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'Modern Family' recap: Where there's smoke, there are hot firefighters (and a not-so-funny Benjamin Bratt)

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The first Modern Family episode of 2010 may not have had as many guffaws-per-minute as its already classic Christmas-themed 2009 closer, but I absolutely loved the way a single, wacky plot point — “The firemen in our town have a reputation for being hot,” Phil reported, stone-faced — exposed another inappropriate character trait shared by siblings Claire and Mitchell. Indeed, Julie Bowen takes home the Episode MVP award just for Claire’s combined embarrassed/indignant reaction when Phil (suffering from kidney stones) busted her for changing into a flirty outfit to impress the musclebound hunks who were about to cart him off to the hospital. That goofy development yielded loads of laughs throughout the half-hour, from Phil’s sarcastic reprimand (“We want you looking your sexiest when the hunky gay firemen get here”) to his later request to his kids if he didn’t survive his procedure (“Please be nice to your new fireman daddy.”). Still, the night’s best moment was watching Claire exit anesthetized Phil’s hospital room after trying to convince him that she wasn’t guilty of fireman-baiting, which played out like this:

Phil (groggy): “If I never wake up, I’d hate for the last thing you said to me to be a lie.”

Claire (pausing by the door, waiting for Phil to fall asleep, then practically whispering): “I may have gotten dressed up just a little bit.”

Phil (whoops, not asleep): “I knew it.”

I also liked the painkiller/anesthesia subplot because it allowed Phil to spill some of his dark, innermost thoughts with even less regard than usual for his family’s feelings. Among his best zingers: “Gather round like you’re hugging me, but don’t touch me!” “Death is coming!” And, regarding a seance with hapless Luke, “There wasn’t wind, buddy. We brought something forth!”

At the close of the episode, we got to see Mitchell and Cam act out their own firefighter fantasies — “You call, and I’m gonna change my shirt.” — after the former injured his foot in a battle over Ferberizing baby Lily. Still, the whole Cam-can’t-handle-Lily-crying subplot fell flat (and surprisingly repetitive) after that hilarious initial visual of the burly dad providing weepy harmony to Lily’s baby-monitor howling.

Back at Jay and Gloria’s house, we got a visit from Manny’s dad Javier, played by high-profile guest-star Benjamin Bratt. Much like Edward Norton in the “Great Expectations” episode, though, Bratt’s failure to bring anything fresh or funny to his role only served to highlight the comic strength of Modern Family‘s regular cast, in this instance, Ed O’Neill (“You’re quite the bullfight artist yourself.”), Sofia Vergara (“It’s very important to Manny that you two go have a nice picnic in the mountains.”), and Rico Rodriguez (“Did you catch them with your bare hands?”). And bonus points to Vergara for that blithe slip-up revealing her pre-knowledge of her ex-husband’s plans (“Javier is only going to stay one night.”). Indeed, with the way Modern Family captures the tiny fibs, the petty embarrassments, the tender interactions of everyday life, it’s truly become a show that perfectly lives up to its title.

What did you think of “Up All Night”? What about Bratt’s performance? And did I miss any of your favorite one-liners? (Wait! One more: “Don’t talk black to me!”)

Image Credit: Randy Holmes/ABC

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