I sat down for last night’s episode of Modern Family in an uncharacteristically grouchy mood: Long story short, I’d been putting off buying airline tickets for an upcoming vacation, and had just discovered that a week’s worth of procrastination had nearly doubled the price of the trip. Grrr! Argh! %#@*! (There’s no rage more bitter than rage against one’s self, is there? Unless it’s rage against a network for the premature cancellation of a quality show like Lone Star.)
But I digress. The reason I share my tale of travel woe is because it illustrates the magical power of ABC’s sophomore sensation Modern Family: You see, by the time the frame-within-a-frame-within-a-frame title sequence kicked in after just four minutes of couch-potato time, all my tension and irritation had been washed away by a flood of laughter. (Cue Madonna and Justin Timberlake singing “We only got four minutes to save the world…”)
On Modern Family, said laughs can arrive in a variety of ways: Sometimes they hit suddenly, dare I say almost violently, like the guffaw I let out at Jay’s unadulterated horror during the sexy “father-daughter” dance at the “Quinceañera.” Sometimes, they sneak in via subtle sight gags, like Mitchell mirroring Luke’s habit of leaning back and clapping his hands over his head at Phil’s jokes. Occasionally, they come in spite of themselves (i.e. Jay, after shouting the name “Carlos,” declaring he was “lucky only one turned around”). And once in a while, when the writing is particularly subtle, you start howling so late into a joke, you’ve got go directly to the DVR rewind button. Maybe I’m slow, but it took me a beat to fully appreciate the depth and genius of that bathroom scene between Cameron and Mitchell, where one man requested a simple shoulder rub, and the other cluelessly prepped the shaving cream and razor to eradicate unsightly hair. (“Oh, Mitchell. Mitchell.”)
Let’s recap the central action: At the Dunphy home, Claire was trying to prevent Phil from bombing with a rapid-fire succession of “badum-bum” jokes during a speaking engagement at the Southern California Annual Realtors’ Banquet. (“I see the great realtor Margaret Wilson is here, looking more curvaceous than ever. Talk about your balloon payments.”) Problem was, Claire had spent the bulk of her married life pretending she found her husband’s shtick uproarious. “I laugh at all of his jokes with my mouth. Not with my eyes,” she explained, face reading like a kidnap victim with today’s newspaper held up next to her head. To resolve her problem, Claire handed off the bad-news bearing to her brother Mitchell, in exchange for her telling his partner that his bicycle shorts weren’t exactly the world’s most inconspicuous, um, storage facility, if you know what I’m saying. (Side note: Julie Bowen and Jesse Tyler Ferguson – and especially the show’s writers – perfectly captured the alternatingly convivial/snippy banter that can happen between siblings. “I hate it when you do that. You never heard of Troga? You never tried octopus? You never did this amazing thing I just discovered yesterday but I pretend like I’ve done my whole life?” The way that, moments later, Mitchell dropped his “You’ve never seen Strangers on a Train?” rant in mid-sentence was a thing of true comic beauty.)
NEXT: The 10 best lines and moments from “Strangers on a Treadmill”!