall where Mitchell was impatiently waiting in line to introduce Lily to Santa. (He ultimately got a Santa fired because he wasn’t fat enough for Lily to photographed with on her first Christmas. Feeling guilty, Cam invited the man back to their house for Christmas Eve dinner. Nice twist when we found out that Santa had known it was them who got him fired all along and that he’d forgiven them.) Other zingers that made this Cam’s best episode to date:

• “[To Mitchell] The New Greensleevers? Is there a slap mark on my face? I mean why is Edna singing the low harmony? It’s like people are applauding out of shock.”

• “[To Mitchell] I didn’t know Christmas made you so petty.  [To the New Greensleevers] Lackluster!…I hate you!”

• “[To fired Santa] Merry Christmas to you, too, and Happy — son of a bitch.” (The New Greensleevers showed up on his street. Cam threatened to turn on the sprinklers. Santa suggested he forgive them. “[To Santa] Scott, you don’t understand. This group was my DreamGirls. I was Effie.”

Elsewhere, Phil, who you know loves the holiday almost as much as Clark W. Grisw0ld does, took away Christmas (the tree, the stockings hung by the chimney by Claire, everything) because none of his kids would confess to making the cigarette burn on the sofa. “Don’t worry, we’re going to have Christmas,” he told Claire, who was amazed that he’d picked THIS moment to follow through on one of his big pronouncements.” We raised our kids right. Whoever did it will come forward. Or the other two will rat him out.” Luke confessed, but only because Alex told him that they all would confess and their parents would be touched that they stuck together. Luke recanted when the girls hung him out to dry. (We got to see Phil’s back muscles through the Henley when he was carrying the tree back out of the house, so I’m not complaining. Was I attracted to Griswold, too? I’ll be doing some soul-searching later today…) Alex finally confessed and made it quite convincing (she’d found a cigarette at school). Christmas morning, when the couch started smoking again, they realized it was the sun hitting an ornament on the tree. Family hug. And to apologize for calling his kids liars, Phil promised them a trip to Italy.

Meanwhile, Jay fought with Gloria and Manny over their new family’s Christmas traditions: Jay wanted it to be exactly as it had been when his kids were young; Gloria and Manny wanted to keep some of their Colombian customs which apparently include pranks and fireworks. My favorite moment was watching Jay argue the logic of Jesus being the one to bring the gifts in their country: “How would you sit on the baby Jesus’ lap? You’d squish it.” Second favorite moment: Manny informing Gloria that he’d go along with Jay’s plan, but, “If this so-called Santa Claus doesn’t bring me a burgundy dinner jacket, we’re going to have a big problem.” Of course that’s what he’d want. Seeing Manny hug Jay when he finally came around to combining their traditions, priceless. But because this show does sweet, not sappy, we cut to commercial before you could even say “Ah.” Like Jay said in his voiceover, it’s the non-traditional holidays you really remember: The year mom and dad went crazy, the year Santa punched out a caroler (after Cam’s nemesis said even Cam’s apology was off-key). What’s your favorite Christmas memory? I’m going to go with the year my dad left all the stickers on the multiple bottles of perfume he bought my mother, sister, and I and added numbers to the front of the prices to make them look more expensive. He thought it was hilarious.

Photo credit: Adam Taylor/ABC