Travels With Scout
Really, if you had to pick anyone to play Phil’s dad, is there a more perfect actor than Fred Willard?! Returning to the role for a second time, Willard served as the anchor for the Dunphy plotline last night as Phil had to try to figure out if there was something deeper than appearances to his dad’s emotional life. Having always been close with his dad (they did once go out for Hallowe’en as a two-headed snake – man, I wish we had that footage!), Phil worries that he’s actually one of those guys with an emotionally distant parent he’s always pitied. In the end he gets to breathe a sigh of relief as it turns out his dad isn’t emotionally distant, just a little emotionally shallow…not that that’s a bad thing. Those broodier types of us often feel the need to think that happier people must have a deep, dark side. But there really are just folks who float on the surface – they make tense family gatherings easier; they lift everyone’s spirits at work, and they’ve always got a joke (no matter how corny) to share. What was sweet about this plot was Phi’s desire – and fear – to get to know the potential dark side of his dad. It’s difficult to face the possibilitythat parents are full human beings, but the further we get into adulthood, the more we need to face that fact. This is one of the themes Modern Family tackles so well that it makes me want to see Cam and Gloria’s folks too!
Of course, the funniest part of the Dunphy plot had to be the multiple demonstrations of Scout’s intellectual superiority over Luke, from the crashing screen door, to Luke locked in the crate Scout could get out of, to Luke running down the street to Phil and Claire’s shouts of, “stay, stay,” we were reminded again and again just how good Nolan Gould is at playing dumb! It’s easy to miss because he’s not Haley Joel Osment-ing it with big teary eyes, a quivery lip and overly-pronounced diction, but I think Gould might be the best kid-actor out there right now!
It would be easy for the other families to get lost in all this, but each held their own such that every plot was pretty stellar last night. Jay’s attempt to bond with Manny ended in a kids’s worst nightmare as the guy from the movie actually showed up at his house brandishing the weapon and shouting his name – perfectly backlit with the garden’s golden lights too! What I love about Manny is that he doesn’t just cower under the covers (though he does that too), but that he gets proactive with his fencing sword and an attempt to make a family watch schedule. At some point I’d love a little more backstory on Manny and Gloria – how did Manny end up such a responsible kid? Can we please get a Colombia flashback at some point!
And of course we got Cam’s musical debut! Despite having recently realized that home is where he wants to be, it nevertheless remains the case that he also needs to escape that home sometimes, which is why Mitchell doesn’t kick up too much of a fuss as the ruined Apres Ski Fondue party(!?!?). What fun to learn that Eric Stonestreet is apparently kind of a rocking drummer. Dylan is always a great addition to an episode, but it was great to see his band members too, especially the kid who ended up helping out by feeding Lilly and the one who mumbled, “dude you should label those sticks”. With a performance that inspired a red-bull high Phil to scream like a girl, Dylan’s band was actually pretty good – a nice surprise that they didn’t feel the need to make them suck…another way in which Modern Family is so great at refusing to take the easy bait.
Best lines of the night – Mitchell’s reference to the disabled, lesbian shaman who blessed Lilly’s room and her belief that Cam and Mitchell are such a traditional family; Cam’s breath of relief at the miracle that he didn’t end up a stripper; and Fred’s quip to Cam, “At home I smoke sausages. I’ll send you a link”. Good to know that Modern Family writers can come up with corny jokes just as well as witty, edgy ones! In fact, I think Willard took the prize last night when in the closer he clearly ad-libbed the line comparing Gloria’s hotness to a sidewalk on the 4th of July – Jay and Gloria melted away to reveal O’Neill and Vergara’s hilarious reactions of shock and laughter. What fun this show must be to film!