The gauntlet has been thrown down for the flat-out funniest line of the 2010-2011 television season, and it begins with “My white-man name is Tucker.” Not to over-intellectualize a moment that had me screaming with laughter, gasping for a breath, and frantically rewinding my DVR so I could hear it again (and then again!), but it’s Modern Family‘s balancing act between the absurd and the relatable that has made it a sitcom for the ages. (And no, five episodes into its second season, it’s not too early to be throwing around phrases like “for the ages,” or “classic,” or whatever other historical superlative you want to apply to it.)
“Unplugged” didn’t quite have the mushy center of, say, last week’s “We fall a lot. Maybe you can be there to pick us up when we do” moment — in other words, I didn’t get a lump in my throat during the half-hour — but let’s be honest: When two roads diverge in a comedy writer’s office, sometimes you want ’em to take the one more hilarious. (It makes all the difference, if you know what I’m saying.) And indeed, all three of our modern families last night ended up with story arcs that were full of unexpected/genius forks and bends.
In the Pritchett-Delgado home, Gloria and Manny were being kept up by a neighbor’s relentlessly barking pooch. “I don’t get how one dog keeps you awake when you grew up sleeping through cockfights and revolutions,” cracked Jay and his “old-man hearing.” I saw those previews for the episode where the grouchy dog owner compared Gloria to a screeching parrot (“Jay!” “JAY!” “JAAYYY!”), but when her voice activated that car alarm, I guffawed all over again. Still, when the dog went silent, Jay and Manny began to get suspicious, and it didn’t help that Gloria was bathed in horror-movie lighting in the garage (or that she once killed a rat with a shovel — wearing her Sunday best! — and left its head in the alleyway as a warning to his fellow vermin). Manny’s life lessons made a lot of sense — “Don’t skimp on linens. Don’t compliment a teacher on her figure. And when it comes to my mom, never ask questions I don’t want the answers to.” — but when it was all said and done, the exotic bird turned out to be a hero, sending the dog to “a better place.” No, not like that! “Now the dog is happy, Manny can sleep, and we have peee-kles.” Well when you put it like that!
Meanwhile, the Dunphys engaged in a showdown to see who could be master of their analog domains, swearing off computers, cellphones, and video games and instead spending time napping, building impressive structures out of the contents of the recycling bin, and knocking vases of flowers to the floor. There were so many brilliant little zingers and visuals packed into this plot thread, one that I suspect every family can relate to. How many of us complain almost daily about being overly “plugged in,” only to rush home and cuddle up with our email, our DVR, and our iPod? I loved watching Claire have a psychotic breakdown booking a vacation with an automated phone attendant. “Representative! Representative! Representative!” And Haley’s super-sneaky triumph over her parents — she spent two days talking to a bar of soap! — was the uproarious essence of a teenager applying herself when the incentives finally got high enough.
NEXT: The Artist Sometimes Known as Fizbo tops our list of 10 Best Moments/Lines from “Unplugged.”