Luke and Manny's science project unleashes the family's competitive spirit.
Credit: Petter Hopper Stone/ABC
Mitch and Cam, Modern Family

Families are made up of the people who can withstand our screams, our lies, and our deep-seated hopes of one day defeating them in a public arena. That might sound negative, but it’s true: Love isn’t always expressed through sappy cards or overdramatic music at convenient times. It’s the daily routine, the good and the bad, that help reveal to us the ones who really care, and the ones we really care about. Sure, the various permutations of our favorite Modern Family may fight, but that’s only because they are so (obsessively, perhaps borderline unhealthily) invested in one another’s lives. If they aren’t going to help encourage academic pursuits, professional development or foot care regimens, who will? And if we, the viewer, can’t call someone in our immediate clan a “crazy old witch,” we obviously have no business exchanging presents. You lie because you care; you cry because you care.

Branching out with his own real estate firm, Phil prepared for a hot and sexy seminar he was giving, which quickly proved easier to pass up than a 13-year-old’s science project. But since Phil Dunphy has never met a challenge he couldn’t beat nor a person he couldn’t win over, and because the economy’s still flat, he decided he’d lure his potential clients in with flair straight from the Party City stockroom, rooted in a memorable catchphrase. His five KEYs to success — six, if you stick around past the free mouse pad reveal — needed some assistance, which led him to rely on his ultra-dependable firstborn, Haley. She’s about to go to college (or something) so throwing an oversize styrofoam object at her hands-free mic-wearing father is crucial to her maturation. And gives her a chance to stretch her humility muscles before the freshman 15 and a few bad frat parties do it for her.

Manny took a break from the life of the mind he usually lives, to try his hand at making something that wasn’t found in Mastering The Art of French Cooking — speaking from experience, boeuf bourguignon is harder than Amy Adams made it out to be — and wouldn’t be worn by a 75-year-old count. His challenging assignment was to create a vessel that would protect an egg from a one-story fall, which proved to be more difficult than deciphering his mother’s hyena-like cackle when speaking with her Colombian family members. Jay offered some suggestions (“breakfast” came first) to help make his boy a winner, a passing interest that only intensified once he heard Claire had been known to help Luke with his schoolwork, and had a knack for painting no one knew about. Cut to: Claire hitting the deck after Luke’s initial egg drop, and subsequent “right under his nose” idea that left him dangling from the banister. The kid does need help. No good parent should cut their child’s grapes (does it bug you, too?) which meant Jay was going to have to publicly defeat Claire, and thus, Luke, to remind his daughter what losing feels like, which somehow benefits her parenting skills, and — oh yeah! — helps complete Manny’s homework assignment.

NEXT: Cam and Mitchell get involved in some actual song and dance

We’ve experienced the Pritchett sibling rivalry before, as well as the glorious hilarity that happens when Claire and Mitchell create something together (RIP figure skating duo Fire & Nice), but it was interesting to see the light go off in Jay’s head once he realized he had the chance to compete against his only daughter, and potentially beat her. Trash-talking is a fine yet under-appreciated art, and the epic stare-downs between the two were even funnier than Claire’s falsified account of voluntarily smashing yolks on the floor just to prove their eggs were “super strong,” or her attempt at bribing Alex to just fork over her previous project.

The mounting obsession with winning, masked by the insistence on climbing another story rang scarily true to my own experiences with parent-supervised homework sessions, where projects would take on a life on their own in the hands of my mother, who wouldn’t rest until each popsicle stick was glued at a neat, 90-degree angle or every page of a 10,000 word report on the influence of Charlotte Brontë’s lesser-known sister, Linnethia “NeNe” Brontë, was submitted with proper margins — proving that Luke and Manny are smarter than we all give them credit for.

