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Phil battles smoke detectors; Cam ushers Lily into an ill-conceived acting career

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November 04, 2010 at 12:17 PM EDT

It was fitting for tonight’s episode to open on Phil Dunphy, because this was, in my opinion, his strongest showing. He had a few challenges to defeat: A smoke alarm beep that couldn’t be quelled no matter how many of the buggers he shut off, a month-long realty dry spell (was this MF’s first reference to the economy?), an out-of-commission Claire, or “Typhoid Clairy,” as he called her, sick in bed for the day. To compensate, Phil donned an apron and readied ladyfinger cookies for a bake sale, only to rue the favor later when Claire’s hunky gym instructor stopped by. “I burned my ladyfingers,” Phil said, wincing at a handshake, the smoke alarm negating his manhood with every beep. In the end he did manage to remasculate, but not before going medieval on every smoke alarm in the house with his “burglar basher,” aka college cheerleading baton.

I loved the secondary storyline to this – Claire in bed with Haley – because it led to a spot-on breakdown of the Claire/Phil chemistry. “He’s kind of a dufus I guess, but I thought you liked that about him,” Haley says. Phil is a dufus, Haley. Claire does like that about him. (Beating heart: still, please!)

Meanwhile, in the Pritchett/Delgado household, Gloria was busy celebrating an anniversary all on her own. It seems Gloria likes to celebrate anniversaries of everything, even the anniversaries of fights that stem from Jay forgetting anniversaries. Jay’s only hope was to wheedle the information out of Manny, only there was a cold front on that end, since Jay fired an employee Manny considered a friend. Their face-off was classic Modern Family gold, sweet and clever. When Jay said he’d fire anyone who endangers his kid (the employee let Manny drive a forklift to semi-disastrous ends), Manny widened his eyes and chirped: “Did you just call me your kid?” But because this is a show careful not to dwell too long in the sap, Jay rolled his eyes without skipping a beat, and we pulled right out of it. The back-and-forth that followed was equally deft. Manny: “First kiss.” Jay: “No. Just tell me.” Manny: “I mean your first kiss. With my mom.”

There wasn’t much sappiness over in Cam’s and Mitchell’s world, where Cam’s decision to put Lily in a commercial despite Mitchell’s opposition led to a predictably bad end. The commercial was a tin-eared “parody” that got Lily on the floor with another Asian baby while a voice-over actor and actress, both white, screeched out their desire for well-priced baby furniture in exaggerated Asian accents. This was one of those moments where what was not funny in the reality of the show was also not funny in real life. It took Cam a skip and a beat to ignore his own stage dreams enough to see the set for what it was – “not MGM,” according to Mitchell but “a warehouse behind a mattress store.” A sight gag followed à la the creampuff in the airplane, with Cam delivering a ringing speech against stereotyping only to pick up the wrong Asian baby. Lily’s stoic game-face aside, this was my least favorite storyline of the night. Compared to the other arcs, which moved the characters into different positions in relation to each other, Cam’s too-provocative-to-actually-be-provocative parenting mistake was a resounding meh.

Because move they did, Manny and Jay to a clearer understanding, and Phil, who is reliably bumbling and likeable to the point of verging on caricature, to a natural vulnerability. He’s been edging toward it this season, but I thought it worked better here, with his job prospects left unresolved and still worrisome. If only I could coin new aphorisms as easily as Phil (tonight’s bon mot: “Can’t get back on that horse unless you fall off”), I’d spin one for him, something to do with “tears of a clown” or “still waters” and “deep.” What did you guys think? Was Phil the star of his own inspirational phrase tonight? And speaking of inspirational phrases…how about a rundown of tonight’s best?

NEXT: The ten best lines from last night’s show!

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