The Dunphys unplug, Gloria battles a barking dog, and Cam loses his wits during Lily's preschool interview

By Michael Slezak
October 21, 2010 at 01:16 PM EDT
Eric McCandless/ABC

The gauntlet has been thrown down for the flat-out funniest line of the 2010-2011 television season, and it begins with “My white-man name is Tucker.” Not to over-intellectualize a moment that had me screaming with laughter, gasping for a breath, and frantically rewinding my DVR so I could hear it again (and then again!), but it’s Modern Family‘s balancing act between the absurd and the relatable that has made it a sitcom for the ages. (And no, five episodes into its second season, it’s not too early to be throwing around phrases like “for the ages,” or “classic,” or whatever other historical superlative you want to apply to it.)

“Unplugged” didn’t quite have the mushy center of, say, last week’s “We fall a lot. Maybe you can be there to pick us up when we do” moment — in other words, I didn’t get a lump in my throat during the half-hour — but let’s be honest: When two roads diverge in a comedy writer’s office, sometimes you want ’em to take the one more hilarious. (It makes all the difference, if you know what I’m saying.) And indeed, all three of our modern families last night ended up with story arcs that were full of unexpected/genius forks and bends.

In the Pritchett-Delgado home, Gloria and Manny were being kept up by a neighbor’s relentlessly barking pooch. “I don’t get how one dog keeps you awake when you grew up sleeping through cockfights and revolutions,” cracked Jay and his “old-man hearing.” I saw those previews for the episode where the grouchy dog owner compared Gloria to a screeching parrot (“Jay!” “JAY!” “JAAYYY!”), but when her voice activated that car alarm, I guffawed all over again. Still, when the dog went silent, Jay and Manny began to get suspicious, and it didn’t help that Gloria was bathed in horror-movie lighting in the garage (or that she once killed a rat with a shovel — wearing her Sunday best! — and left its head in the alleyway as a warning to his fellow vermin). Manny’s life lessons made a lot of sense — “Don’t skimp on linens. Don’t compliment a teacher on her figure. And when it comes to my mom, never ask questions I don’t want the answers to.” — but when it was all said and done, the exotic bird turned out to be a hero, sending the dog to “a better place.” No, not like that! “Now the dog is happy, Manny can sleep, and we have peee-kles.” Well when you put it like that!

Meanwhile, the Dunphys engaged in a showdown to see who could be master of their analog domains, swearing off computers, cellphones, and video games and instead spending time napping, building impressive structures out of the contents of the recycling bin, and knocking vases of flowers to the floor. There were so many brilliant little zingers and visuals packed into this plot thread, one that I suspect every family can relate to. How many of us complain almost daily about being overly “plugged in,” only to rush home and cuddle up with our email, our DVR, and our iPod? I loved watching Claire have a psychotic breakdown booking a vacation with an automated phone attendant. “Representative! Representative! Representative!” And Haley’s super-sneaky triumph over her parents — she spent two days talking to a bar of soap! — was the uproarious essence of a teenager applying herself when the incentives finally got high enough.

NEXT: The Artist Sometimes Known as Fizbo tops our list of 10 Best Moments/Lines from “Unplugged.”

Oh, and then we had Mitchell and Cam realizing they were the only parents in playgroup who hadn’t signed up their kid for pre-school. “Leave it to the gays to raise the only underachieving Asian in America,” huffed Mitchell with the kind of politically incorrect audacity that makes this couple seem so fully realized, so vividly realistic. “Boobs Lori or adult braces Lori?” “Great shoes Lori.” “Oh, I like her.” This is how we all talk — in the most idealized versions of our lives that exist inside our own heads anyway, no? You knew Mitchell and Cam were headed for disaster when they began to disengage from Wagon Wheel (early training ground for middle-management material) and get seduced by the Hogwarts-esque Billingsley Academy. Too bad about the disabled interracial lesbians with an African kicker, boys! By the time Cam went all Chief Sitting Gay, my spleen was shaking with laughter. “I hear that, girrrl!”

Anyway, let’s recount the Top 10 Lines/Moments from “Unplugged”…

10. Gloria: “I took him to a farm where he has plenty of room to run.”

Jay: “That’s the second thing they say when something’s dead.”

9. “I am completely on board your mother’s horse and buggy to yesteryear. For the next week, I may as well be Amish. Jebediah Dunphy: Raisin’ barns, witnessin’ murders, making electric-fireplace hearths.” –Phil, embracing the spirit of the family’s “unplugged” competition

8. “I like that Hemingway gets to the point.” –Manny

(That was a hint, Jay.)

7. “What? First you smash it, then you cut the head off. I go to church now.” –Gloria exterminating a rat with a shovel (and wearing white in the process!)

6. “Don’t fall for it Claire, she’s just making up words.” –Phil, refusing to answer Alex’s question about the difference between a gamete and a zygote

5. Luke eating face-first from his cereal bowl while using his hands to play a video game. Not sure which bonus detail was funnier: Claire observing this with horror just as she said, “My kids didn’t go to Billingsley and they are fine” or Phil’s “That’s awesome.”

4. “I thought that was a bathroom for homeless people.” –Haley, answering the question “what do you think the public library is for?”

3. “The tribe elders foretold that though I lay with fire-haired man, that giving hawk would bring us baby, with her skin the color of sweet corn, which my people call maize.” (Yes, it pays to watch to the bitter end of the episode. Anyway, who’d want to miss Cougar Town?)

2. “Oh, here we go, because in Colombia we trip over goats and we kill people in the street! Do you know how offensive that is? Like we’re Peruvians!” –Gloria railing against Jay’s cultural insensitivity

1. “Well, my white-man name is Tucker. I am 1/16 Cherokee. ready for child to soar like eagle.” (“Oh God.”)

What did you think of last night’s episode? Did I miss any of your favorite zingers or visuals? Share ’em in the comments below!

Slezak on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.

THINK OF YOUR TELEVISION AS A VITAL MEMBER OF THE FAMILY? Then don’t miss this week’s TV Insiders podcast! Michael Ausiello, Michael Slezak, Annie Barrett, Dalton Ross, and Jeff Jensen weigh in on the returning series that are hitting creative peaks this season, and dish the latest happenings on Mad Men, Survivor, and Dancing With the Stars. Click here to download the podcast to your MP3 player, or listen to a YouTube embed below!

Parents just don’t understand… and neither do kids or spouses in this hit ensemble comedy
  • TV Show
  • 10
  • TV-PG
  • Wednesdays at 9:00pm
run date
  • 09/23/09
  • In Season
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