Guests of MODERN FAMILY

Last night’s Modern Family was far from the funniest in the show’s young life, but it had its share of moments. In the Dunphy household, Phil’s kidney stones provided two of the night’s best laughs: a suffering Phil’s cry of “That’s cancer” before reminding Claire that when she was bearing their children “you threw my smoothie at me.” Luke’s confession that he broke a glass coffee table, which somehow led to their former maid’s deportation, paid off when Phil appeared ready to strike his son only to be felled by his weakened state. And while the robot was probably meant to garner the bigger laugh, I loved Phil’s scheme to use Claire’s infatuation with the local firemen to his advantage by guilting her into a week at circus camp. How I would have loved to see some of the other family members visit Phil at the hospital (we only got the tag where Phil was forcing his rediscovered love for card tricks on a desperate to escape Cameron).

Lily’s daddies’ antics were somewhat one note, Mitchell wanting to instill a sense of independence in the baby by letting her cry through the night and Cameron in physical agony at the sound of their daughter in distress. Cameron’s insistence that Lily loved the colors and sounds in “Brian De Palma’s masterpiece Scarface,” seemed disturbingly probable, and the sight of Mitchell using a chair to drive Cameron from Lily’s room was a good visual gag after Cameron compared himself to a Mama bear protecting its cub.

Benjamin’s Bratt’s guest appearance as Gloria’s ex, Javier, was an inspired bit of casting. Bratt possesses the right amount of charisma to make one understand how Gloria, Manny, and ultimately Jay could be taken in by this “bullfight artist.” Had they made Javier’s visit more central to the episode instead of one of three subplots, the theme set up in the teaser (the kids being told to act more like adults) might have had more resonance. Phil also taken in by Javier, Claire putting on that low cut top for his benefit, and Mitchell jealous while Cameron flirted with the visitor are beats they should have played.

From the first episode, I’ve thought this show one of if not the best of the new season, but a problem has emerged: the episodes that feature big name guest stars, with the exception of the half hour featuring Shelley Long as Jay’s ex, falter because these performers only interact with one branch of the family tree (Elizabeth Banks out for drinks with Cameron and Mitchell, Edward Norton playing a private anniversary concert for Phil and Claire). I’m not suggesting that the show needs guest stars to make it enjoyable; the strongest outings thus far such as “Coal Digger” and “Fizbo” focused only on the regular cast, and the writers are already starting to come up with interesting combos as far as the family is concerned (Claire and Manny’s heart to heart, Gloria taking Alex shopping, etc.). Continue that trend with the guest stars. Next week’s outing, which will feature Chazz Palminteri as an old friend of Jay’s that Mitchell is convinced is a homosexual, sounds promising in terms of plot and character interactions. We shall see…

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