This week, I think it was Ed O’Neill. Hey, next week, it could be Julie Bowen. Or Jesse Tyler Ferguson. That’s how good Modern Family is proving to be.

But this week, I have to hand it to Ed O’Neill. He’s been terrific as middle-aged grump Jay, married to the younger Gloria (and how quick and clever was Sofia Vergara last night as well?). O’Neill, who spent years doing drama to put some distance from his career-making role in Married… With Children, is working at a whole new level now. His Jay isn’t a heftier version of Al Bundy — Jay is a completely different comic creation. O’Neill isn’t playing Jay as your average sitcom guy having a mid-life crisis with a hotsy second wife. Instead, he’s made Jay a quietly happy but complicated and confused man. Sure, he’s pleased he was able to attract someone like Gloria, but he’s a man who sees how complicated life is. He knows he’s got his work cut out for him, being a stepfather to the clever but troubled Manny and re-wiring his old-straight-guy preconceptions about gay men in getting closer to his son, Mitchell, and Mitchell’s boyfriend, Cameron.

O’Neill anchored this week’s episode, about a family gathering at Jay’s house to watch a football game. Whether complaining about the amount of coffee Manny drank in the morning or advising everyone to avoid talking about their feelings (“That’s the worst thing you could do… Just sweep it under the rug”), Jay is a 20th-century guy coping with 21st-century social culture. It leads him into situations he could never have forseen, such as the scene in which he asked Mitchell and Cameron whether they found him attractive. When he said gruffly, “I know I’m not Erik Estrada or anything, but… ” I both laughed and felt a little ache for Jay’s sweet insecurity.

Jay is still the kind of man who thinks you settle a squabble between two boys by cuffing the ears of both of them and sending them on their way. (Manny and Luke deserved it.)

The terrific thing about Modern Family is that everyone has his or her reasons for doing the things they do. And Ed O’Neill knows what makes his character tick as well as any actor on TV.

Did you watch Modern Family this week? What did you think?

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