One of the best things Modern Family does is… oh, wait a sec, you do know what a wedge salad is, right? It’s a piece of iceburg lettuce, sliced into the shape of a wedge, most often smothered in blue cheese dressing, some tomato, maybe some crumbled blue cheese and bacon.
Okay, so as I was saying, Modern Family excels at making comedy out of those moments in a marriage that could become deal-breakers. Last night, it was the salad that drove a wedge between Ty Burrell’s Phil and Julie Bowen’s Claire. The episode began with the aftermath of a marital spat — Claire had slept on the sofa, the house and her hair were a mussy mess. Then the half hour took us back, in little skips of time, to reveal what had caused the unhappiness in the Dunphy household.
At its center was Claire’s deeply held belief that Phil didn’t just not listen to her — what hurt was something more specific. He didn’t seem to appreciate her opinions, whether about the deliciousness of a wedge salad or a good novel she’d read. Instead, he was far more open to the suggestions of others, even when friends were talking about the same things Claire had been praising.
Burrell was terrific, as always, but Bowen really owned this episode. As I’ve said before, she has the trickiest role on Family: Her Claire is intelligent and efficient (to compensate for a wild youth), the one with the least showy eccentricities, and the one with the greatest control issues (yes, hers even surpass those of her brother, Mitchell. She could be, in short, a pill — the character we want everyone else to prove wrong.
Instead, Bowen has found a way to make Claire’s frustrations strong and true (when the plot calls for it, as it did last night) or wobbly and silly (as her perfectionist streak sometimes becomes).
That fight Claire had with Phil was well worth fighting: He does need to listen to her opinions more. It was the most satisfying plot of the night. (I thought the Gloria karaoke joke was a little, er, one-note, saved by Ed O’Neill delivering lines like “We passed two cars, the dogs stuck their heads back inside the window,” and the Mitchell and Cam party-invitation fiasco was, like a number of Mitchell-Cam subplots this season, both ostentatiously far-fetched and not quite funny enough.)
But Bowen, throwing her all into her irritation with her lovable husband — and then find near-orgasmic release in a mall massage chair — was wonderful to behold.
I hate blue cheese, but really liked Modern Family last night. How about you?