Quick spoilers for last night’s Modern Family coming up:
One of the toughest things about keeping house is keeping the house. As in keeping it together, making sure it does not physically disintegrate. Home ownership puts a strain on relationships because (1) it is a strain and (2) every little failing and glitch can become a stand-in for larger issues, every undone task a proxy war, every leaky faucet a symbol for the larger tendency of life to fall apart into chaos if not constantly forced into shape. Buy a house and see how quickly your anxiety dreams about teeth falling out are replaced by ones about loose floorboards.
“Earthquake,” especially in its main storyline with the Dunphys, worked because it took this basic principle and quickly, simply showed how this family reacts to sudden disorder. Everything becomes representative of something bigger: Phil, for instance, takes it as a personal insult that Claire has called in a plumber in the first place. (Loved the exchange in which Phil says the plumber has insinuated he’s a “dandy” who wouldn’t have a crowbar: “Well, you did just use the word ‘dandy.’”) The unanchored bookcase, meanwhile, raises control-and-order issues, reinforced by her through-the-bathroom door disciplining of Haley. And the broken-step pratfalls? Never not funny.
Each subplot, for its part, used the same act of God to bring up two different conflicts in the other pairings: Jay and Gloria’s different views on religion and Mitchell and Cam’s different views on lying. I’m not sure I needed Nathan Lane’s guest spot (Modern Family has gone through stretches of overusing guest actors) but he was suitably cast in a role that called for a little hamminess. And the Jay-Gloria-Manny subplot featured two of the better reaction shots I recall on this show in a while: Manny’s fake laugh at Jay’s espresso joke (“Every morning!”) and Gloria’s furtive look heavenward when Jay admits that he’s “done” with church.
Not earth-shattering, necessarily, but solid and grounded.