Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Modern Family: "Caught In The Act"

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There was a good discussion in the comments last week about intertwining plots in Modern Family. One camp believes that the show gains a spark when it undertakes the extra effort of weaving plotlines together; another camp just wants to watch Sofia Vergara stir cake batter. There were nods to both camps tonight.

Jay and Gloria have some time to themselves, while Manny is away at a foster home for children whose contracts only call for them to appear in 22 episodes this season. They’re about to leave for a weekend in Vegas when Gloria accidentally sends Claire an e-mail nastygram. She writes that Claire is being an insufferable control freak about an upcoming bake sale, which is accurate, but she meant to reword the missive with a bit more tact before she pressed “Send.”

Ah, the classic mis-sent e-mail/letter/telegram setup. Every show has done it, including Hope And Gloria, which for whatever reason is the short-lived 1990s NBC sitcom I think of every time this plot reappears in another show. Though it’s been a while since I watched Hope And Gloria’s e-mail-gaffe episode, I’m going to guess that Modern Family did it better. The fun dynamic here is the combination of Jay’s forced nonchalance—he just wants to get to Vegas, with its storied flying-sommelier restaurant—and Gloria’s chastened despair. While the writing staff sometimes comes too close to infantilizing Gloria, her mewling “It sended! Please come back…” as she slumps over her laptop was a funny, slightly heartbreaking button for the cold open.

Over at the Dunphys, the kids try to surprise Claire and Phil on their wedding anniversary with breakfast in bed, but when they open the bedroom door, they instead get a surprise of their own, in the form of their parents’ hot, naked, non-missionary love. “Yes, the kids walked in on us,” Phil explains in a testimonial. “We were, as they say, having sex.” Thus begins a practically uninterrupted string of killer Phil lines in tonight’s episode.

Claire and Phil camp out in their bedroom, while they contemplate how they can ever face their kids again. Meanwhile, Luke, Haley, and Alex agonize over the same thing. It’s the type of situation where everyone involved believes that normal life will never resume, but in fact, the crisis passes quickly because A. that’s what everyone wants more than anything, and B. there was no real harm done anyway.

Luke is especially unaffected by the ordeal, to the degree that he serves as a voice of wisdom after the kids flee the house and take refuge on a gas-station bench. The little Dunphys realize that it’s probably better to have loving parents who are mild screw-ups than a mom and dad who hate each other. “Half my friends’ parents are divorced,” says Haley.


The emergency gas-station conference might be the best scene that the three Dunphy offspring have ever gotten together. The interaction is so natural. The siblings allow each other to voice their hysteria—like Alex’s rant about Claire and Phil’s lack of responsibility—and then let the reality of their shared experience bring them back down to earth. I find scenes like this to be a more affecting evocation of the series’ heart and sweetness than the “Here’s why families are great” monologues that are occasionally tacked on to the end of an episode (although we’ve been seeing those less often of late).

As the kids leave, Jay and Gloria show up at the Dunphys. Gloria is in a panic because Claire refused to talk with her on the phone earlier. Claire was just too mortified to speak, but naturally, Gloria thinks that Claire is upset over the email. She confronts Claire and Phil in the hallway and launches into a rambling half-apology/half-accusation. In a tour de force of double entendre—much sharper than the mealy-mouthed dialogue that plagued last week’s episode—Gloria talks at length about baked goods, which sounds to Claire and Phil like she’s inviting herself to an uninhibited three-way in their bedroom. Claire is confused, and Phil practically goes blind when Gloria offers him the chance to “try her cupcakes.”


When Claire explains her situation, Gloria goes along with it and lies that she was talking about the sex thing, too. Apparently, Gloria figures it’s better to give the impression that her sexual politics are extremely liberated than to let slip with the truth. Gloria makes her way to Claire’s computer and, with an assist from Phil, keeps Claire from learning that their hug-and-make-up session at the school dance didn’t fix everything in the two women’s friendship. Finally, the kids come home, smile and nod through their parents’ obligatory speech, and return to the important task of forgetting.

The B-plot sees Mitchell and Cam trying to impress someone with higher social status and failing because they are awkward and clumsy. In other words, Insert Default Mitchell-Cam Storyline Here. Look, Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson can make almost anything (aside from a red-headed-little-person gag) enjoyable to watch, but their talents are wasted by running them through this same shtick again. They deserve better.


The powerful person that America’s favorite gay couple wants to impress this week is Amelia. She owns the hottest new restaurant in town. Mitch and Cam want a reservation, so they schedule a play-date with Amelia’s kid, so that they can turn on the charm. Amelia’s home furnishings include an impossible-to-clean white carpet and a wobbly side table with a vase perched precariously on top, details that appear to have spewed from the electronic brain of the Sitcom-Script-O-Tron 5000. (“BEEP BOOP…CAM ALMOST KNOCKS THE VASE OVER, BUT HE DOESN’T BUT LATER MITCHELL KNOCKS IT OVER ANYWAY BEEP BOOP.”)

There are some scattered laughs to be had—like Mitchell pinning Amelia’s kid to the ground for an epinephrine injection rather than admitting that Cam stained the carpet—but the tedious predictability of this sequence somewhat diminishes an otherwise stellar episode. I recognize that it’s far easier for me to ask that the writers tie different plotlines together than it is for them to actually craft such an elaborate script. Yet I still believe there was an opportunity here to bring Mitchell and Cam into the maelstrom of Claire and Phil’s household sex scandal, rather than sending them off on yet another tame installment of Faux-Pas Follies.


Stray Observations:

  • When Gloria is making a clumsy effort to weasel Claire’s e-mail password out of Phil, Phil says, “Gloria, I’m not an idiot…” and he really does know what is going on. A nice misdirect there. I think this is the first time in television history that a character has uttered the phrase “I’m not an idiot” and then demonstrated that yes, in fact, he is not an idiot.
  • The only other thing I recall about Hope And Gloria is that there was an episode where Enrico Colantoni re-carpets Hope and/or Gloria’s office, and even though he does it by using carpet scraps from other jobs, it still looks good. I think this is about the time when the “Must-See TV” slogan began to lose its luster.
  • “Forgive me for thinking your zesty performance deserves some praise!”
  • “Claire, we’re not your parents; we’re in much better shape.”
  • “If this were the ’60s, we would be ‘confirmed bachelors,’ and Lily would be a Yorkie.”
  • “Whatever they were doing, Dad was winning.”