Phil is a character that has attracted a lot of attention, and initially at least, divided the commenters here. Some people felt he was too much of a buffoon, too caricatured and inept. Take him too far in that direction, and the danger is that we won't be able to understand how he keeps hold of Claire, or sells any houses to support his family. Tonight we discovered that there are people crazier than Phil out there. An old flame is in town, Phil has reconnected with her on Facebook, and Claire is jealous. It's another standard married-couple sitcom plot. What I like about the way Modern Family handles it is this:
- Phil's not totally innocent. At the end of the episode, we discover that he did live a double life briefly, dating both Claire and Denise at the same time. And it's implied that even if he didn't leave any overt traces, his Facebook connection with her isn't entirely innocent, at least in his mind; naturally having Denise's attention was a nice ego boost. Maybe, to borrow a phrase from last week's How I Met Your Mother, he thought she was his hookee.
- Physical comedy in the kitchen. The desperate dance Phil does while trying to tell Claire that she was right about Denise, while keeping away from her advances and not letting her know that the cat's out of the bag, was a thing of beauty, and a virtuoso high point of of the season.
- Phil is at his best when he has to admit that he's out of his depth. "How many other women have you led on?" Denise hisses to Phil, after revealing that she interpreted his "How was your day?" and "My neck hurts so much" as sexual advances. "Now I don't know!" Phil cries in utter despair.
And the other two subplots are just as sitcom-standard, and frequently as funny. Mitchell is missing Lily growing up because he jumps whenever his boss calls him in for weekend work. ("Lily just stood on her own for the first time," Mitchell reports after getting a text message. "Yeah, they do that, it's a big day," his boss responds dismissively.) Then he decides to stand up to his boss and demand his time be respect. Then his boss tells him that he needn't bother coming in on Monday if he takes the day off on Sunday. So Mitch hands over the coffee mug, drapes his ID around the boss's neck, and walks out. A strong gesture, somewhat weakened by the fact that Mitch had to dash back and retrieve the lanyard -- "I need the ID to make the elevator go down ... to freedom!" -- and his mug -- "... and this to complete the set."
Jay tries to inspire Manny with a Successories poster after the boy loses the part of Teyve in the school musical. ("What does he know from suffering?" Manny asks plaintively about the boy who beat him out.) But when Jay hangs it in Manny's room, it falls off the wall and crushes Shell Turtlestein, Manny's turtle. Cue the elaborate cover-up, in which Jay blames a raccoon for the death, going so far as to crawl on the floor creating tracks. As Manny mourns, Gloria puts increasing pressure on Jay to tell the truth, leading to a nice scene where Manny receives the confession he knew was coming, and tries to reciprocate with a confession of his own about that scratch on Jay's car. "You mean the one that can't be buffed out?" Jay responds. "I know how that happened. A raccoon did it."
Unlike most sitcoms with these plots, though, something happens; Mitch does quit his job, and claims a feeling of liberation that's like "the weight of all these new possibilities sitting on my chest." Cam, at first supportive, wails, "I am used to nice things -- what are we going to do?" But let me tell you, Mitch. Lily in that duck hat? You don't want to miss a second of that.
- Phil boasts to his kids that he had two girlfriends before Claire: "Trust me, I had plenty of fun in my time ... then I met your mom."
- The extra layer of jokes with the Dunphy kids worked like gangbusters to mix up that very standard ex-girlfriend trope. Luke burns Alex at the breakfast table, so Alex get him back by telling him Denise is his mom coming to check him out. I never get tired of Luke blurting out something in panic, groaning oddly, and running out of the room.
- Similarly hilarious: Cam driving over during Mitch's Saturday lunch hour to test whether Mitch's boss heard the insults Mitch was flinging his way at a stop light. "Go around -- we're recreating a faux pas!"
- Jay has killed a lot of pets in his time, mostly Mitchell's with transparently gay names: Flyza Minnelli and Zsa Zsa Gaboa.
- Phil was known as O-Zone in his breakdancing days, and auditioned for Star Search, "which is totally political by the way."
- Claire: "When did I become this horrible, jealous person?" Phil: "I first noticed it seven yea ... you're not!"