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‘Modern Family’ Review: “When a Tree Falls”

ABC

It’s a week of surprising behavior from everyone on ‘Modern Family‘ when Cam and Mitch try to save a tree, Gloria suffers from “pregnancy brain,” and the men are taken out of their comfort zones.

First of all, Alex and Haley’s plot this week was the weakest of the bunch: to take revenge on Haley for posting an embarrassing photo of her on Facebook, Alex attempts to get an equally embarrassing photo of Haley while she cleans up the highway for her community service. While the embarrassing pic of Alex was pretty funny, the rest of the plot felt like an afterthought, as if the writers were looking for something to include the girls this week and hastily recalled Haley’s mix-up with the law back at college to cook up a quick story. Snoozeville.

But the other three stories this week tie together quite nicely, all with the theme of people doing the unexpected. First up, Jay gets Claire to take Gloria to Costco in order to keep an eye on her while she’s suffering from “pregnancy brain,” which is making her very absent-minded. We get some cute moments from Gloria, who tries to exit a moving vehicle and can’t remember why she wrote “frozen” on her shopping list, and it’s a nice change of pace from the typically shouty and overly-sensitive, hot-headed Gloria that the writers have focused on too much this season. But the ladies find themselves in trouble with the store’s manager (a woefully underused Paul Scheer) when Claire accidentally leaves the store wearing a sweatshirt she didn’t purchase, leading Gloria to save the day by pretending she’s gone into labor. It’s more of a “wacky hijinks” type of story than one that has any real development, but it serves as solid connective tissue for what’s going on elsewhere.

Speaking of which, Cam has decided to hang out in his family’s favorite tree (which they hilariously refer to as “Treeona Elmsley”) when the city tries to cut it down. As usual, Cam can’t finish anything he starts, and when he’s called into to replace an actor in the local theater’s ‘Cats’ musical, he leaves Mitch to take over. This plot also has some rather wacky material (a fireman removing Mitch, who’s dressed like a cat, from the tree), but it also rounds out Cam and Mitch’s dynamic — while Mitch does think that Cameron never finishes what he starts, he also agrees with his partner for once, and maybe Cam finally had a good reason to ditch a project and leave Mitch in charge. And it lets Mitch defend Cam to a couple of Odd Couple cops, proving that he’s not always a nag.

And Lily is actually more adorable and funnier this week, particularly when trying to open her dresser drawer with a spatula because Cam removed the knobs for a “project,” and saying, “I can’t live like this anymore.” Can we get more of Lily clearly being influenced by her fathers’ melodramatic streaks?

Finally, Jay and Phil and the two boys head off to another kid’s birthday party, the “Doug-Olympics,” where each kid is assigned a country to represent and Manny is always stuck with Mexico. Jay urges Manny to step outside his comfort zone, but when Jay tries to ditch the party and all the dads hanging out together, Manny challenges him to stay and step outside of his own comfort zone. Unfortunately for Phil, Jay becomes more popular with the dads when he tells embarrassing stories about Phil, leading the two of them to enter the jumbo inflatable boxing ring, where Phil totally dominates Jay in a quest for a boom box, 12 D batteries, and an Olivia Newton John cassingle — which were destroyed when Phil staged a ‘Say Anything’ moment for Claire back in college and Phil hit him with the sprinklers in the front yard.

What this week’s episode lacks in depth or dimension, it totally makes up for with wacky humor and some great sight-gags, but I’m looking forward to ‘Modern Family’ stepping up its game again soon.

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