Rather than look to cut their family down, Mitchell and Cam were hoping to add a little bundle of joy to the mix. Only as adoption interviewees, they relinquished all decision-making power to a pregnant woman who firmly believed there are 52 states anxiously waiting for her to visit once she loses the baby weight. The good people of East Dakota need their bill on Dolphin-Tuna Safety Laws taken straight to Washington. Mitchell, the lawyer (and control freak, Type A personality, and huge competitor himself) had a hard time not correcting the statements of PDL (Pregnant Dolphin Lady) even if she preferred to live in a “tomato-tomato” kind of world. Cam reminded him that a living, breathing mammal was at stake, surrendering himself to song and dance if need be, which, in reality, is never much of a sacrifice.

Kids like music from inside the womb, so naturally there was a “Don’t Got Breaking My Heart” duet, which allowed Mitchell (or should we say Leaf Coneybear?) to show off his melodious pipes and nimble jazz hands, successfully distracting us from an unusually “pitchy” Cam. Seeing Jesse Tyler Ferguson return to his musical roots, or Mitchell just loosen up for a change, was likely a revelation to first-time viewers, yet a theater geek moment of the purest kind. More please! But Cam is the former music teacher (and an actual clown), so being called pitchy is not something he can just drop. Which meant “celebrating” PDL’s unofficial decision to give them her baby with a performance of “If You Leave Me Now,” probably the worst song to play in front of someone who just elected to part with something stored in her uterus. Like many first dates, there was no sex and no baby.

NEXT: Phil fires his own confetti cannon

While Phil underwent his vocal exercises and sound check, Haley and newly recruited seminar aide Gloria went for a quick salon run, even though the latter’s hair just happens. When the auditorium became surprisingly full, Phil realized his poor, unreliable daughter was just that, and that he would be forced to perform his own introduction, switching back and forth from heavyweight fight announcer to fuming father with only a few confused stares from the crowd. No mouse pad was found, the confetti cannon was late, and the audience didn’t get the bit about the sixth key. But he’s not mad at you, Gloria! Even with your shallow need to get primped, and continued failure to pick up on California track laws. And he doesn’t put you on a pedestal, you’re just standing on one.

Although I ended this episode with less of a lump in my throat than last week, it’s not because I wasn’t moved. Gloria’s phone demeanor is loud and obnoxious, but she was right about Phil’s inability to properly scold her for ruining his seminar. Yelling to Gloria is like whooping a kid’s butt in sports to Jay: it’s not always the premise or the result, but rather the voluntary act of engagement that signifies someone is invested enough to make the effort, and as a result, loves you. Have you called your family yet? Let’s all just KEYp our cool, KEYp informed, legwork, etc.


“Plus it’s a metaphor for the human condition. Aren’t we all just fragile eggs hiding behind bubble wrap and bravado?” –Manny, who is consistently moved by Luke’s artwork

“Why do they cut grapes for 8-year-olds? I figure if you can eat a chicken finger, you can tear your way through a grape.” –Jay, who is easily bugged

“Actually it’s the opposite of a first date: You don’t want to have sex, but you do want a baby.” –Mitchell, who can’t help but give out free biology lessons

“Look at it this way, we’re not only adopting a baby, we’re saving it from a life spent searching for East Dakota.” –Cam, who has sung in several choirs

“I had nothing, I had to get in Claire’s head. Sometimes the best thing to do in a race to the top is grease the pole behind you.” –Jay, who never discourages something he loves

“Claire’s the son my dad never had. He just wanted someone to throw a ball in the backyard. I did once, but he did not attend.” –Mitchell, who actually likes his new lampshade

“Thanks, Mike. I appreciate it.” –Phil, to his inanimate friend, offstage

“You know, I made the egg that made you that made that project, so in a lot of ways that design is already mine! [Looks at self in mirror.] You’re fine.” –Claire, halfway between bribing Alex and questioning her sanity

“Yes, she was upset. But on a positive note, what I take from this experience is: I can sing!” –Cam, who should never be allowed to perform in public again, on the off-chance he’s on the verge of taking a monumental step

“Just stay frosty.” –Luke, the best idea that’s been under our noses the whole time

Episode Recaps

Mitch and Cam, Modern Family
Modern Family

Parents just don’t understand… and neither do kids or spouses in this hit ensemble comedy

  • TV Show
  • 10
  • Wednesdays at 09:00 PM
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