By Shirley Li
September 26, 2018 at 09:32 PM EDT
Credit: Kelsey McNeal/ABC

Let’s just get it out of the way: The “significant” character death promised for this 10th (!!) season of Modern Family did not occur in the season premiere. Cue the fireworks, because we’ve still got an entire season of anticipation to go for that morbid tease — and because it’s July 4th in the show’s timeline, which certainly isn’t jarring at all for a late September air date!

Ah, Independence Day. A day to honor America’s founding and message of freedom through, ironically, rigid tradition — which brings me to the…

Lesson of the Week

Being flexible is a good thing.

Nearly everyone begins the season trying and failing to make their realities match their expectations. For Phil, July 4th means a shot at winning the local hot-dog-eating contest with Luke. He’s become so intent on victory that he’s taken to terrorizing Luke in the middle of the night while wearing a hot-dog costume in hopes of whipping him into (or rather, out of) shape. Jay’s the grand marshal of the parade this year, so he naturally obsesses over doing the best grand marshal job anyone in town’s ever seen. Cam and Mitch want to make Cal, Pam’s son, look more capable than he is, and finally, Haley’s awkward relationship with Arvin is clearly weighing on her, but she’s not willing to accept it.

By the end of the half-hour, they’ve all bent their own rules — some a little, some a lot. Phil realizes Luke’s distracted over his college classes, and advises him to simply take one thing at a time, much like the hot dogs before them. (The strategy works — they walk away with a hefty, hot dog-decorated trophy. Yay!)

Jay’s grand marshal-ing begins poorly, with Gloria accidentally launching the parade early, his ginormous scissors failing to cut the ribbon, and a botched photo for the local paper. Once he realizes — with an assist from Claire — that he’s been too focused on being the grand marshal to notice what’s going on with Gloria, he finds a way to connect Gloria to Manny so they can share, in a very modern (and Modern) way, their tradition of having apple pie and watching fireworks after Manny fails to make it on time. (He’s not that great with making it over bridges, or with listening to Lily chide him for being un-manly.)

As for Cam and Mitch and Cal, even Cam’s camera tricks (Cam’s cam tricks?) fail to make Cal look good, so they end up aiming lower and capitalizing on Cal’s, umm, hugging skills. They strap Cal onto a sheep at the fair’s “mutton busting” activity and film him grabbing on hard enough to potentially impress Pam.

Only Haley, funnily enough, walks away still attempting to follow her own rules. Though she admits that, after seeing Dylan at the hospital, she’s been questioning her romance (or lack thereof) with Arvin, she’s not willing to break it off. Instead, she reciprocates Arvin’s lackluster “I love you” as he leaves, and after kissing Dylan out of a potent cocktail of lust, guilt, and anger, she tells him she feels nothing. Well, Haley’s always been a good liar.

Most Unexpected Combo

Claire and Alex — if only because they wind up in the most unexpected position at the top of the episode. Alex has been relaxing over the summer, and as usual, Alex-ed the activity and done it too well, as Claire points out. When Alex invites Claire in to be lazy as well, the two end up lounging in onesies together, losing hours and days and weeks to doing nothing. Sounds nice.

Family MVP

Phil. The guy knows how to give a hot-dog-contest pep talk, and — even if he was actually talking about the click in his jaw — he correctly assessed many of the Dunphy clan’s issues. Good for him!

Funniest Lines

“Well, Vin Diesel’s a movie star. Anything’s possible with editing.” — Cam, grasping at straws to make Cal’s video work.
“Sorry I’m not in worse shape.” — Luke, stepping on the hot-dog-eating contest stage.
“Should we really give the dangerous job to my only smart one?” — Claire, seeing Alex launching the fireworks.

Did Everything Turn Out Okay?

Yes. Hey, no deaths yet! Plus, the Dunphys have a new trophy, Cam and Mitch have a solid video for Pam, and Jay made Gloria and Manny’s day once again. Haley just needs to figure things out, and Joe needs to learn how to applaud even if the show shouldn’t go on. But she’ll learn, and so will he. So happy (way, way, way) belated 4th, everybody!