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‘Modern Family’ Review: “Mistery Date”

ABC

Matthew Broderick stops by for a bromantic encounter with Phil on this week’s ‘Modern Family,’ but it seems like someone may have gotten the wrong idea — to hilariously awkward results.

Claire has taken Manny and Luke away to a hotel for the weekend as Alex competes in an academic tournament, and everyone has a different idea about how this thing should go. Alex usually wins, but an early cheer from Claire in the audience distracts her, leaving her weekend free, and Claire’s not willing to let it go to waste so easily. Neither are the boys, who’ve teamed up to crash a trio of Bar Mitzvah parties so Manny can alleviate some of his school dance season jitters.

Mitch and Cam have schemed to get Jay and Gloria out of the house while a painter comes in and creates a mural of Jay and Gloria and their new baby that Cam has decided the couple really needs — more so than, say, all those items on their baby registry.

Meanwhile, Phil is left to his own devices and at the urging of Claire he decides to get out of the house and be social, leading him to the gym where he meets the perfect new buddy in Matthew Broderick — only, Phil’s bromance isn’t exactly what he thinks because his new friend is gay, and, surprise, went to the gym to cruise for guys because he’s friends with Cam, who assured him that particular gym is a hot spot for sexy gay men.

There’s a great fish out of water theme running throughout the episode and serving as the connective tissue to tie each of the stories together beautifully in a way that hasn’t happened on ‘Modern Family’ in a while. With Claire, we get to see her away from Phil’s goofiness and in a place where she’s unknown, able to cultivate a more uppity (and awkward) persona for herself. Alex feels superior in her intellect, which allows Claire to feel superior as well, but the result is almost hard to watch as Claire continues to stick her foot in her mouth repeatedly.

Phil is over his head as his latest adventure in obliviousness has led him to inviting over a gay man who thinks the two of them are going to hook up. The writers let us know fairly quickly that there’s not going to be anyone to save Phil’s, um, butt this time around since Cam and Mitch have canceled their plans to join in on boys’ night, thus also avoiding a plot device that would feel too familiar, allowing Cam and/or Mitch to subtly clue Phil in to what’s really going on while everyone does this wacky, uncomfortable dance around the awkward situation.

Manny and Luke have willfully put themselves in an unfamiliar situation and forced themselves — adorably — to interact with girls. It’s probably the weakest thread of the week, at least in comparison to the other stories, which all have more emotional weight. Claire, for instance, is able to talk to Alex, who, as we’ve noticed lately, has been emerging from childhood into full-blown cranky teen territory. And Jay and Mitch are able to connect when the typically closed-off Jay admits to occasionally seeing a therapist and feeling anxious about the changes the new baby will bring.

And while those stories have great emotional beats, it’s the stuff with Phil and his new friend that’s the best — it’s just your typical comedy of errors and misunderstanding stuff, but it’s also handled with a little sweetness. Right as things reach the apex of hilarity, with both men shirtless and headed upstairs when the living room TV goes out, Broderick backs out and kisses Phil goodnight. Rather than freak out or feel uncomfortable, Phil gives this fantastically hysterical look as he realizes what just happened, sighs “Oh,” and heads upstairs with his margaritas alone.

Though the Bar Mitzvah stuff with Manny and Luke doesn’t amount to much, the rest of the episode does what ‘Modern Family’ does best: subverts expectation, gives its characters real depth and humanity, and finds hilarity in the increasingly absurd.

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