Peter 'Hopper' Stone/ABC
Shirley Li
September 26, 2013 AT 06:31 AM EDT

The always enjoyable (and constantly Emmy-winning) comedy is back for season 5, and it’s off to a strong start.

The first half-hour, “Suddenly, Last Summer,” tugged at heartstrings with Mitch and Cam’s storyline, as they find out they can finally marry (insert baby Fulgencio vomiting here). Sure, it pulled the usual antics with competing proposals, and Gloria and Claire as Cam and Mitch’s wingwomen, respectively (Claire, in particular, seemed overjoyed to rattle off manipulative proposal ideas to a horrified Mitch). But the payoff, with Mitch and Cam saying “Yes” in unison, forgave the bumps along the way. I don’t know about you, but the moment nearly made me “sob like a Tony winner,” to quote Mitch.

Manny and Jay’s plot felt just as poignant. Jay spends most of the first episode trying to make sure Manny goes through with his visit to Colombia because, as Jay says, “If he doesn’t go to Colombia, Colombia comes to me.” (The flashback to Gloria’s swath of family members meeting Jay at the airport echoed the red carpet appearance of Sofia Vergara’s posse of guests at the Emmys, but maybe that’s just me. Either way, it was a good laugh.) Of course, Manny goes through with the trip and, in typical Manny fashion, leaves behind the sweetest note for Gloria, reminding her to “take care of Jay.” Modern Family never fails at being touching.

Meanwhile, Phil and Claire waged war at home — three wars, in fact, as the duo first tried to get a week to themselves, and then attempt to sabotage each other so they can get even more alone time. The shenanigans get a tad out of hand — pulling off fake waterworks is funny, but when Phil starts sabotaging Luke’s camp schedule and Alex’s Habitat for Humanity plans, it just comes off mean. That is, until their final scenes, with Claire admitting her “coldhearted, bloodless wife-bot” ways and Phil asking for forgiveness.

Though less poignant than the first, the second installment, “First Days,” brought more laughs, thanks to Phil and Gloria taking an impromptu gig as a pair of extras in a commercial (kudos to the actors in front of them, keeping straight faces while Gloria overacted to the point of pulling out an imaginary phone). When Phil — excuse me, “Dr. Steven Wilson,” — coaches Gloria on using her sadness with Manny heading off to high school to get into character, he ends up the one sobbing instead, the wound still fresh from Luke not wanting him to walk him into school.

Jay tries coaching as well, advising Claire on how to be accepted into the company on her first day. After declaring how she doesn’t need his help, Claire unsurprisingly bombs with the staff. Saying “I’m just doing the thang” and buzzing like a bee aren’t effective techniques to get your co-workers to like you, Claire. Even the “Christopher Walken Closet” impression falls flat, and Claire is left with Todd, the office weirdo, as her only friend.

And just to push the coaching theme a tad further, Cam tries subbing for an AP History class (“I’m kind of like Batman, but instead of the Bat Signal, they call me”), but crashes and burns when he tries to keep the class’s interest by dressing up as George Washington. How Gwyneth Paltrow on Glee of you, Cam! Too bad the theatricals do little in the eyes of his students, including Alex, but Cam luckily ends up showing off his football prowess and finds a new job as the school’s gym teacher and football coach. We even get an unforgettable visual gag of Cam as George Washington running football routes.

Ultimately, this was a satisfying premiere, save for some down ticks — Mitch’s boss Charlie, in his first appearance since season 3, is more annoying than funny, and Haley’s still not getting much character development. But those are small complaints for an otherwise strong hour, with the adults figuring out how to let their kids move on, whether it’s a trip to Colombia or simply the first day of school. So a hearty welcome back, Modern Family!

Some final thoughts:

– “Daddy’s office? You sound like a little girl.” That, and her running into the brick column at school were hilarious moments for Lily.

– …Not to mention the exchange with Jay: “No one ever leaves home and doesn’t come back.” “I did.”

– Claire rearranging the calendar to allow for seven kid-free days? “Witchcraft,” Phil gasps.

– “I think it’s just called a marriage license.” Manny, always the pragmatist.

– “That is coconuts.” Say what you will, but I’ll never tire of Phil Dunphy-isms.

What did you think, PopWatchers? Sound off in the comments.

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