Tuned In

Modern Family Watch: The Amazing Race

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If I were feeling pickier about “Manny Get Your Gun”—which I might be if the episode were not so funny—I might carp that it was not that long ago that another episode (“Unplugged”) revolved around a Dunphy family competition/bet (in that case giving up technology, in this case the race to Manny’s birthday dinner). But you know how it is: when a show is doing poorly, it’s repetition, and when it’s doing well, it’s a theme. And one theme that Modern Family does very well, as it did here, is how marriages are not just partnerships but, in a way, competitions.

What worked about “Get Your Gun” was how it took a simple stress situation (getting everyone to one place on time), heightened it, then showed the conflict that underlay the surface conflict. Interestingly, for Claire and Phil, the issues they end up facing during the race are different. With Claire, it’s the decision not to be “the fun parent” and her worry that Luke therefore prefers Phil; for Phil, it’s the knowledge that his kids are “outgrowing” him. (In that sense, Luke’s line that he’d stay with Phil because Phil “would need me more” may be the most perceptive thing anyone has said on this show.)

The Cam and Mitchell subplot seemed at first—like their journey through the outdoor mall itself—to be going nowhere fast. (The senior adulterers’ subplot had moments, but the payoff was not that tremendous.) But working a flash mob into the storyline was genius—more so because the subplot ended up turning on Cam’s hurt reaction at a sweet gesture that unintentionally left him feeling denied a fantasy moment. (Eric Stonestreet’s background attempts to anticipate and join the flash mob’s moves were hilarious, and perfectly true to the character.)

As has often been the case, Jay and Gloria’s subplot was the weakest of the three (though Sofia Vergara as stone-cold shooter is inherently hilarious). But as also has often been the case, that subplot was redeemed by Rico Rodriguez’s pitch-perfect playing of the preternaturally mature Manny trying to force himself to become a kid—which, of course, he executes in the manner of a 40-year-old man having a midlife crisis. (One of many bright moments was his botched prank call, in which he ends up pranking himself: “I’m trying to get a hold of Butts? … Very funny! I don’t have time for this!”)

This episode may not quite have reached the level of “Fizbo,” but by the time it built to its near-four-car-pileup, it had strung together quite a run of funny and sweet moments. Now for the hail of BBs:

* Although Jay and Gloria’s subplot was the least interesting to me, I do have to give it points for showing off Gloria’s marksmanship—holding the gun, naturally, sideways-gangsta-style.

* Phil’s cluelessness about his family-camp color-war slogan—”If you ain’t white, you ain’t right”—was funny enough in itself (especially when he failed to see its offensiveness even in the face of the black cab driver’s reaction), but what I loved was Claire’s exasperated response, which implied that the gaffe had a whole history: “Phil, have you learned nothing?”

* “You put that potato chip in my sandwich. That was a crunchy surprise!”

* Really, I could just unreel one quote after another from the respective Dunphy car rides, but I’ll just give one more—”If I had known it was my last summer there, I’d have gone for the lead in Pippin”—and note that of course Phil came up with “second Christmas” and “Italian accent night.”