It’s serialization-o-rama on Modern Family, all of a sudden. Up until last week, the show seemed to have forgotten about Cameron and Claire’s house-flipping enterprise. And we haven’t seen Benjamin Bratt as Javier Delgado, Manny’s ladykiller dad, since Season 3’s “Lifetime Supply.”
But this is the week for picking up where we left off, whether it be neglected storylines or the quippy, energetic spirit that sold us on this show in the first place. “Flip Flop” seems like the kind of episode that gets made when the creative team doesn’t think they can fail. It’s full of broad gags and muttered asides and old-fashioned farce. It isn’t concerned with appealing to desirable demographics or pushing envelopes. It’s the kind of episode that gets made when the only thing the creative team wants to do is make each other laugh.
There are only two storylines, which means plenty of characters available for group interactions. Claire and Cameron are sure that Phil is going to sell their renovated property in record time, and sure enough, he has a plan: To the rhetorical question “Who’s the best realtor in town?” Claire responds promptly “Gil Thorp,” and Phil doesn’t miss a beat: “That’s right, and he has buyers coming over tomorrow.” But Thorp wants to squeeze Phil with lowball offers and force him to sell at a loss. At a breakfast meeting, Phil pushes back when Gil says he’ll regret refusing the incredible shrinking offer: “I don’t know the meaning of the word regret!” he hisses, and right on cue, the waitress arrives with waffles and syrup for Gil, egg whites and dry toast for Phil (“Dammit,” he concedes).
It’s halfway through the episode before Luke manages to get the adults to register that his “friend Zack” who likes the house is a rich software entrepreneur who volunteers at his school. With no other buyers in sight, Haley works some social media magic to find out all about Zack Barbie: hockey and MC Hammer fan, beer-swilling, kickboxing meditation practitioner who dotes on his dog Otis and likes women in black leggings. Before Cam can say “Barbie’s dream house” (“We don’t have time!” Phil shouts), the house has been outfitted with a Blackhawks banner and a doggie door, “U Can’t Touch This” is cued up on the boom box (except when Cam turns on This American Life by mistake), and Haley has dolled herself up in tights and high heels. Zack (played by Anders Holm from Workaholics and, lately, The Mindy Project) loves the place but predictably gets freaked out when the eager sellers inadvertently reveal that they know his dog’s name, his birthday, and his Coachella plans. It shouldn’t be funny when Mitch tries to save Cam’s accidental mention of Otis by drawling, “Oh dis doggie door would be perfect for your dog… should you have one,” but in the state of farcical panic to which the scene has built, it’s hilarious.
Over at the Pritchett house, Gloria is angry at Javier for subjecting a visiting Manny to another one of his bimbos, but she’s even angrier when the woman turns out to be an art expert with a fancy degree and a job at Christie’s. Manny loves talking culture and books with Trish, while Gloria is humiliated when she tries to join in on their game of charades and doesn’t know what any of the clues are. Javier proposes to Trish, asking Gloria for his abuela’s ring (“You owe me eight dollars because I had to replace ‘the emerald,’” she demands), but Trish balks because she doesn’t think she can measure up to the perfect Gloria Manny’s always talking about. “I had half a granola bar, and I can’t button my pants,” she wails, and Gloria, realizing she has the upper hand again, demurs: “Who has time for the gym?”
Jeffrey Richman and Bill Wrubel, not coincidentally the writing team behind Benjamin Bratt’s last appearance, throw every possible verbal joke into the script, and the result is a parade of can-you-top-this dialogue. Highlights include Cameron giving a shout-out to the men who worked on the house: “Paco, I wish you could be here right now… He’s on the roof fixing a shingle that he should have gotten right the first time”; Jay unable to resist a comment about the stripper Javier took fishing with Manny: “I bet she was comfortable with the pole”; and Gloria, in full-on glorious Colombian non-sequitur mode: “The house is beautiful; here is a tree!” But in the Season of Phil, it’s only right that Ty Burrell gets the lion’s share of the one-liners. “I don’t have good news, but I want you to like me,” he stammers as he prepares to tell the houseflippers that there are no buyers on the horizon. “Prepare to Phil the agony of Dunpheat! Both names!” he yells to Gil Thorp on the phone. And in his moment of triumph, with Gil believing that the house is about to slip away from his buyers, Phil tries to turn the tables on the I’m-going-to-screw-you monologue to which Gil subjected him in the last act: “First, you’re going to buy me a lovely dinner… no, that’s not it.”
- It’s also the triumphant return, or perhaps the inevitable star turn, for Barkley the human-sized basset hound valet sculpture, which Trish the art expert judiciously compares to Warhol and Koons in its kitschy boldness. When she comments that it speaks with its own voice, Jay eagerly explains: “Used to, before its little voice box broke. It said ‘Welcome home, master. Ruff day?’”
- Actually, I think it’s a dead heat between Phil and Jay for most quips per minute. I’m particularly partial to Jay’s response to Javier’s rhetorical question “How I can turn down a free meal?”: “First time’s the hardest.”
- Camera peeks over the landing down to Jay beside Barkley on the first floor: “Don’t break down the door.” A minute later, same shot: “Don’t burn down the house.”
- Gosford Park! I respect that the show reached a lot farther back than Downton Abbey for a grand English manor reference.
- “Is it the drinking? Is it the gambling? Is it because of your fat fingers?”