You get to be a certain age -- or maybe your kids get to be a certain age -- and a scary thing happens. The sitcoms you used to watch for laughs, you now watch for parenting tips. Seriously, the day is coming when my son is going to pipe up about a big project due the next day, and I'm going to be trying to figure out how to help him get it done. But I would never make my kid make the cupcakes. I know my job too well. No one is under any illusions about who bakes the cupcakes.
Even though tonight's episode wasn't a laugh riot, I was impressed with the way it all fit together. I don't think we've seen such a well-integrated episode since maybe "Fizbo." Everyone was involved in some make-or-break activity -- something on which a lot was riding, something not going too well. The Dunphys have two kids with school responsibilities: Haley owes 40 cupcakes for a fundraiser, and Luke needs to make a poster about Vincent Van Gogh for a report. Claire is determined to involve Haley in the baking, but Haley has a method to get out of it: pretending to be incompetent at baking, prompting her mom to take over. "See how the lumps come out? It's kinda fun!" Claire enthuses. "You make it fun, Mom," Haley dutifully responds while busily texting. (This strategy would totally work on me, by the way.)
That means Phil has to supervise Luke's report, and he's not going to take direction from Claire on keeping the boy focused. "I'm going to take a different approach," he says, prompting Claire to interject: "I'm going to insist you don't." But he does -- the approach of allowing Luke's creativity to flow while he gets distracted by a loose chair arm, then a flickering garage light, then a pair of old sunglasses on a top shelf. (Biggest laugh of the night: Phil's physical comedy in trying to balance on a car then build a tower to reach the sunglasses. The key to selling that, as Phil demonstrates, is to do something stupid very, very carefully.)
Mitchell has a date with his dad to watch a meteor shower, a long-time father-son tradition. But Manny joins the group, and taking direction from Jay on how to be a good brother, heckles Mitchell unmercifully. When Mitch wanders away from the group and gets sprayed by a skunk, prompting Jay to exclaim "You stink!", Manny adds, "And not just at astronomy! Blammo!" Meanwhile Cameron takes the opportunity to try to connect with Gloria, whom he feels like he continually insults by accident -- most amusingly at a party where his comment about some lawyer friend of Mitchell's comes out as "I wish that tart would go back to Columbia and take her weird little Brown friends with her," just as Gloria walks by. So he agrees enthusiastically when Gloria suggests a little Latin dive, and boldly tells the waiter "Dos carnitas diablos, por favor" even though he was warned in no uncertain terms, "These are not for you."
In the end, everybody winds up under the stars, having a moment that unites them despite all their fears. And then in a nice undercutting of the sappy moments that have tended to close the show, Luke ends his practice presentation about Van Gogh by saying what the stars really portend: "Aliens who could be here any second to liquefy us and use us as fuel."
- It was a tour de force for Phil and Luke tonight. (I'd watch a show with just those two, wouldn't you?) I especrafcially liked Luke in the noise-canceling headphones, assuming that he can't be heard by others: "Everybody is stupid except me ... I am funny ..."
- Gloria was wearing her seatbelt in an unsafe manner in Cameron's car. Sweetheart, I know you don't like it cutting across your chest, but putting it across your abdomen like that will not protect you in a crash.
- Cameron's outbursts after he gives up pretending he can handle the carnitas diablos: "I feel like I ate the sun!" and "Breathing makes the fire spread."
- Phil admitting the failure of his method of motivating Luke: "I'm really sorry for not underestimating Luke enough." Phil gloating after Luke comes through with the Mr. Potato Head ears on his poster: "Don't apologize ... apology accepted."
- Jay trying to stop making fun of Mitchell in a dress: "If you were that type of a gay, you'd probably do all right for yourself."
- "I take it from your mocking tone that I am incorrect."