Claire delivers brutal news about Cam's Lycra biker shorts, but Mitchell fails to stop Phil's flow of bad jokes

By Michael Slezak
Updated October 14, 2010 at 12:58 PM EDT
Karen Neal/ABC

Modern Family

S2 E4
  • TV Show
  • ABC

I sat down for last night’s episode of Modern Family in an uncharacteristically grouchy mood: Long story short, I’d been putting off buying airline tickets for an upcoming vacation, and had just discovered that a week’s worth of procrastination had nearly doubled the price of the trip. Grrr! Argh! %#@*! (There’s no rage more bitter than rage against one’s self, is there? Unless it’s rage against a network for the premature cancellation of a quality show like Lone Star.)

But I digress. The reason I share my tale of travel woe is because it illustrates the magical power of ABC’s sophomore sensation Modern Family: You see, by the time the frame-within-a-frame-within-a-frame title sequence kicked in after just four minutes of couch-potato time, all my tension and irritation had been washed away by a flood of laughter. (Cue Madonna and Justin Timberlake singing “We only got four minutes to save the world…”)

On Modern Family, said laughs can arrive in a variety of ways: Sometimes they hit suddenly, dare I say almost violently, like the guffaw I let out at Jay’s unadulterated horror during the sexy “father-daughter” dance at the “Quinceañera.” Sometimes, they sneak in via subtle sight gags, like Mitchell mirroring Luke’s habit of leaning back and clapping his hands over his head at Phil’s jokes. Occasionally, they come in spite of themselves (i.e. Jay, after shouting the name “Carlos,” declaring he was “lucky only one turned around”). And once in a while, when the writing is particularly subtle, you start howling so late into a joke, you’ve got go directly to the DVR rewind button. Maybe I’m slow, but it took me a beat to fully appreciate the depth and genius of that bathroom scene between Cameron and Mitchell, where one man requested a simple shoulder rub, and the other cluelessly prepped the shaving cream and razor to eradicate unsightly hair. (“Oh, Mitchell. Mitchell.”)

Let’s recap the central action: At the Dunphy home, Claire was trying to prevent Phil from bombing with a rapid-fire succession of “badum-bum” jokes during a speaking engagement at the Southern California Annual Realtors’ Banquet. (“I see the great realtor Margaret Wilson is here, looking more curvaceous than ever. Talk about your balloon payments.”) Problem was, Claire had spent the bulk of her married life pretending she found her husband’s shtick uproarious. “I laugh at all of his jokes with my mouth. Not with my eyes,” she explained, face reading like a kidnap victim with today’s newspaper held up next to her head. To resolve her problem, Claire handed off the bad-news bearing to her brother Mitchell, in exchange for her telling his partner that his bicycle shorts weren’t exactly the world’s most inconspicuous, um, storage facility, if you know what I’m saying. (Side note: Julie Bowen and Jesse Tyler Ferguson — and especially the show’s writers — perfectly captured the alternatingly convivial/snippy banter that can happen between siblings. “I hate it when you do that. You never heard of Troga? You never tried octopus? You never did this amazing thing I just discovered yesterday but I pretend like I’ve done my whole life?” The way that, moments later, Mitchell dropped his “You’ve never seen Strangers on a Train?” rant in mid-sentence was a thing of true comic beauty.)

NEXT: The 10 best lines and moments from “Strangers on a Treadmill”!

Problem was, while Claire was able to deliver hard fashion truths to Cameron — who retreated to the bathroom crying, while also suppressing his own rage about Claire’s salmon-cooking technique — Mitchell completely failed to be honest with Phil, a scenario that spiraled out of control to the point where Mitchell called his brother-in-law “this generation’s Richard Pryor.” Perhaps the most rewarding resolution to the conflict? Turns out Phil absolutely slayed it — and he didn’t even need his cue cards to do it.

Meanwhile, over at the Pritchett-Delgado residence, Gloria was browbeating Jay into attending one of his employee’s family functions, and he finally relented, just to prove himself to be (maybe just a tiny bit) a man of the people. Unfortunately, Jay couldn’t recognize any of his own workers (aka mi famiglia), and wound up at an engagement party taking place next door to the fifteenth-birthday celebration he was supposed to be attending. Hilarity ensued, for real.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s get to my 10 favorite lines and moments from the episode:

10. “I honestly didn’t get any of that.” –Jay responding to Gloria’s rapid-fire questioning about whether he planned to attend Maribel’s daughter’s Quinceañera

9. Cameron accusingly dumping that tray of fruit onto the counter, with Mitchell countering: “I didn’t say anything!”

8. The way Haley’s face turned from pride to horror as Alex began to falter in her attempts to impress mean girl Mackenzie, ending finally with “love you!” and both sisters shrieking in pure social terror.

7. “You just throw them an Obama steak and run to the golf course!” –Gloria, railing against Jay’s habit of sending Omaha steaks to his employees instead of attending their parties (Cough and you might’ve missed Sofia Vergara’s flawlessly delivered malapropism.)

6. “So many giants of residential real estate tonight. And, of course, J.J. McCubbin. I’m not saying J.J. is small, but in the realty section, he was described as charming.”

5. Manny’s disapproving “Ay, Jay.” (Where does that kid keep popping out from?)

4. Cam: “You can make it up to me by doing my shoulders.”

Mitchell: “Sure.”

Cam: “I meant a massage. What are you saying? Oh Mitchell. Mitchell.”

3. Mitchell’s indignation when Claire asked if Cam retreated down the hallway in tears. “Oh yes, ’cause that’s what all gay men do. We all dissolve into… [Sound of Cam’s high-pitched sobbing comes from the next room.] Yes, that is what he did.”

2. Cam’s pixellated biker shorts. (And in particular, the way Claire diverted her eyes downward and said, “I can see that,” when Cam declared he was “leaning towards the park.”) Very Arrested Development, no?

1. “I think you’re really gonna hit it off with Que.” (Yeah, I played that line back like six or seven times. Didn’t you?)

What did you think of “Strangers on a Treadmill”? Did your heart break a little at the end when Alex said she didn’t have any friends? And slight nitpick (which I say as someone who felt no indignation about the fact that Mitch and Cam hadn’t had an onscreen kiss in season 1): Does anyone find it slightly peculiar that Mitchell still refers to Cameron as his “boyfriend” and not “partner”? It just seems a little casual term for two men who have a child together, no? (Just curious what you all thought…not trying to start a Facebook campaign!) Sound off with your thoughts, comments, and any favorite lines or moments that I missed, down in the comments section.

Slezak on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.

TV ADDICTS, STOP WHERE YOU ARE! Embedded below, listen to the second edition of’s TV Insiders podcast. Dalton Ross, resident Gleek Tim Stack, Annie Barrett, Michael Ausiello, and yours truly break down the week in television—specifically Glee, Dancing With the Stars, and Survivor—and present it to you in an easily digestible audio format. Or click here to download TV Insiders to your MP3 player!

Episode Recaps

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
  • In Season
  • ABC
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