After last week’s trip to Disneyland, the Pritchett-Dunphys returned to familiar territory on all counts: Alex, Luke and Manny having school-related crises, Phil and Mitchell in workplace mode, motherly Claire and Cam struggling to understand each other’s parenting techniques, and Jay and Gloria in a domestic squabble. If you look at the beats that this episode hit with its plots — school, work, parenting and marriage — it’s easy to remember why this show is so identifiable week after week, and also easy to understand the symbolism of tonight’s thematic tie-in: Norman Rockwell’s seminal familial American painting, “Freedom from Want.”
Alex recruited each of her family members to help her recreate “living art” for a class (in the hopes of impressing an attractive teacher who doesn’t return her admiration). The task was to re-enact the painting, which the family did both physically and figuratively by tackling the different arenas of modern American family life in their own respective storylines. Let’s see what made the nuclear family tick this week!
On the workplace: Phil and Mitchell faced trouble in the office, but not with their respective companies. Phil feared that he had to fire Mitchell, who had volunteered to help out with some legal work at his brother-in-law’s agency, after co-workers had complained that Mitchell was lazy and had an attitude. As Phil struggled to pull the trigger on Mitchell’s employment, Mitchell had his own brand of hesitation. Upon realizing that he had taken on too much extra responsibility, Mitch needed to back down, but not without hurting Phil’s feelings. In a tizzy of panic (and frequent “stress blinking”), Phil praised Mitchell and Mitchell stayed loyal to Phil, with neither man really meaning what he said.
As Mitchell strolled up to Phil’s office, the most realtor of Dunphys panicked and hustled Mitch back into the elevator. Right before the doors shut, he shouted, “You’re fired!” to the stunned ginga’ ninja… only the elevator doors didn’t shut, and for the next two hours, Mitchell had to listen to Phil’s co-workers walk by and reveal their real feelings about ousted Mitchell, namely his sass and laziness. It didn’t help matters, of course, that Mitchell went fetal in the elevator while waiting for help to arrive.
On parenting: Claire and Cam teamed up in la cucina de Dunphy to prepare the food for Alex’s living art project, only the conversation centered less on turkey cooking and more on how Lily was being raised. Lily’s at an obsessive stage where she constantly flips lightswitches, whether they be to actual lights or, in the case of Claire’s kitchen, to garbage disposals. When Claire scolds Lily, Cam insists that they not use the word “no” when in front of Lily, as part of a new parenting technique. Well, after raising three children with ample use of the negative, Claire scoffed at the newfangled technique and blamed modern society for its ridiculous new kid-friendly ways of child-rearing.
It was only after Cam got his hand stuck in the garbage disposal that Claire had her parental adversary trapped and forced to be lectured. As Lily neared closer and closer to the garbage disposal switch, Claire taunted Cam and continued to let him learn the hard lesson that sometimes, traditional parenting methods are simply the right ones. (For a split second there, did anyone think that some awful, Final Destination-esque moment could actually happen on this show?) Cam removed his arm and realized that Claire had been screwing with him all along, which of course caused some resentment on Cam’s part later on.
NEXT: On school and marriage